Gary Lewis described Francis Leo (Lee) Nash as a “pioneer” of the Australian credit union movement in his ground-breaking study, People Before Profit: The Credit Union Movement in Australia (1996). A quick rundown of his credit union CV shows that he was not only a pioneer but a lifelong contributor.
He was member number 42 of Universal Credit Union, arguably Australia’s first credit union. He was a founder/co-founder of St Jerome's (Punchbowl) Credit Union (1949) and Prospect County Council Credit Union (1963). He held Directorships with the Australian Federation of Credit Union Leagues and the NSW Credit Union League (NSWCUL), the latter for a total of 14 years beginning in 1963 and including a 3 year stint as Vice President. He was also involved in numerous committees and was Deputy Director of the Australian Credit Union Historical Co-operative (now AMH).
Lee Nash was born in Bathurst in Western NSW and educated at De la Salle College, Marrickville, Sydney. He began an apprenticeship as an electrician which was interrupted by World War Two. His war experience began in 1940 at Rosehill Racecourse as a signalman before he joined the commandoes and was transferred to Darwin and finally Papua New Guinea where he was shot in the shoulder.
He returned to his apprenticeship after the war. He then got a job as an electrical tradesman with the Sydney County Council and was there for ten years. In the oral history interview Nash recorded with Richard Raxworthy in 1992 for our archives, he explained that he left the Sydney County Council to take up a role operating high voltage switch controls for Prospect Council where he stayed until his retirement in 1985.
His voluntary career with credit unions was much more varied than his paid work. He told Raxworthy that he first learnt about credit unions through his friendship with fellow credit union pioneer Clarrie Murphy and their patronage of Catholic social studies lectures at their local Punchbowl Catholic Church:
“In about 1948 Clarrie Murphy and I were quite good friends. We were both from Punchbowl. Met through the church and friendship continued after the war …
There was a lecture on Catholic social studies at our local church and we attended and by a coincidence the lecturer was a former public school teacher of mine … During the lecture he mentioned this strange thing called a credit union where people pooled money and made loans to each other at low interest.
The social aspect of helping other people appealed to me. I was about to be married at the time and I can’t honestly say because I can’t remember if the fact that I needed extra money for the honeymoon or whether it was the philosophical side that attracted me. In any case Clarrie [Murphy] and I went down and joined Universal Credit Union”, said Nash.
In 1966 during his time with NSWCUL, Nash attended the Annual CUNA Convention in Madison, USA. Apart from all his organising in various capacities over the years the report he put together upon his return was arguably his most significant credit union work. In People Before Profit, Lewis wrote the following:
Nash prepared a detailed report reflecting the modernity and internationalism entering the Australian movement at the time. Nash dealt with the Australian-American relationship, the development of new technologies and consumer habits in Northern America, the emerging concept of a credit union services corporation and various savings protection (stabilisation) schemes run by North American credit union movements. The substance of Nash’s study was absorbed by the movement in ensuing years. By 1967, for example, general league board agreement existed on a stabilisation fund, professional administration and a ‘National Central’ linked to a ‘Credit Union Services Corporation’. Here was the outline of a stratagem taking nearly a quarter of a century to achieve.
Upon his retirement in 1985 he soon became the Deputy Director of the Australian Credit Union Historical Co-operative during which time he recorded the oral history interview with Richard Raxworthy. Towards the end of the interview he offered what he thought his involvement with credit unions gave him in terms of personal growth:
“I was a very shy young man. I still am to a degree but I can joke away my shyness in most company. I’ve learnt a lot about life. As I said I’m an electrical mechanic basically so I’ve learnt enough to handle myself reasonably intelligently on the League Board.”
Lee Nash received a CUSCAL Distinguished Service Award in 1996 and he passed away on 5 May 1997.