United for the Common Good: A Short History of the Australian Federation of Credit Union Leagues

    Ben Woods, Assistant Archivist, Australian Mutuals History

Australian Federation of Credit Union Leagues first AGM, 1966 [Location: PH/0124]
Today the mutual banking industry has the Customer Owned Banking Association (COBA) as its peak body to look after its collective interests in matters that are best served in such a fashion – matters of regulation being but one example, overall industry promotion being another.

Before COBA, the Credit Union Industry Association (CUIA) was the national association for credit unions in Australia. The first national peak body for credit unions in Australia was the Australian Federation of Credit Union Leagues (AFCUL). The most detailed item in our collection illuminating the history of AFCUL would be better described as a work outlining the formation of AFCUL. The document I refer to is “The History of the Australian Federation of Credit Union Leagues”, compiled by J. H. (Jack) Ross in 1966, the same year that AFCUL begun operations. Mr Ross was the initial Vice President of AFCUL and was given the role of Official Historian and one of his tasks was to prepare the history of its formation.

The first serious talk of an Australia wide association of credit unions occurred in 1965 during the running of the first Australia-wide credit union school administered by the NSW Credit Union League (NSWCUL) in conjunction with CUNA Mutual, the international credit union body based in the United States. It was during the running of the credit union school in 1965 that the man who would eventually go on to be the first leader of AFCUL, Stan Arneil, would lecture on the importance of a Federal Credit Union Act and also the need for the state leagues to be affiliated with CUNA.

Mr Arneil was quoted as saying of the school in 1965 that, “the idea of Federation seemed to catch the imagination of all present in particular the imagination of those members from Queensland (Messrs. Merv Callaghan, Don Cottrell and Ron Gerhard) as well as  that of the NSW President, Brian Calverley. The matter was discussed frequently during the remainder of the school and it was agreed that a Federation must be formed as quickly as possible”.

The Queensland and NSW Leagues took the ball and ran with it and submitted draft constitutions for a national association to their boards for consideration. Things moved quickly from there, after draft constitutions for a national body were presented to the Queensland and NSW Leagues in April 1966, the Inaugural Conference of the Australian Federation of Credit Union Leagues was held just a month later on the 7th May 1966 in Sydney.

The inaugural AFCUL President Stan Arneil prepared a ‘Proclamation’ for the founding Directors to sign, which they did during the inaugural conference. The signed Proclamation appears below and it is interesting that it states that “the affiliated credit union leagues of NSW and Queensland do hereby form the Australian Federation of Credit Union Leagues”. Jack Ross addresses the lack of representation of other states in his history. He notes that it was generally thought in the movement that concerns of the credit union industry as a whole in Australia were too great and too urgent to wait for all states and territories to form state bodies before a national association formed and affiliated with CUNA.

Proclamation signed by the Directors at the inaugural AFCUL conference, 7th May, 1966

A postscript to “The History of the Australian Federation of Credit Union Leagues” was added in 1973 which lists 20 points of significance in the short life of AFCUL and the credit union movement more broadly. These include AFCUL successfully negotiating to have stamp duty for credit unions abolished at the state level. AFCUL’s work in assisting many credit unions in establishing the ability to make payroll deductions for members, is also listed as an early win.

In January 1992 the functions of AFCUL and its subsidiary bodies were centralised in the Credit Union Services Corporation (Australia) Limited (CUSCAL).   CUIA was formed out of CUSCAL in 2004 and in 2006 CUIA merged with the Australian Association of Permanent Building Societies (AAPBS) to form Abacus Australian Mutuals. Abacus was renamed COBA in 2013.

Australian Federation of Credit Union Leagues AGM, 1970. Ken Miller is at the microphone, seated beside him is Tom Kelly [Location: PH/0708]

Joyce Shewcroft – a truly remarkable credit union figure

Amanda Barber, Senior Archivist, Australian Mutuals History

Joyce Shewcroft (1912 – 2001) was a remarkable woman who achieved a great deal in her life. Joyce Shewcroft has been described by many as ‘the first female corporation lawyer in Australia’. She also became the first female chair of an Australian credit union when she chaired the Australian Broadcasting Commission Credit Union (elected in 1968), which she also co-founded.

Joyce Shewcroft - Photo - Head shot Quest article
Photograph of Joyce Shewcroft from the Quest magazine (May 1968)

Joyce Shewcroft was born in 1912 in Sydney and left school at 15 to help support her family. She went to Business College and afterwards she joined the office of a solicitor. She later enrolled in the Barristers’ Admission Board course and was admitted to the bar in 1942.

In 1945 Joyce was appointed legal adviser to the ABC. Together with Stan Arneil, she co-founded the ABC Credit Union. She also helped found the ABC Staff Association and became a foundation director.

