Tweed BGF Members’ Credit Union – a growing concern…

Amanda Barber, Senior Archivist, Australian Mutuals History

Tweed Byron

Tweed BGF Members’ Credit Union was registered on 9 August, 1966.  Initially membership of the credit union was open only to those who held at least one share in the Banana Growers’ Federation on the Tweed roll.  This was later extended to those on the Brunswick and Richmond District Rolls.

For the first five years the credit union was conducted by volunteers in the B.G.F. Office in Murwillumbah. In 1972 the credit union acquired an office in the B.G.F. [Banana Growers’ Federation] Building in Wollumbin Street, Murwillumbah and permanent staff.  In 1972 the staff consisted of a Manager-Treasurer, Secretary and office assistant.

The credit union expanded and purchased a property from C.W. Beer and Partners and moved from Wollumbin Street, to this new building (renamed Credit Union House). On 28 April 1973 Credit Union House in Murwillumbah was officially opened.

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Tweed Byron Credit Union’s (now Southern Cross Credit Union) Credit Union House in Murwillumbah, NSW

In 1974 the credit union bought its first computer (an Olivetti P603) to update members’ records and to automatically calculate loans and savings interest. At that time there were about 3000 members and deposits totalling almost $2 million.

On 28 November 1975 the Credit Union was re-named Tweed-Byron Credit Union and on 2 January 1976 it accepted the engagements of the Lismore Community Credit Union.  During this year the bond was extended to allow any resident of the Tweed, Richmond or Brunswick Valleys to become a member without the requirement to hold shares in the B.G.F.

The magazine Directions (October 1993 issue) ran a short profile of the credit union and the General Manager Graham Robinson said “Recent extensive research has confirmed that our philosophy of community involvement and quality service to members has been very successful”. In October 1993 the member numbers were reported as 20,198 and the assets were given as $64 million.

Regional Graffiti

By 1994 – 1995 the main office was at 2-4 Commercial Street Murwillumbah and branches were conducted at Lismore, Mullumbimby, Tweed Heads, Casino, Ballina, Byron Bay and Cabarita Beach.

On 1 July 1997 the Credit Union was re-named Southern Cross Credit Union Limited. In an article in the magazine Directions, (February 1997 issue) General Manager Peter Iwanuscha talks about the impending name change. He outlined that as the operations have grown to include members more geographically dispersed, so the name needed to be more reflective of this and “Southern Cross takes in universally the whole of the North Coast (of NSW). To us Southern Cross is Australia”. The credit union stills operates today under the same name.

Southern Cross

Australian Mutuals History, History and the Visual Atlas of Australian Co-operatives History Project

We recently asked Professor Greg Patmore to write about the value of the archival collection managed by Australian Mutuals History to the work that he has been doing as part of the Co-operatives Research Group at the University of Sydney. In his article, presented below, Professor Patmore advocates strongly for the value of historical research, supported by the evidence held in archives, in providing frameworks for understanding the development of co-operatives in Australia and their impact on the national economic and social fabric.

Australian Mutuals History, History and the Visual Atlas of Australian Co-operatives History Project

By Professor Greg Patmore

Australian Mutuals History (AMH) is Australia’s most comprehensive archive for studying the history of Australia’s customer owned banks (COB), which includes credit unions, building societies and mutual banks. AMH’s documentary collections, oral histories and on-line database are crucial for co-operative historians. When dealing with issues in relating to COBs, historical analysis allows researchers to develop dynamic rather than static theoretical frameworks.  Underlying the historical approach is a critique of the static approach taken to theorization by the dominant social sciences such as economics and psychology. Theoretical perspectives that fail to take account of a changing economic, political and social climate have limited explanatory power.

One of the problems that historical researchers face is the notion of presentism. It denies the relevance of the past and claims that history unlike the natural or social sciences is idiographic in that it explores details of unique and irreproducible events. It ignores that historians can develop long-term theoretical perspectives. Presentism can increase risk as organisations may adopt the latest fads, which may be previous failed ideas renamed. Why did ideas fail in earlier periods? Are the conditions for failure still present today? Historical research allows us to explore these questions and provide another perspective for contemporary debates. Historical research also creates memory and challenges ‘organisational amnesia’, further mitigating risk by allowing us insights into the failures and successes of financial co-operatives.

