chapter  2
18 Pages

The national bank

The robbery of the National Australia Bank in Caringbah at lunchtime unlocked a cache of coruscating fantasies: of the nation and its management, of the proper regard for money, and of the status of the bank robber in national mythology. Each of these fantasies is encircled by law. Law is the conduit for national identity and belonging; law entitles us to possess the nation, in its conceptual entirety and in small commodified parcels. Law is also the tool for dispossession, wherein the nation is wrestled back from those deemed to hold it illegitimately. The Mundarra Smith cases are situated at the nexus of two dominant national fantasies: law-making and law-breaking. People who rob banks and people who prosecute them are engaged in conflicting acts of entitlement and audacity, control and deviance. The bank is a site of capital, it regulates wealth, possession and security on behalf of the nation and its subjects; the law-maker protects these properties. The bank robber subverts these fantasies, performing an alternative national character: individualist, redistributor of wealth, man of action, law-breaker, risk-taker, laconic self-made national hero. His prototype is evident in potent historical narratives that reveal an enduring fascination with banditry. Emphatically so in Australian popular culture (Biber, 1999) and also apparent elsewhere, national heroism is performed through acts of spectacular, iconographic and celebrated transgression. But banking institutions now pursue new economic structures, closing local branches, introducing new ‘products’, moving away from individual savings and towards ‘cash management’; prison terms for armed robbery have escalated; and so bank robbery has become more violent, less lucrative, and primarily conducted under the influence of drugs. Consequently, the status of the bank robber has shifted away from the gentleman bandit, towards the hard-core, junkie desperado, unloved and uncelebrated. In this chapter, banks and bank robberies are examined for their potential to implicate the nation.