According to an article in the Quest magazine (May 1968 edition) Joyce’s role in the development of the ABC Credit Union was important and it states “As a founding director, Miss Shewcroft has worked to help the Credit Union multiply its membership 10-fold since its beginning 10 years ago”.

Joyce helped found the Women Lawyers’ Association, of which she was an early president. She was honorary legal adviser to both the Medical Women’s Society of NSW and the Royal Academy of Dance.

Joyce had considerable literary interests, which included writing plays and poetry (winning prizes for her poetry). She studied part-time for an arts degree at the University of Sydney, graduating with honours in history (in 1953), and completed a two-year playwrights’ course with NIDA.

For those of you interested in literature, Joyce had poems published in various publications, including Applying the Einstein Principle (Southerly Vol 17 no. 4 1956); Love Affair (Southerly Vol 12 no. 4 1951); and Executioners (The Penguin Book of Australian Verse 1958).

On 31 December 1977 she was awarded an OBE for services to the ABC and the law. Like many pioneers in the credit union movement, Joyce Shewcroft was a person of great ability, with many interests and skills. In fact she was quite the “renaissance” woman.


A Focus on the NSW Credit Union League

    Ben Woods, Assistant Archivist, Australian Mutuals History

NSW Credit Union League AGM, 1967 [Location: PH/3707]

In recent weeks we’ve brought you short histories of regional credit union associations in NSW – namely the Association of Central Credit Unions and the Association of Southern Credit Unions. This week we bring you a short history of the first state wide credit union representative body to operate in Australia – the NSW Credit Union League (NSWCUL).

The information presented here collates material found in two histories of the group held in our collection. These being, ‘’A Precis of the History of the NSW Association of Credit Unions and its Progenitor Organisations”, which was put together by F. L. Nash in 1989 and a draft of a thesis by Andrew Lo called “The Development of the Credit Union Movement in NSW 1922-1970”, which Nash drew from for his history, as well as the League’s minute books which are also in our collection, along with his “own recollection of these events – and probably my own prejudices, which I freely admit to”.

The League began in 1956 as the NSW Savings and Small Loans Cooperative Societies Association and became the NSW Credit Union League (NSWCUL) in 1958 after the term “credit union” was given a concrete definition by the Credit Union National Association (CUNA) in America. What became the league began when the first credit union in Australia, Universal Credit Union, St Jerome’s Credit Union (of Punchbowl in Sydney) and others joined forces with associated Anglican Credit Unions, the two former credit unions being a coming together of like-minded Catholics.  It is interesting to note that it didn’t take long for them to join forces – Universal Credit Union beginning in 1946 (as the Catholic Thrift and Loan Co-operative Limited) and St Faiths Anglican Credit Union forming in 1953.

As Nash observes, credit union associations were initially set up to provide much needed “funds, staff and administrative support”. Keeping the industry afloat was the main priority of NSWCUL in the early years. Dues of member credit unions were initially set at sixpence each. Larger more self-sufficient credit unions were often not persuaded that it was in their interests to join the league. In the early 1960s, NSWCUL only had membership of around 50 percent of NSW credit unions – which made funds very tight.

Mr Nash notes, “In 1962, the Government made a grant of 3000 pounds which enabled us to appoint our first employee, the League Manager.  From then, till it ceased in 1969, a total amount of 21,000 pounds was made available – an insignificant figure in present day terms – but desperately needed then”.

The newly elected NSWCUL Board as of November 1967, as presented in the November 1967 edition of Quest – the Credit Union Newspaper [from Collection]

No endeavour is ever completely smooth sailing and for NSWCUL the “problem of taxation plagued us practically since conception” observes Nash. He goes on to write “Originally, we believed that we were not liable for tax. We quickly learned otherwise”. In 1982, the Association of Newcastle & District Credit Unions and the Association of Southern Credit Unions joined the League and the name was changed to the Association of NSW Credit Unions.

At a Special General Meeting held in April, 1990, the member credit unions voted to create a new national organisation called Credit Unions Services Australia (CUSCAL). ‘Threshold Day’ occurred on 6 July 1990, when the credit union movement entered the transitional phase to a national system. CUSCAL commenced operations in January 1991.

Of course today, the peak body for the entire customer owned banking industry across Australia is COBA. 

NSWCUL Central Banking 1980
NSWCUL brochure promoting their central banking service for member credit unions, 1980 [from Collection]


Clarrie Murphy Profile

Ben Woods, Assistant Archivist, Australian Mutuals History

Clarrie Murphy speaking at the NSW Credit Union League AGM , Hurstville Civic Centre, NSW, 1963 [Location: PH/0017]
For our latest instalment in our series of profiles on Australian credit union luminaries, we bring you a short biography of Clarrie Murphy, focussing of course on his significant contributions to the credit union industry. Some of Mr Murphy’s achievements as an early pioneer and ongoing champion of the credit union movement include – foundation Director of Australia’s first credit union, Universal Credit Union in 1947, formed St. Jerome’s Co-operative Credit Union (in Punchbowl, NSW) in 1949 and was its first Secretary and Director, foundation Director of the NSW Credit Union League, worked in various positions in later years with Earlwood Credit Union and Railways Staff Credit Union where he also contributed to Rescue –  The Member’s Journal.

