Susie Boswell breaks bread with a bank manager who administers a tough business, with care for his community.
Australia’s leading banks are widely regarded with a lack of public trust, if not odium, so it’s agreeably surprising that the Port Macquarie manager of one of the Big Four, the Commonwealth, is such an overwhelmingly nice chap to meet. A friendly smile, an open manner, not at all stiff, formal or precious.
In fact, Rick Madden – relaxed and comfortable yet head of a team of some 30 Horton Street branch staff delivering dozens of products – is a shocker in other ways, too. He turns up for lunch not prim and proper in collar and tie but in a startling electric blue t-shirt. It’s Friday, we’re about to enjoy a leisurely Mullet feast of fresh figs, prosciutto and ocean trout, but it’s not mufti for Madden: it turns out today’s leukaemia appeal day. The informal gear’s the official t-shirt for the appeal, its supporters and those who’ll have their heads shaved bald as coots this evening, to raise funds. They include a slightly nervous Madden, who’s having a sort of last supper before being shorn. In front of the staff.
Fit and in his 40s, he further stuns me with the news that on February 1 this year he completed 30 years with the bank. It’s the only job he’s ever had! Raised on a Gloucester dairy farm with two brothers and two sisters, “Dad wanted us all to go into the bank – so we wouldn’t have to work as hard as he did”. Remarkably, all five kids did so. Yet Madden is the only one still in banking. “Dad thinks I’m the smart one,” he jokes.
Next I learn he has four grown-up kids of his own – 22, 20, 18 and 16: two at uni in Sydney, a third on the way following this gap year, the youngest in Year 11, his sights set on joining the siblings in the family flat in the city’s inner east. Soon, Madden will have a host of professional services at his disposal: the offspring aim to graduate in PR and marketing, law, commerce and medicine.
His own career began as a mail clerk in the Gloucester CBA branch, his duties including – before the days of slick shredding machines – burning discarded confidential documents in an incinerator. But soon there began a series of moves mostly varying between 12 months and three years as he worked his way up the corporate ladder. On the first rung, at Toukley on the Central Coast, “I met my future wife, Tina”, so he applied for a transfer to her hometown of Sydney and, newly married, managed to spend a rare eight years in one district, at the Miller branch and surrounding suburbs near Liverpool.
He stepped up to assistant manager with a move to the sticks, to Coonabarabran. He requested it: “We’d had two kids and decided to escape the rat race.” All the same, he was already honing an ability to surprise with the unexpected: “My wife hadn’t lived outside Sydney: it was a big culture shock for her.” And: “The day we drove up, I wrote the car off and almost killed the lot of us.” A great entrée as she ventured into country life, I expect, for Tina Madden, who might have thought she’d married Frank Spencer!
They survived, though, and thrived for three years in the hot western NSW town, adding a third child to the family. By the time they moved to Merimbula, on the South Coast – another three-year posting – and welcomed their last child, Madden had made manager. Cobar – 12 months; Nambucca Heads – three years; Muswellbrook – 12 months … and, in 2001, Port Macquarie. He appears to have finally put down roots (apart from the only false step of his career: a brief move to Canberra in 2005, which he swiftly asked to be reversed) … “but, as my kids say, never say Never!”
Life, for the time being anyway, seems settled. With the kids grown up, Tina’s returned to the workforce and looks after Lourdes and St Agnes retirement villages. The pair are among seven volunteer couples who give their time to St Agnes’s free pre-marriage education program, counselling impending newlyweds on topics including communication, relationships, conflict management and – no surprise, this time – financial management. He is also secretary and a founder of Port’s Combined Bankers Association: the group organises events for the staff of all of the town’s financial institutions – trivia nights, golf days, tenpin bowling – with the specific charter that funds raised stay in the community to benefit local causes.
Four or five times a week Madden and his wife run – on Sunday mornings, into town for coffee. They’re in training to compete in marathons and plan to celebrate their joint 50th birthdays in several years’ time competing in the London Marathon, amid a long overseas break. They went to the Geelong half Ironman this year. It was Madden’s first visit to Victoria and the couple loved Melbourne and its little niches around the city. But: it was Saturday February 7 when they arrived in Ballarat, the temperature was 48 degrees … and the Victorian bushfires were about to ignite. Madden tells a sad story of their drive back home along the Hume Highway afterwards, where bushland and whole villages had been devastated.
Talking of the tragedy brings us to reflect on the victims who lacked home insurance to rebuild. And here I see the more pragmatic, bank-managerly, side, of my companion. Our conversation turns to families who can afford to but won’t insure their property and income and, through misfortune in hard economic times, suffer the loss of their homes, blaming the big bad banks. Madden shakes his head, dismayed at what he sees as a sorry lack of judgment. (Just days later, coincidentally, the CBA, the nation’s biggest mortgage lender, announces that home owners who lose their jobs will be allowed interest deferrals for up to a year to prevent them falling into arrears and being forced to sell – a happy, if costly, alternative).
Overwhelmingly, though, Madden himself is a sunnyside-up sort of chap – who has to return now to attend to Mammon, and to check on sponsors’ pledges for tonight’s cancer appeal.
“For $1000 I’m having my head shaved,” he reports. “For $1500, I’ll shave my legs too.
“If I can get $5000, I’ll go to Brazil.”
> Out To Lunch is hosted by Lou Perri at The Stunned Mullet on Town Beach.