Ben Woods, Assistant Archivist, Australian Mutuals History
Ken Miller was one of the most influential leaders in Australian credit union history and this was partly thanks to his writing, which includes his book A Reluctant Volunteer (1998). Therefore we have recourse to his words quite often as part of our research.
Recently, we were taken aback when we discovered the high praise he heaped on Keith Young in the oral history interview he recorded with Richard Raxworthy in 1990 that we hold. When Richard asked Ken about the early days of the NSW Credit Union League (NSWCUL), Ken said:
To my mind the one who deserves the most credit for the formation of League was Keith Young. Keith Young was Secretary, did all the work in my view. I know this because he kept on constantly chasing me to see what credit union I could join … Certainly, whatever did happen there and whoever was named as the Secretary, it was Keith Young who was doing all the work.
We decided it would be worthwhile to do some more digging and indeed Keith Young became the first Secretary of NSWCUL when it launched in 1956. Keith recorded his own oral history with Richard Raxworthy in 1989 where he confirms most of what Ken recorded in his interview.
He told Richard that he was born in Mosman, NSW, in 1926 and went to school at Mosman Intermediate High School. He served in the RAAF in World War II but was “chairborne not airborne” and served as a pay clerk.
He remained a “bean counter” (his words) after the war, working as a clerk doing accounts (bookkeeping, pay roll) with CSR, a building materials firm that is still operating today. He was the driving force in the creation of CSR Officers Credit Union in 1956 as a foundation Director and stayed on in that role until 1977. CSR Officers Credit Union was the first industrial credit union formed in NSW.
His first experience of credit unions came via his church parish at Balgowlah, where he heard about credit unions from an Anglican minister. He took the knowledge back to his home parish and formed what was initially called West Manly Savings and Loans Society in 1954.
Keith told Richard Raxworthy the story of the formation of CSR Officers Credit Union:
What happened in regard to that was I used to work for CSR out of Alexandria, and we had a little lunch room. We all used to sit there and eat our lunch and people used to talk about what they were up to and so forth and so on and I happened to mention that we had formed a credit union in the local parish church. The Manager at the time said, ‘If this credit union is so good operating in the parish why can’t we start one, or why can’t you start one for CSR staff?’ I said to him, ‘Well, I am prepared to have a strike if you will give me half a day off to do something about it.’ He said, ‘Yes, you can have tomorrow afternoon off to go to head office in town and see what you can do.’
So I came to town the next afternoon and I sought out a friend who I knew was on the executive of the CSR Officers’ Association, which was the union. He said, ‘What’s on your mind?’ I said, ‘This is the story,’ and told him about the credit union and how I happened to be there. He said, ‘It sounds good to me. If I can get the executive of the Association together at four o’clock this afternoon will you tell us about this credit union?’ I said I would. So at four o’clock a meeting of the Association executive was held and I outlined what a credit union was, what we were doing in the parish. The executive decided there and then they would immediately move to form a credit union within CSR. So the whole thing got underway and as I say the CSR Officers’ Credit Union was formed in 1956.
I served as a Director of that right up until 1977, when I was seconded from CSR to become the full-time Manager of the credit union. It was during my seven or eight years with the credit union that the whole thing really blossomed and took off. It is now a $10 million credit union.
Keith attended the formation meeting of NSWCUL wearing two delegate hats, one for West Manly Credit Union and one for CSR Officers Credit Union. His expertise and enthusiasm impressed the meeting and he was made foundation Secretary of the League.
He resigned his position as NSWCUL Secretary in 1962 due to increasing family commitments but not before bringing back to Australia the concept of Loan Protection Insurance from a trip he made to the US in 1958 with Clarrie Murphy as guests of CUNA (Credit Union National Association).
Australian Mutuals History holds a number of typescript manuscript reports written by Keith in the late 1950s from his time with NSWCUL. Educational in tone, they are titled, “Self Help Finance Through Credit Unions”, “Mutual Aid with Money” and “Burglary – Protect Your Credit Union”.
Here is a nice little slice from “Mutual Aid with Money”:
Credit unions have generally interpreted their limitations to mean that loans must be of real benefit to the borrowers. That means that members of a credit union instinctively feel, “It’s our money … but we won’t let it out on foolish risks. No betting money.”
Expenses of credit unions are low because those most actively involved in administration give their services without salary.
Keith resigned from CSR and all involvement in credit unions in 1984 and became Honorary Federal Treasurer of the Church Missionary Society.