Ben Woods, Assistant Archivist, Australian Mutuals History
Henry William (Bill) Howe was a committed credit unionist, whose tireless work and values saw him become the first Australian President of the World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) in 1982 and receive an Officer of the Order of Australia Medal in 2001. Bill’s life in credit unions is a fascinating one and his story is pieced together through records in our collection such as his oral history interview with Richard Raxworthy of 1990, as well as articles in Credit Union Quest, Australian Credit Unions Magazine and Connexus.
Bill Howe was born in Five Dock, Sydney, in 1934 and educated at North Sydney Boys High School. He studied civil engineering at Sydney Technical College but drifted into land surveying and drafting which he qualified in.
Bill’s involvement with credit unions began when he started to see his future wife. His future father in law was the secretary of St Jerome’s Catholic Parish Credit Union which began in 1949 and became Pinnacle Credit Union. When Bill asked for his girlfriend’s hand in marriage, her father replied, “If you want my daughter’s hand in marriage, you’ve got to be involved in credit unions”.
With experience with St Jerome’s under his belt, Bill, Ron Birch and others began Sydney Water Board Officers Credit Union in August 1959. It became Community First Credit Union in 1993 which it continues to trade as.
There was very little of the credit union world that Bill didn’t visit and indeed take a big role in. He established the Credit Union Savings Reserve Board, was President of the Australian Federation of Credit Union Leagues (AFCUL) from 1981-1985, was Chairman of the Association of NSW Credit Unions, a time that saw him at the forefront of the amalgamation of the regional NSW associations and, as stated before was elected as the first Australian President of WOCCU in 1982. There is more else besides.
Along with his credit union work and employment with the Sydney Water Board, Bill was involved in trade unions, the Army Reserve and part-time teaching. He told Raxworthy that he put in long hours to get everything done and he didn’t see how he could engender the respect of his subordinates at the Water Board if he didn’t contribute his fair share because he was off on other business. He also said that his credit union commitments caused him to spend a lot of time away from home and although his family was supportive, there was friction at times.
In a profile on Bill by Connexus magazine in 2001, he was quoted as saying that credit unions epitomise the spirit of community:
“Most of us feel like we need a hand at times, and that’s when you turn to your neighbours for support. You find that everyone you meet has similar experiences and are prepared to work together.”
The article also featured Bill’s colleague and CEO of Community First Credit Union, Keith Delaney’s thoughts on Bill.
“Bill would always find a way to achieve what he needed to achieve,” Keith said. “His passion for what could be achieved for people through credit unions was unrelenting”.