Clarrie (Clarence John Murphy) was born in Casino, NSW in 1919. He moved with his family to Punchbowl, a suburb of Sydney, in 1925 where he attended Belmore Technical College. After finishing school, Clarrie worked in factories before joining the RAAF at the outbreak of WWII where he served as an aircraft mechanic. After the war, Clarrie continued working on aircraft for TAA, QANTAS and Fairey Aviation.

Clarrie knew Australian credit union pioneer, Kevin Yates and knowing Clarrie’s deep concern for social justice issues, Kevin thought he would be a good addition to his team that was putting together what became Australia’s first credit union, Universal Credit Union. Clarrie didn’t look back from that point and was a massive asset to the movement.

One of the most interesting times of Clarrie’s credit union career was the four months he spent in North America in 1958, learning about running credit unions and visiting many across the region. Clarrie was joined on the trip by fellow aircraft worker Keith Young and B.C. Credit Unionist Magazine ran a feature on the Australians’ adventure in their May, 1958 issue.

Clarrie addressing new apprentices during Apprentice Induction Week, Chullora, NSW, 1986 [Location: PH/3601]
We here at Australian Mutuals History are especially indebted to Clarrie Murphy because he was a foundation member and Deputy Director from our inception in 1985 (when we were named Australian Credit Union Historical Co-operative). Clarrie worked with the Co-operative until 1997. He was presented with the Co-operative’s Kevin Yates Award in 1991 and had this to say about his work with Australian Credit Union Historical Co-operative –

“I look back with pride on being part of a team of dedicated volunteers, who have established an important organisation, which has saved and stored so much credit union history and has encouraged a degree of enthusiasm among credit union people to respond to our ideals for support”.

This was not Clarrie’s only gong, he was awarded the Order of Australia Medal in 1998 for his 40 years of dedication and commitment to the credit union movement. Clarence John Murphy was married to Eileen Murphy and was father to Helen, John, Barry, Colleen and Tricia. He passed away on June 29, 2002.

PH 0975 Clarrie
Clarrie in front of the Australian Credit Union Historical Co-operative stall at the 1997 CUSCAL Convention, Conrad Hotel, Gold Coast, October, 1997 [Location: PH/0975]

A Brief History of the Association of Central Credit Unions

Ben Woods, Assistant Archivist, Australian Mutuals History

Association of Central Credit Unions Information Booklet [from Collection]
We bring you the second in our series of bios of credit union industry associations in Australia. The first was on the Association of Southern Credit Unions (A.S.C.U.), which was a support and advocacy body mostly for credit unions in the Illawarra region of NSW, operating from 1965 to 1982. Our research into the A.S.C.U. was aided by a fantastic informal history of the organisation produced by Alf Green which we recently processed. Unfortunately, we have no such insider knowledge of the Association of Central Credit Unions (A.C.C.U.) in order to go into great detail, but the following coalesces the information we hold about the A.C.C.U. from records such as newsletters, minute books and information brochures.

The A.C.C.U. represented around 50 credit unions mainly in the Sydney metropolitan area but also in the Illawarra and regional NSW. In fact, A.C.C.U., which began operations in 1974, started because it was felt that a Sydney based association was necessary to represent some of the outer lying members of the pre-existing A.S.C.U. and spread further afield. As you can see from the following sample list of member credit unions, A.C.C.U. represented entities over a significant geographical area: A.B.C. Credit Union, Armidale Post-Tel Employees’ Credit Union, Blacktown Municipal Council Employees’ Credit Union, Campbelltown City Council Employees’ Credit Union, Central West Credit Union, Dairy Farmers Employees’ Credit Union, Earlwood Credit Union, Qantas Staff Credit Union, Randwick Bus Employees’ Credit Union, The University of NSW Staff Credit Union, Tweed Shire Staff Credit Union.

Association of Central Credit Unions Meeting Attendance Book [from Collection]
What all mutual banking associations have in common is that they exist to represent their member entities in dealings with government on behalf of members regarding regulation and legislation, as well as general promotion of their member credit unions. Over the years they have differed in some respects. In an information booklet produced by the association they outlined “the A.C.C.U. difference”.