AMH is playing a significant role in the Visual Atlas of Australian Co-operatives History Project, which is co-ordinated by Associate Professor Nikola Balnave (Macquarie University), Professor Olivera Marjanovic (UTS) and Emeritus Professor Greg Patmore (The University of Sydney). The project focuses on all forms of co-operatives in Australia including retail co-operatives, agricultural co-operatives and financial co-operatives, such as credit unions, and co-operative building societies. It also includes co-operative federations and auxiliary organisations such as co-operative women’s guilds. The project draws upon a range of data sources. It is the first to use the National Library Trove newspaper database to develop a long-term picture of the development of a business model, particularly for the nineteenth century. The general data relating to the development of Australian co-operatives is obtained from a variety of sources including AMH and the National Library of Australia. This material is supplemented by public sources such as newspapers, particularly at community level, published co-operative histories, parliamentary papers and debates, and material sent to the various Registrars of Co-operative Societies. Another dimension of the project is a series of detailed case studies to allow greater insights into the growth and decline of co-operatives.

The data collected is organised on a Visual Atlas of Australian Co-operatives, which currently has the historical data of 2,154 co-operatives at 1,418 locations, including 386 financial co-operatives, plus additional data for many more currently being processed. The earliest example of a building society was the Adelaide and Suburban Building Society founded in 1847 and a credit union was the Co-operative Credit Bank of Victoria established in 1905. The Visual Atlas is implemented using state-of-the-art data visualisation software called Tableau. The main data inputted include location, date of operation, type of co-operative, membership, employment and finances. The financial data includes assets, turnover, liabilities and surpluses/losses. Locations include, for example, branch stores and produce handling facilities. The information is inputted from data sets, such as Trove and Registrars reports, that examine co-operatives over long periods, rather than short term data that may cover only one or two years. The data highlights trends and allow patterns of growth and decline to be visible with only a small proportion of the population of co-operatives. As more data is inputted in the Atlas these patterns will become clearer. The Atlas currently contains data up to the present and it is planned to make this a permanent resource for co-operatives and the public.

The Atlas enables the analysis and visualisation of data by the researchers to develop explanation for changes in size of the co-operative movement over time and space. While the average life span for all co-operatives and financial co-operatives is 24 years, the average life span for agricultural co-operatives is 33 years and worker co-operatives is 7 years. While a significant reason for the recent decline of agricultural co-operatives is demutualisation, an important reason for the recent decline of financial co-operatives is amalgamation. Researchers can use the Atlas to highlight where co-operatives were concentrated geographically with significant regional centres for co-operative development being Broken Hill, Bathurst, Bendigo and Toowoomba.

Overall AMH is the most significant collection relating to Australian Co-operative History. It allows historians to challenge organisational amnesia and develop dynamic theoretical explanations of COB growth and development. It is playing a crucial role in the Visual Atlas of Australian Co-operatives Project.

Greg Patmore is Emeritus Professor of Business and Labour History and Chair of the Business and Labour History Group and the Co-operative Research Group (CRG) in the School of Business, The University of Sydney. He also chairs the advisory committee of the Chambers Research Collection on the Burren St. campus.

 

Herald Employees Credit Co-operative – a newsworthy endeavour

Amanda Barber, Senior Archivist, Australian Mutuals History

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The Herald Employees Credit Co-operative (VIC) was established on 30 January 1969.  Its membership was open to the employees of The Herald and Weekly Times Limited (and subsidiary companies) and the spouse of members.

It is interesting to note that credit unions were also formed in a number of other newspaper companies around Australia. These included the Advertiser Employees Credit Union Limited (SA), Newcastle Sun-Herald Employees Credit Union Limited (NSW) and the Herald-Sun Staff Credit Union Limited (NSW).

