Godfrey Stephens – A Queensland Credit Union Man

Ben Woods, Assistant Archivist, Australian Mutuals History

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Godfrey Stephens at the microphone during the NSW Credit Union League AGM in October 1964, held during International Credit Union Week [from collection]
Godfrey Stephens was a legend of the Queensland credit union movement. He was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1925. Only a slight Irish lilt is discernible on the oral history interview he gave Richard Raxworthy in November 1991, from which most of the information for this short biography was retrieved.

He spent the first 20 years of his life in Dublin and he told Raxworthy that he didn’t know what he was going to do when he left school but he was “pretty sure he was always going to be a desk jockey”. His first job after leaving school was as a clerk with the Dublin Trustees Savings Bank. He continued in this role until 1945. In 1945 he left the comforts of home to take up a position with the Bank of Iran in Tehran before returning to Ireland and getting married. Godfrey learned Persian in Tehran, telling Raxworthy “If I didn’t learn Persian, I didn’t eat. It was as simple as that. We were dealing purely with the local population”.

He was talked into coming to Australia by his father-in-law who spent a lot of time here. Godfrey and his wife arrived without jobs in Melbourne on Melbourne Cup Day in 1950 and he was astonished to see the place deserted. He was soon put right.

He first heard about credit unions while working in the Brisbane office of the ABC. He and his colleagues heard that the Sydney office had set up a credit union. He told Raxworthy, “It was very very attractive to us that the boys in the Sydney Office were co-operatively funding their own loan program”. He also noted that the ABC realised that the credit union benefited them as well and paid a staff member to go around the nation in order to set up ABC credit unions in every capital city. This person was Stan Arneil (for more on Stan Arneil, read our blog post here). Arneil asked Stephens to take on his first of several important credit union positions, namely the Secretary/Treasurer role of the newly formed ABC Staff (Qld) Credit Union in 1959.

In 1964, Godfrey took up the role of Manger of the Queensland Credit Union League, where he worked for a long while. Like all the Australian credit union pioneers, he worked very hard indeed in this position. After putting in a long day at the office, Mr Stephens would spend many nights on credit union work and many weekends on spreading the word about the credit union movement.

In his position of Manager of the Queensland Credit Union League, Godfrey helped form many credit unions in Queensland including Postal Technicians Credit Union (Qld), the first Aboriginal credit union at Cherbourg, near Brisbane and the Queensland Police Credit Union.

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Godfrey Stephens shaking hands with Paddy Bailey of CUNA International at the NSW Credit Union League AGM at Hurstville, NSW, in October 1964 [from collection]
In 1965 he was invited by CUNA International to take a tour of credit unions in America and Canada in order to expand his knowledge. He told Raxworthy that a key finding of this trip was the workings of community credit unions. It became apparent to him that the decentralised population of Queensland meant that community credit unions would do more to spread the movement than industry credit unions which were the norm up until then.

He also learned a lot from attending the Newport Credit Union Schools in Sydney which the NSW Credit Union League (NSWCUL) began in 1965. He told Raxworthy, “I remember that I learned a hell of a lot about philosophy and I learned that when a person is in trouble they need help. That doesn’t always happen today. Computers are rather callous instruments and if one tells you ‘sorry, you’re over extended’, on too many occasions that is the end of that person. I’m afraid I believe that when a person is in trouble, they need help. Perhaps, it may not be money but they need help”.

Mr Stephens received an Order of Australia Medal in 1991 for his pioneering work in the Queensland credit union movement. Also in 1991, he was awarded the Australian Credit Union Historical Co-operative’s Kevin Yates Award for meritorious service to the Australian Credit Union Movement.

Godfrey Stephens passed away aged 83 on Friday, 5th December 2008, in Chermside, Brisbane.

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Godfrey Stephens photographed in retirement [from collection]

 

 

Australian Mutuals History @ COBA 2019

Ben Woods, Assistant Archivist, Australian Mutuals History

This was the 3rd year that the current team at Australian Mutuals History (formerly Australian Credit Union Archives) has exhibited at COBA’s annual convention. Apart from anything else, in my opinion, this year’s exhibition centre had the best vibe out of the three years and also the best food! The paella served during the Welcome Reception was beyond belief. The Welcome Reception overall was good value, with the lights and the performance artists on stilts. We gave the stilt walkers an Australian Mutuals History bookmark each for their trouble.

