The banker, squatter, and Dame Nellie Melba

20151028_173707 (2)A 129 year old company seal rests on the 28th floor of an office tower in Brisbane’s central business district. Mandatory for the execution of documents, the seal press created an embossment on paper. Now it stamps a contrary past on an historic site.

It’s the seal of The Royal Bank of Queensland, founded in 1886 by William Miles. He was a squatter, banker, and politician, the Scottish-born son of a farmer. For over 20 years he was a member of Queensland Legislative Assembly and oft government minister. He debated with conviction and lung power. He was described as having “rough manners and picturesque profanities”. His seal is today displayed in the offices of the National Australia Bank, one of the largest banks in the world.

Previously the site, on the corner of Adelaide and Creek streets, was that of the glorious Gresham Hotel. Brisbane’s finest. The papers establishing Qantas were signed here in 1920. For two days in 1942, the three upper floors of the Gresham was the best place from which to watch the Battle of Brisbane that erupted right outside. But it’s back in 1902 and 1908 when at her most magnificent that the Gresham accommodated the world’s greatest operatic soprano Dame Nellie Melba. Melba’s angelic vocal habits the exact opposite to that of Miles.

Miles died in 1887. The town of Miles on Queensland’s Western Downs is named in his honour. Melba passed away in 1931, memorialised by a host of honours around the world. The bank’s seal residing on the site of Melba’s hotel brings these two opposites together. It’s ironic for the banker that it’s the singer who gets her face on the current Australian 100 dollar note.

Read other posts that include Dame Nellie Melba, the Battle of Brisbane, and Miles.

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