Queensland’s reliance on external capital, often unsympathetic to the State’s development opportunities, led to local investors establishing the Queensland National Bank in 1872. Over the next three decades, Queensland’s economic growth, centred around the wool industry, gold production and a developing cattle industry, facilitated the rapid growth of the bank and its branch network.
It became the official bank of the Queensland Government in 1879 and remained so for more than 40 years, in many ways linking the government’s financial standing to that of the bank.
The first general manager, Edward Drury, was both entrepreneurial and autocratic – building deposits and the bank’s investments at a remarkable pace. By 1880, the Queensland National Bank operated 30 branches and held more than 40 percent of all deposits and advances in Queensland.
Significant business was conducted speculatively, without the full knowledge of the Board, often in association with Sir Thomas McIlwraith, the Queensland Premier. With the financial depression of the 1890s, the bank’s future was threatened by too many short term deposits and too many long term loans.
The widely acclaimed Walter Ralston replaced Drury as CEO and set about rehabilitating the bank, a task that took 22 years, during which time he not only successfully ran the bank but also sugar and pastoral businesses.
The National Bank of Australia, in taking over the Queensland National Bank in 1948, acquired nearly 90 branches throughout the State, as well as deep customer and employee loyalty. The foothold it gained in general banking and agri-business continues to underpin the National Bank of Australia’s presence in Queensland today.
Historian Geoffrey Blainey AC says developing Queensland involved greater risk than elsewhere in Australia and Queensland National Bank assumed more risk than others. Its territorial dominance was unmatched by any other Australian bank in the 19th century. It thought on a grand scale and, for Queensland’s early economic development, was a winner on a grand scale.