Business wise we had particularly good discussions with Directors and staff from The Capricornian, Defence Bank, Heritage Bank, BankVic, Bank of US, LCU, Police Credit Union, Police Bank, Qudos Bank, Summerland Credit Union, WECU, Endeavour Mutualbank, Transport Mutual, COBA and others.

Here are some of the photos we took during the event. See you next year!

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Our stall
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Delegates enjoying the Welcome Reception
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The amazing stilt walkers
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Congratulating the winner of our lucky dip, Paul Ranson from Bank of US
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Our mini footy signed by Sydney Swans legend Jude Bolton who attended as representative of COBA 2019 and Sydney Swans sponsor QBE Insurance
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COBA 2019 sponsors’ board located outside the Exhibition Centre

UniCredit – The Credit Union Way in W.A.

Ben Woods, Assistant Archivist, Australian Mutuals History

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University Staff Credit Society was born at the University of Western Australia in 1963. One of the vanguard was James Vallve who cooked up some ideas for a credit society when not working in the university’s chemistry department. Mr Vallve became the founding chair of University Staff Credit Society when he and his colleagues succeeded in beginning the credit union with a bond of serving university staff.

University Staff Credit Society successfully served the financial needs of WA’s academic community and it quickly gained the nickname “Unicredit”. This became so widespread that the trading name Unicredit was registered in 1985.

The February 1994 edition of Directions magazine featured a short profile of UniCredit. It included the following statistics – membership at December 1993 stood at 10,740 with assets of $36.07 million.

UniCredit Manager, Alan Hellicar, was quoted in the profile as saying:

“UniCredit’s primary bond area is the state’s four universities. In February 1994 we will open a branch office on the University of Western Australia campus giving the Society a presence on four of the six major campus sites.

Ease of account access for members has been a major concern of UniCredit, particularly when existing members graduate or leave a tertiary institution. The growth in electronic banking facilities has overcome this problem to a large degree and we now have an increasing membership off-campus retaining previously established links with the Society. Our current level of business activity indicates that 1994 will be a busy and interesting year for UniCredit”.

The concern about access to quality branch services for members, despite ever more widely accessible internet technology, detailed by Mr Hellicar in 1994 was further evidenced in a 1998 article in Directions. The article also celebrated UniCredit receiving a Subiaco Award for the redevelopment of its office in Subiaco. The building, designed by Robin Kornweibel Architects, was commended in the awards “for being highly functional and sympathetic to the streetscape through its simplicity of design and attention to detail”.

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UniCredit’s award winning office in Subiaco, 1998 [from Directions]
In 2014, the UniCredit Board came to the conclusion that “joining forces with another strong and equally dedicated party was the best path forward to securing a successful and sustainable future”. At a Special General Meeting held in July 2015 UniCredit members voted to merge with Teachers Mutual Bank.

From August 1 2015, UniCredit began operations as UniBank, a division of Teachers Mutual Bank Limited. UniBank serves the financial needs of staff, students and graduates of Australian universities and their families.

Behind the Door at NSW Teachers Credit Union

Ben Woods, Assistant Archivist, Australian Mutuals History

Australian Mutuals History hold over 600 films produced by and about credit unions. One of the most interesting is called “Behind the Door”. Produced by a professional outfit called Vitascope in the 1990s, the film sees actor Richard Carter (famous for his portrayal of Lyail Chandler in the TV series Blue Murder) taking cameraman “Chris” through NSW Teachers Credit Union (now Teachers Mutual Bank) head office in Sydney. On the way they stop and talk to staff members asking them about their roles with the credit union. Our copy which we recently had digitised from fragile and inaccessible VHS tape, includes an entertaining blooper reel at the end so keep watching after the screen goes black. Here it is below.

Alf Green – An Amateur Credit Union Historian

Ben Woods, Assistant Archivist, Australian Mutuals History

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John Lee (left) & Alf Green on their recent visit to our office

Australian Mutuals History was pleased to welcome back Alf Green to our office in Surry Hills, Sydney. Alf is good friends with long-time supporter John Lee who accompanied Alf to Surry Hills for his first visit in some time.