“We believe the way we function separates us from similar bodies. For example: ACCU is not interested in empire building. It realises the inherent dangers in growing too big, too strong, too remote. It prefers to keep a much closer, more personal association with its members – virtually on a day to day basis. This way ACCU feels it can be more responsive to the needs of its members … providing a more effective and meaningful service”.

In 1982, A.S.C.U., the Northern Districts Credit Union Association and the Credit Union Association of NSW merged to form the Association of NSW Credit Unions. At that time A.C.C.U. was not convinced that this new ‘super body’ would be able to improve on the service that it was providing its members. Eventually, in 1985, it came to see the value of the extensive state wide body and allowed itself to become a part of the Association of NSW Credit Unions.

COBA 2018 – The Challenge of Change

Ben Woods, Assistant Archivist, Australian Mutuals History

The Australian Mutuals History stall at COBA 2018

This was my second year attending the Customer Owned Banking Association Convention in the role of an exhibitor. This means that I occupied the Australian Mutuals History stall in the Exhibition Centre during the day while the convention was in progress. The other breed of attendee at COBA conventions are delegates, who are mostly representatives of mutual banking entities who attend various lectures and discussions held on important issues pertaining to the industry during the day. When the delegates are not attending information sessions and discussions, they head down to the Exhibition Centre (mostly when morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea is served) to talk to the exhibitors to see if any of the wares presented by the exhibitors may be of use to their enterprise.

The Exhibition Centre with delegates milling during morning tea

For us at Australian Mutuals History this means educating anyone unaware of our work on what it is we do, talking to mutual representatives about donating material to us, research opportunities and helping them prepare histories of their organisations. We also talk to mutual representatives about our funding model that requires contributions from the industry in order for us to continue to preserve and make available mutual banking history for the good of all. We had very successful discussions on all of the above this year and we also had a great time doing it.

The fun aspect began with the Welcome Reception on Sunday evening where the attendees gathered in the Exhibition Centre for drinks, chats and canapes and to explore “The Colours of Melbourne”. For the reception the Exhibition Centre was decorated in images and plastic arts representing iconic Melbourne scenes and events such as The Melbourne Cup, Brighton Beach and inner Melbourne laneways.

A mock-up of Melbourne laneways for the Welcome Reception

Other good times were to be had at the CGU race car simulator which was very realistic indeed. Delegates could also have a go at Bridge’s putt putt golf hole and QBE’s netball shootout challenge. None of which I was very successful at.

Of course we mustn’t forget the Convention Dinner which this year was an ode to the 1920s – therefore there were lots of guys dressed in pin stripe suits with slicked back hair and lots of women dressed as flappers. A great night and a great event! See you next year on the Gold Coast!

All the Way with LBJ and International Credit Union Day

Ben Woods, Assistant Archivist, Australian Mutuals History

Copy of a letter from U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson congratulating “credit union members everywhere” on International Credit Union Day, 1964 [from Collection]
One of the biggest class of records we have in our collection is correspondence. Mostly it is between staff members of credit unions, mutual banks and mutual building societies. We also hold some letters written to and from mutual banking representatives and politicians from both major parties including State Premiers and Ministers and one quite feisty missive sent by J. R. Cooper, Secretary of the Electricity Commission Employees Credit Union Co-operative to Prime Minister Robert Menzies, dated 9th November, 1965,  rebuking him for a policy that in his eyes, negatively affected credit unions.

We have recently processed a letter that even tops the correspondence with Prime Minister Menzies, as it is a copy of a letter from U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson dated, 29th July, 1964, to an Australian credit union representative (Geoff Seddon) congratulating him and “credit union members everywhere on the occasion of the seventeenth annual celebration of International Credit Union Day”.

President Johnson was a big supporter of the credit union movement and made some very positive remarks in support of the industry upon signing the Bill Amending the Federal Credit Union Act on 13 December, 1967 as reported by The American Presidency Project. He begins his speech by saying,

“We have come here this afternoon to strengthen the Federal credit unions–some of the little-known building blocks of democracy. The credit union story tells of do-it-yourself progress, of thrift, and of voluntary cooperation that is put to work for the good of America. Half of the Nation’s 23,000 credit unions are chartered and supervised by the Federal Government–the other half are supervised by the States. But the members–and no one else–own and operate these credit unions.”

It doesn’t get any more supportive than that and with regard to the legislation he signed into office he said,

“The bill that I sign today, we think, strengthens our Federal credit unions. It allows them to:

–Lend money more easily.

–Pay dividends twice as often, and

–It allows them to pay dividends for a whole month on deposits received during the first 10 days of the month. A credit union can be another weapon in the war on poverty”.

He finishes his speech by saying that “it gives me great satisfaction to be here this afternoon and to approve it” and it gives us great pleasure to take responsibility for a small part of President Johnson’s relationship with the Australian credit union movement.

Poster promoting International Credit Union Day, 2000 [from Collection]