The ghost of banking past

It’s late at night. You’re working on your own in the vaults underneath one of Melbourne’s oldest buildings – a soaring Gothic masterpiece which has stored the secret treasures of 5000 Australian families for over 125 years.

According to staff who work there the building is haunted. 

Although you’re alone, you feel a strange presence behind you and the sound of footsteps. When you turn around and shine your torch into the darkness there’s no one there.

"We’ve had a few tradesmen who won’t return because they’ve felt something supernatural." - Angela Costa, Safe Custody Consultants 

For Safe Custody Consultants Angela Costa, Nola Ellul and Connie Magro the legend of the ghost at ANZ’s Safety Deposit Facility at 90 Queen Street is very real.

Costa said a maintenance worker who felt the strange presence was so frightened he ran upstairs to check the CCTV camera only to see a bright light behind him.

“Once he saw that he resigned the next day and never came back,” she said.

“We’ve had a few tradesmen who won’t return because they’ve felt something supernatural.”


Ellul - who has worked for ANZ for 35 years - says the building’s long history gives it a distinctive aura.

“There’s so much history and so many stories here. We have people from all walks of life and people from all over the world using the service.”

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The Melbourne Safe Deposit building at 90 Queen Street, Melbourne (pictured in the 1930s)

According to Ellul, the history certainly gives the building an atmospheric feeling.

“When you check the vaults at the end of the day, there’s definitely a feeling there’s someone else there.”

“Occasionally you imagine voices or hear footsteps when you’re on your own. Sometimes you turn to speak to someone. But then there’s no-one there.

“Sometimes a door of one of our cubicles is closed, when you know it was left open. Things seem to move around – and aren’t always where you left them the previous day. It can be very eerie.”

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Customers inside the vault in the 1930s


Certainly if you wanted to choose a building to haunt, a Gothic vault would be a likely candidate. The building was once the most secure in Australia, designed by William Pitt who also designed Melbourne’s Government House and Stock Exchange building.

As Melbourne became wealthier following the discovery of gold, the Melbourne Safe Deposit Building was constructed. 

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Customers in the 1930s using the facility.

It was the ultimate secure haven to house the bounty of gold rush prospectors and wealthy families from the era of Marvellous Melbourne. It was also a place for local businesses and migrant families to use to secure their valuable and treasured possessions.

To protect the thousands of safety deposit boxes, a specially-designed vault was shipped from Liverpool, England with the rest of the building built around it.

The building’s strong room has walls a metre thick, made of undrillable steel. For further protection, as befitting a gothic structure, the building also has a moat underground to deter anyone thinking of tunnelling in.

Now, after nearly 130 years, any ghosts will have a new landlord. As part of wider moves to simplify its business, ANZ will stop offering this Safe Deposit Box service and will hand over the building to a secure storage expert to manage any unclaimed boxes.

As families come forward to claim boxes, Costa, Ellul and colleague Magro are seeing some interesting parts of Australian history come to light – including the Victorian gold rush.

For Magro this was evident in one particularly memorable deposit box.

“The box contained a cutlery set which looked like it was made entirely out of gold,” she said. “It was so heavy the box had a label advising people not to lift it on their own.”

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In the vaults – early 1900s

“I had a customer come in and collect the contents of his safety deposit box recently and he wanted to show me what was inside before he left.”

“He dragged out this enormous gold nugget from the Ballarat gold fields, bigger than a grapefruit, and told me that was his retirement fund.”

Branch Manager Kevin Tunstall, who oversees ANZ’s iconic Gothic Branch next door and has been supervising the team as the facility is handed over, said the history is tangible.

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Customers in the 1930s using the facility

“As customers come to collect their belongings, there have been tears as they are so attached to them,” he said.

“Those vaults are pretty creepy too and you definitely sense the presence of something down there. It feels like the ancestors of some of the box holders are keeping watch on what we are doing.”

For ANZ Archivist Peter Marinick, who looks after a wide range of artefacts from ANZ’s long history, the boxes are a source of fascination.

“One can only speculate as to what is contained in all the boxes but imagine if one of them was storing a letter with a long-forgotten secret. Maybe that’s why there’s a ghost – it’s trying to tell us something.”

James Wilson is a bluenotes contributor

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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