Alf used to visit us in order to undertake research during his time as an amateur credit union historian. He has a particular interest in credit unions of the Illawarra region of NSW as this is where he lives and worked and held a directorship of City Coast Credit Union. Mr Green became a director of City Coast Credit Union in 1969, a position he held for many years after initially joining the credit union as a member. He was also a long time member of ICUD NSW (Institute of Credit Union Directors).

Mr Green produced histories of Wollongong Hospital Employees Credit Union, Illawarra District Hospital & Ambulance Employees Credit Union and City Coast Credit Union. He also produced a history of the Association of Southern Credit Unions which supported and promoted credit unions primarily on the south coast of NSW from 1965 to 1982. None of these histories have been published so it is necessary to use our services in order to access the insights into these institutions that they provide.

While Alf no longer undertakes research into credit unions he keeps busy working on his family history and researching charities in the Illawarra.

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The author is holding historical credit union documents Mr Green had at home and presented to Australian Mutuals History

International Credit Union Day 2019 – Local Service. Global Reach

Ben Woods, Assistant Archivist, Australian Mutuals History

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October 17, 2019 marks 71 years of International Credit Union Day! International Credit Union Day is recognised and developed by the World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU), the organisation dedicated to the development and promotion of credit unions around the world.

WOCCU states that this year’s theme of Local Service. Global Reach, “speaks to how each credit union serves a local community—and it is because of that local service in communities across the world that we have a global credit union movement that’s now 260 million members strong. ICU Day 2019 is a celebration of the impact credit unions and other financial cooperatives have made—and continue to make for their members. It is also a chance to be thankful for the lives and communities that have been improved by our movement”. The global reach consists of 89,000 credit unions operating in 117 countries.

Of  ICU Day more generally WOCCU notes, “Since 1948, International Credit Union Day has been celebrated annually on the third Thursday of October. Each year, the international event affords the opportunity to remember credit unions’ proud history and promote awareness of and support for the credit union and financial cooperative difference”.

Australian Mutuals History is a proud supporter of International Credit Union Day and our collection of over 30,000 records pertaining to the Australian credit union and mutual banking sector includes items related to the celebration of the day in Australia since the 1950s. These items include the photograph reproduced here.

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International Credit Union Day picnic, Nielson Park, NSW,  1 October 1967 [from Collection] 

CSA Cooperative Credit Union Society – A Western Australian endeavour

Amanda Barber, Senior Archivist, Australian Mutuals History

The CSA Cooperative Credit Union Society was formed by officers in the Western Australian Department of Lands and Survey and the Office of Titles. It was initially registered as the Land Titles Credit Union Limited when it was formed in November 1960.

The Land Titles Credit Union Limited had a bond of association that extended to members of the Civil Service Association. In December 1961 it changed its name to CSA Cooperative Credit Union Society Limited.

In December 1981 the name changed to CSA Credit Union Limited. In 1989 it accepted engagements of The Railways Officers Co-operative Credit Union Society Limited.

In 1994 a profile of the credit union was published in the Australian Credit Union Magazine. The profile was part of a regional feature on Western Australia. The article noted that there were 17 credit unions operating at the time and that credit union assets in Western Australia totalled $699.43 million on 30 September 1993, which was an increase of 9.60% on the previous year’s figures.

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Profile from Australian Credit Union Magazine, Feb/Mar 1994

In November 1995 the credit union merged with API-Auscom Credit Society Limited to form StateWest Credit Society Limited. In 1998 a profile of the StateWest Credit Society was published in the Australian Credit Union Magazine and it stated that “the decision to merge was based on the belief a larger entity would provide members (predominately Commonwealth and State public servants) with a stronger financial institution able to pass on better rates, better service and greater security”.

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From the Australian Credit Union Magazine, Oct/Nov 1998 

StateWest Credit Society Limited continued to grow and accepted engagements of Wapet Staff Credit Society Limited (1998), Health Services Credit Union Society Limited (2002) and Breweries Union Credit Society Limited (2004)

On 10 July 2006 StateWest Credit Society demutualised to merge with Home Building Society. This expanded entity subsequently merged with Bank of Queensland in November 2007.

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Photograph of StateWest’s general manager Greg Wall from Australian Credit Union Magazine, Oct/Nov 1998