The membership of the Herald Employees Credit Co-operative grew steadily in the early years (from 813 in 1969 to 2,448 in 1975). In 1984 the Co-operative accepted engagements of Collins Credit Union Co-operative Limited.

By 1988 the Co-operative had been re-named Herald Credit Co-operative Limited.  Restructuring of the media industry in 1987- 1988 impacted the credit union and resulted in a steep rise in bad and doubtful debts and a decrease in membership. Despite this two mergers occurred in 1994.  On 1 February 1994 the engagements of Westgate Credit Co-operative were accepted and in December 1994 those of the small Sandringham Credit Co-operative Ltd were accepted.

On 31 January 2000 Herald Credit Co-Operative Ltd merged with Arlem Credit Co-operative and, further, on 1 November 2000 merged with Austral Credit Union and was re-named Herald Austral Credit Co-operative. It later become Austral Credit Union.

On 11 November 2003 Austral Credit Union accepted the engagements of The Scallop Credit Union, and on 1 April 2006 Credit Union Home Loans Australia Ltd merged with Austral Credit Union. Finally, Austral Credit Union merged with Savings and Loans (SA) Ltd on 1 November 2008.

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Back page of the Herald Employees Credit Co-operative Annual Report 1974-1975 [from Collection]

Barbara Wellington – A Beacon in the History of Credit Unions in South Australia

Ben Woods, Assistant Archivist, Australian Mutuals History

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Barbara Wellington was a shining light not only for women in credit unions but for the credit union movement in South Australia. This profile examines her life in credit unions and it draws on our oral history interview with Barbara, conducted in her London home in 1993 and Australian Credit Unions Magazine’s short bio of her in the May 1988 issue.

Barbara Wellington’s father was a Methodist Minister in South Australia in the first half of the 20th century. Methodist Ministers at the time were required to travel around so Barbara’s childhood was spent all over regional South Australia until her teen years when the family settled in the Adelaide suburbs.

Barbara was introduced to credit unions when she gained employment with the ABC in Adelaide. She joined the ABC Staff Association Credit Union (SA) and indeed became a Director in 1967 which was the start of a long association with the credit union movement. In the late 1960s, the Board of the ABC Staff Association Credit Union (SA) decided that they needed full time staff in order to grow the credit union and ensure it was administered professionally. Ms Wellington was unsure whether she would apply for the new Manager’s role and the ABC were good enough to give her 12 months to decide if she would devote herself full-time to the credit union or if she would return to her day job in television and radio. In 1970, she took up the paid position of Manager of ABC Staff Association Credit Union (SA). She held the position of Manager until 1980.

Barbara got involved with the Credit Union League of South Australia (CULSA) in 1968 and became the first woman delegate to the Australian Federation of Credit Union Leagues (AFCUL) soon after. Arguably, Ms Wellington’s most significant work in credit unions was her part in setting up Adelaide Central Mission Credit Union. Adelaide Central Mission was concerned about the amount of people contacting Lifeline as a result of financial difficulties and they thought a credit union might be able to help. They approached Barbara who told them that a credit union couldn’t be started by people who all had dire financial difficulties, you needed people to pool money so you can make loans. What eventually happened was that Adelaide Central Mission Credit Union was formed as a credit union for employees of Adelaide Central Mission. It was a workplace credit union that was dubbed “a credit union with a heart” as it took extra care in helping people in financial hardship.

Barbara moved to the United Kingdom in 1980 and continued her association with the credit union movement. In 1983, Barbara was made a Director of the board of the Association of British Credit Unions Limited (ABCUL) and was elected President in 1986. She was also employed as Administrator of Southwark Council Employees Credit Union in London.

In her 1993 oral history interview she noted that in the 1980s the credit union movement was very small in England. Most of the existing credit unions were formed by West Indian and Irish migrants. When migrants from the Caribbean came to England they looked for credit unions to join and on finding none they formed their own. The same was true of Irish migrants in London in particular.

