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The anatomy of a bank robber

By Bernie Matthews - posted Thursday, 16 March 2006

Supreme Court judges have called me a career criminal. To the Bankers Federation, I’m a scourge to society. Some social workers look to me as the product of a low socio-economic environment that created the single parent family.

I like to think of myself as a successful failure.

On any prison yard in Australia I’m the respected professional, but to society, I’m an urban terrorist. In reality, I’m a bank robber - a thief with a balaclava and a shotgun.


People have asked me why I robbed banks. My answer is simple: there was no such thing as a soft target in my pursuit of professional status. The downside of bank robbery is prison. It can be an occupational hazard, but life is really simple: if you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.

I robbed my first bank in 1970, the ANZ bank on the Hume Highway at Yagoona in Sydney’s outer western suburbs, while an escapee from the then NSW State Penitentiary at Long Bay.

Escaping prisons and robbing banks have the same exhilarating feeling - an adrenalin rush that transcends all levels of emotion.

It was during my next bank robbery, at the Rozelle branch of the ANZ bank in Sydney, that I encountered my first problematic situation: the potential hero.

Customers and staff lay spread-eagled on the floor as the teller filled my bag from each cash drawer and I surveyed the scene from a vantage point on the counter. It was the body language that forewarned me. He was a young bloke, early to mid 30s, poised to spring. To retaliate or exhibit courage when confronted with an armed offender is suicidal - but he had thrown all caution to the wind.

I didn’t want to shoot him - I’m a bank robber, not a killer. No amount of money is worth taking a life for, but he didn’t know that. I pointed the gun at his head, and then swore - every bit of gutter invective I could muster I spewed at him, and everyone on the floor.


“Don’t do it mate or I’ll blow your f----g head off!” I screamed at him.

My voice and my threats regained control of the situation. His girlfriend or his wife pulled him down to the ground, and the problematic situation was resolved. I grabbed my bag filled with the bank’s money and left. Another successful heist, and nobody physically hurt.

Some people call me a dinosaur in the bank robbing business, and maybe I am. Maybe I belong to that diminishing breed of felon who never resorted to chemical-induced bravado to commit crime. I’m not a junkie; I’m not unpredictable like sweating gelignite: one jolt and it explodes.

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Article edited by Allan Sharp.
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First published in the Bulletin in January 2006.

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About the Author

Bernie Matthews is a convicted bank robber and prison escapee who has served time for armed robbery and prison escapes in NSW (1969-1980) and Queensland (1996-2000). He is now a journalist. He is the author of Intractable published by Pan Macmillan in November 2006.

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