This is the building featured on the famous Commonwealth Bank tin money box.
The Sydney Magazine article:
Is this the safest spot in Sydney? Dugald Jellie opens the vault on the city's secrets.
Photography Tamara Dean
It's a safe-cracker's worst nightmare. Bank-heist men wouldn't stand a chance against this circular vault door, a 27-tonne steel plug blocking off a stronghold of untold riches and private documents. Gold bars. Diamond jewellery. Banknotes. Confidential papers ...
The safe deposit vault in the basement of the Commonwealth Bank's national head office in Martin Place adds extra fortification to the word "safekeeping". The vault door, which swings open at 8.20am and closes at 4.15pm each working day, is the world's second largest — 64 centimetres thick, 2.2 metres in diameter and with a retractable floor and 24 bolts that lock away the confidential affairs stowed in the 12,985 steel boxes within.
It's a time-honoured banking tradition — to hire out safe depositories and turn a blind eye to how they're used. "We're not aware of what's in the boxes; we don't check what's in them," says Michael Paul, the bank's safe deposit officer and keeper of the keys required to assist in opening each shoebox-size safe. Dressed in black, he has the mien of an undertaker or doorman at a members-only gathering. "Customers have utmost privacy in the room. Unless I'm walking in with another customer and they have their valuables on the table, I never see what's in the box."
The bank — the former Government Savings Bank of NSW — opened in 1928 to great fanfare. Here was the future of banking: a beaux-arts revivalist colossus of fluted columns, polished marble and brass railings, and with a bank-vault door like few others entombed among barrel domes and decorative ceilings in the lower basement.
Made in London by Chubb & Sons, the English lock and safe company, the door is eclipsed in size only by a 42-tonne plug in Ohio, at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. This one arrived in Sydney after being exhibited at the 1927 Wembley Exhibition as an engineering marvel; cast from slabs of ferrous-based metals with four time-delay locks and considered near impervious to a safe-breaker's drills and blow torches — or dynamite. From the docks, it was hauled on wagons drawn by teams of 18 draught horses.
The vault is now open to customers who hire private safes (rental rates start at $100 per annum, plus fees) and present an authorised access slip to the attendant standing watch behind a locked wrought-iron grille. "It's my job to serve them as quickly and as quietly as possible," says Paul.
It's a room of flat fluorescent light, where discretion is assured among rows of polished steel cabinets, all criss-crossed with rows of little locked boxes, each with two keyholes and identified by four digits. "Boxes can only be opened by turning the guardian key and the customer key at the same time," says Paul. "I turn my master key anti-clockwise, they turn theirs clockwise."
But fine print on the bank's terms and conditions stipulates that deposit safes can also be opened if authorised by law — or by the bank on the termination of the hiring agreement. The bank asks no questions about what's in a box but nor does it hold liability for any loss or damage of their unknown contents.
More than 315,000 tin-plated moneybox replicas of the building with penny slots in the roof were given to newborns in 1929, as a sales ploy to "assist parents and guardians to teach the children of Australia that essential lesson, Thrift". The tins remain the nation's most recognised moneybox, although they give no indication of what lies beneath.