Bendigo pulls out of small community

Saskia AdystiAlbany Advertiser

Walpole Bendigo Bank has officially closed, forcing residents to drive 65km to their nearest bank.

It has been more than 14 years since Bendigo Bank opened in Walpole, a town with a population of 500. Jennifer Willcox, the former head of the Walpole Community Resource Telecentre, was the main driver behind the bank’s existence.

She had the idea for a branch in Walpole after reading an article in the Albany Advertiser in 2002.

Ms Willcox said the article, which promoted the newly established Bendigo Bank in Mt Barker, inspired her to approach the branch to extend its service to Walpole.

After a series of surveys and grant applications, Ms Willcox was able to welcome a branch to Walpole on April 20, 2005.

“Who would have thought way back in 2002 that the chance reading of an Albany newspaper would have hatched an idea so far out there that it would have been nigh-on impossible to achieve?” she said.

“The main ones to lose out of this move are the two tellers who lost their jobs.”

The bank was run by the local Community Resource Centre.

Ms Willcox said when it first opened, the branch was different from other banking operations in regional WA.

“This bank was the first of its kind in Australia — two branches operating under the one board of management, and as such caused quite a stir,” she said.

The bank announced its closure last month after the head office in Mt Barker decided it was too costly to maintain the service.

Walpole CRC general manager Cherie Smith said she was concerned about the town’s elderly residents, who used the bank regularly.

“The closure of our bank is really devastating for our community,” she said. “Sixty per cent of our population are over 60 and an awful lot is in the higher brackets of 80 and 90, so I’m really not sure how they will do their banking.”

Walpole CRC is holding internet banking classes to help the community deal with the prospect of not having a local bank.

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