Illawarra Credit Union – The Fruit of Australia’s First Credit Union Merger

Ben Woods, Assistant Archivist, Australian Mutuals History

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Illawarra Credit Union building, pre-2000’s [from Collection]
The August 1972 edition of Credit Union Quest (the newspaper produced by the NSW Credit Union League) announced “Two Big South Coast Credit Unions Merge”. The first sentence reads, “The Collieries Employees and the Southern Mutual credit unions have amalgamated to form The Illawarra Credit Union”.  The article notes that this was Australia’s first credit union merger.

The merging credit unions had their best year of operations to date and the article notes that the new larger entity had sufficient capital to open another branch in Wollongong. In August 1972, Illawarra Credit Union had over $1 million of savings with more than 4400 members.

A little over 10 years later, in December 1982, Australian Credit Unions Magazine, which was published by the Australian Federation of Credit Union Leagues (AFCUL) celebrated the 10th anniversary of Illawarra Credit Union. In that time it had accepted the engagements of Norwarra Credit Union in 1976 and increased its membership to 16,600 with assets of around $25 million. It now had seven branches located at Helensburgh, Bulli, Corrimal, Wollongong, Warilla, Dapto and Nowra.

By 1999, AFCUL had been replaced by CUSCAL as Australia’s credit union peak body and their magazine, Directions, also had an article about Illawarra Credit Union. In the February 1999 edition of Directions, journalist Lisa Lintern wrote a profile of Illawarra Credit Union which focused on the member surveys they had been regularly conducting.

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Illawarra Credit Union homepage, ca. 1990’s [from Collection]
The article states that Illawarra Credit Union “conducts major member surveys approximately every 18 months and specific product positioning surveys are performed during this time when required. Usually, a professional research company is used which employs methods such as telephone surveys or focus groups”. Also covered are Illawarra’s use of the Phonelink IVR service and their computer conversion project which saw the replacement of their Financial Network Service. Finally, the article covered the recent extension of Illawarra Credit Union’s operating bond which allowed it to operate beyond the Illawarra region to the entirety of NSW and the ACT.

In 2003, Illawarra Credit Union merged with Unicom Credit Union forming Community Alliance Credit Union Limited. The Illawarra Credit Union name was retained as a brand and it continues to prosper in 2019.

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Illawarra Credit Union CEO Simon Whitehead with unknown staff member, pre 2000’s [from Collection]

John Hilton (Jack) Hotchkis – a staunch credit union advocate

Amanda Barber, Senior Archivist, Australian Mutuals History

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As part of our occasional series on credit union figures we are taking a look at John Hilton (Jack) Hotchkis, who was a central figure in the establishment of the Coalcliff Collieries Employees’ Credit Union Ltd.

Jack Hotchkis was born on 1 August 1916 and was educated at Wollongong High School. He enlisted in the Australian Army during World War Two and rose to the rank of Sergeant.

Jack Hotchkis became an Engineer at Coalcliff Colliery (where his father Daniel Stewart Hotchkis had also worked). It was during 1964 when he saw Stan Arneil on television advocating the development of the credit union movement. Jack Hotchkis shared the credit union message with colleagues Sylvester Cairney, Harry Hill, Robert Kelly, Cyril Brownjohn and George Johnston who were amongst those to become the first Board members and officers when the Coalcliff Collieries Employees’ Credit Union Ltd was registered in October 1964.

Jack Hotchkis became the first member of the credit union and Secretary of the foundation Board that met for the first time on 14 February, 1965. It was a humble start and the credit union records were apparently maintained at the homes of Cyril Brownjohn and Jack Hotchkis and the Board initially met in a shed behind the Hotchkis home in Thirroul.

Jack Hotchkis resigned as Secretary on 21 May 1967 but assisted Treasurer George Johnston for many years. He continued to serve on the Board until 1973. The Coalcliff Collieries Employees’ Credit Union Ltd changed its name to Norwarra Credit Union Limited in September 1972 (see earlier blog on Norwarra Credit Union here).

Jack Hotchkis was also a life member of the St John Ambulance Association of NSW for which he conducted first aid classes and gave lectures and was presented with a Certificate of Merit for his services by the Governor of NSW, Sir Eric Woodward in 1964.

Jack Hotchkis died on 27 December 1974.

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]