Johnno vs the bloody banks



Even though he lives nearby, I hadn't seen Johnno for ages when he walked into the pub just before Christmas. I was on for a bit of celebrating, but Johnno looked grim. 'Bloody banks,' he said.

Smoking man with beerAs a conversation opener, it wasn't that flash, not a lot of mileage in it. I could have told him — but chose not to — that stories about the 'bloody banks' are so numerous and predictable that they're being used in sleep clinics to rock the afflicted into the arms of Morpheus. Still, one tries to do the right thing and so I bought him a calming ale and, steeling myself, asked the crucial question. 'What's the story?'

'Well, the bloody missus ...'

'I thought it was the bloody banks.'

'Yes. Sorry. The missus used her card to phone book a couple of air tickets to Queensland. A bit of a surprise for me it was supposed to be. You with me so far?'

I assured him of my full comprehension.

'She runs a tight ship with the old plastic. Never over her limit or anything like that. So when some bastard rings up a week or so later from her bank and leaves a message and a number to ring because her account, he says, is twenty-two thousand dollars out of line ...'

'Twenty-two thousand!' Perhaps it's me that's full and not my comprehension? But no, that's what he said.


"Even in this land of the fair go there are rumours of people who were rung up by the bank and never heard of again."


' ... so when this bastard says she's twenty-two thousand behind, she starts pulling pictures off the walls and throwing them at the dog.' I have met Johnno's amiable wife and I was sure that this description had to be the sheerest hyperbole, but Johnno was in no mood for polysyllabic objections.

'When she rings the number this bastard left, she gets nothing but those bloody options — y'know?'

A sympathetic listener nearby volunteers a few. 'If your house is spontaneously combusting, press 1; if you wish to build on an attic in which to hide incriminating evidence, press 2; if you ...'

'I haven't actually heard those particular ones,' says the relentless Johnno, 'but that sort of thing, yes. So what she does, she rings the number you report lost or stolen cards on and she gets a bloody human being. But as soon as the missus admits it's not a case of stolen card but probably fraudulent use of the numbers or something, this woman says, 'My hands are tied.' It's because it's not her department, see. So my missus asks could she perhaps locate someone whose feet are manacled but with hands free. Or is there someone who is gagged but can still take notes. Sarcasm turns out to be a mistake. The woman gets very uppity but says she'll pass on the details to the appropriate department and there should be no more trouble about it.

'Well, pig's arse as you might say. The very next day, she gets a letter from her bank demanding that she destroy her card because of her — what'd they call it? Her delinquency. A few hours later, she discovers her internet has crashed because the account is on her card which the bank has already pulled the plug on. So she can't run her business, see, which she does from home.'

His growing band of listeners are stunned into silence, as the catalogue of interlinked disasters rolls on with the same juggernaut certainty as Johnno's own monotone description.

'Well,' he says, accepting another foaming aid to narration, 'it turns out the travel outfit that she'd booked the tickets with had some dosey bastard on the staff who put about 15 bookings on our card. He's probably pushing the tea trolley now. The travel people apologised and said they'd foot all the bank charge bills. But as for the bloody bank — it took them one day to work themselves into a lather and tell her she was a delinquent and must destroy her card in case she polluted the whole system. But it would need two weeks, they said, before they could fix it all up again. I'm buggered if I know why.'

'She must have had a limit on her card,' I suggested. 'How could the bank let her go over it?'

'Very glad you asked,' said Johnno. 'That's exactly what the missus said when she was finally getting the mess tidied up. But the bank people said that ...'

'Their hands were tied?' This contribution from one of the crowd drew only a despairing glance from Johnno.

'It's a funny business all round, isn't it,' I said. 'In days past, a call from your bank manager probably wasn't what you'd choose, but it was not the kiss of death. These days, phone calls from faceless people in banks are modern Australia's version of the KGB thumping on the door in the small hours and jackbooting through the house. Even in this land of the fair go there are rumours of people who were rung up by the bank and never heard of again.'

'Well, you can whinge all you like about the banks,' said Johnno, 'but you won't win. It took my missus weeks to get it all sorted out and even then she had to write two letters to remove the slur on her credit rating.'

'Nothing worse than a slur on your credit rating,' said some comedian. 'Unless it's a delinquency in your loan base,' said someone else. Johnno was losing them already, despite the pathos of his tale.

'You bastards wouldn't have a clue,' he said. 'Wait till you live in an officially delinquent household. Don't come to me for sympathy. Anyway, whose shout?' He looked straight at me, belligerent and aggrieved.

'My hands are tied,' I said.



Brian MatthewsBrian Matthews is honorary professor of English at Flinders University and an award winning columnist and biographer.

Topic tags: Brian Matthews, banks



submit a comment

Existing comments

Brilliant! Wonderful to read such an incisive piece decked out in true Australian humour. Garn the bloody royal commission!

john frawley | 28 November 2017  

We-e-E-e-E-e-E-ell, You know you make me wanna (shout). Sorry Johnny.

Pam | 28 November 2017  

Sheer bloody genius being able to make me laugh about banks. I always look at Brian Matthews' work. Yum!

Cecily McNeill | 29 November 2017  

Very amusing writing, yet quite unfair and possibly inaccurate. I have had problems when unauthorised debits were claimed on my credit card. My bank, one of the big four, dealt with me very sympathetically, efficiently and in a friendly manner. I have no doubt that many claims of bank wrong doing may be true, but please keep to realms of accuracy and give credit where credit is due or deal with a more client-oriented bank.

Sheelah Egan | 29 November 2017  

Nothing would surprise me when it comes to some of the Big Banks. I used to have an account at the biggest, but when it was stolen I went through such shenanigans to get it replaced that soon after I closed my account and moved across the road to a friendlier one. I had reported it lost and requested a replacement, but after two weeks still no card. I rang up the bank to enquire, but was told that I was being too impatient! The account had a cheque book attached and as I was desperate for some money I asked to cash a cheque. They refused until I had hysterics in the middle of a busy bank! I rang again, only to find that they had cancelled the account and not issued a replacement card. They told me that they were following my instructions, and how dare I suggest that they could have got it wrong. The same bank was decidedly unhelpful when my mother needed to get access to funds urgently as my father unexpectedly needed to go into care. They made her wait 31 days and charged her a sizeable fee, unlike one of their competitors who released money immediately with no fee.

Sandra H | 29 November 2017  

Thanks Brian, as always a great laugh - much to be treasured. I thought satirical Sheelah, but spot on in regard to Telstra.

Denis Quinn | 29 November 2017  

I thoroughly agree with the federal government finally agreeing to a royal commission into the is sickening when good decent people like farmers are forced off their properties because they are not getting paid enough money to make payments to the banks

maryellen flynn | 01 December 2017  

Similar Articles

Let love be law

  • Talitha Fraser
  • 27 November 2017

Did you see the news today? Law failed love. Let love be law.


Students learn where power lies

  • Tim Kroenert
  • 29 November 2017

When misused power remains unchallenged, it is the most vulnerable who suffer most. The truism finds acerbic embodiment in the Slovak-Czech black comedy The Teacher, whose setting in 1983 communist-ruled Czechoslovakia provides a historical backdrop that doubles as an analogy for any socio-political context where power can be a means to personal ends.



Subscribe for more stories like this.

Free sign-up