It is arguably true that the first “financial co-operatives” in Australia were in Victoria. However, the coherent and collective credit union movement that we recognise today began in NSW. The first “official” credit union, what soon came to be known as Universal Credit Union, was set up in 1946. The movement in NSW grew quickly and in 1956 the NSW Credit Union League was set up as the peak body.

Credit unions were slower to develop in Queensland but eventually Queensland would be Australia’s third biggest credit union state. For example, the first credit unions in NSW began in 1946 but in 1964 in Queensland there were a mere 3,372 members. Gary Lewis notes in People Before Profit: The Credit Union Movement in Australia, that by 1983, there were around 250,000 credit union members in Queensland with half a billion dollars in assets.

The development of credit unions in Queensland was unique, although of course there were broad economic and social conditions shared with the rest of the country. Post World War II Australia was a country on the move socially and economically but with an industrial and banking system that was not fit for purpose. Credit was hard to come by and there were unregulated money lenders exploiting those in need.

What is unique about Queensland is that it has a more decentralised population with large regional centres in Central and Far North Queensland which at times saw themselves as isolated from centres of power in Brisbane and Canberra and from other regional centres.

Again noted by Lewis in People Before Profit, the Queensland movement was less a product of church parish credit unions which was very much the case in Victoria. Queensland credit unions were mostly industrial credit unions created in workplaces with strong links to trade unions with “established social and welfare networks” (Lewis, p.151).

The Queensland Credit Union League (QCUL) was formed in 1964. They had their work cut out for them in the early days as credit unions were governed by Queensland’s Co-operative Societies Act of 1946. It wasn’t until 1986 that legislation was enacted in Queensland with credit unions specifically in mind.

The League had a problem with membership take-up in the early years as many Queensland credit unions were sceptical. Some thought they were doing pretty well without the support of the League.

QCUL was created in order to provide banking services for the Queensland movement as a whole, fidelity insurance and promotion. The main trouble was that as there were still relatively few credit unions in the state and there wasn’t the quality of services offered by the League in order to justify the subscription fees that were charged – or so many felt.

The first QCUL President, Godfrey Stephens, had this to say upon retiring in 1965:

“The problems of a new league are many and varied ... Our main regret is that our activities must be limited to the resources at our disposal. One of our main problems … is that we cannot put an officer into the field … We sincerely thank our affiliated credit unions for their patience in understanding our problem and being prepared to wait that little longer for the services which are expected.”

QCUL gained recognition from the rest of the country by being at the vanguard of the creation of the Australian Federation of Credit Union Leagues (AFCUL) which would be a boon to everyone, especially with regards to education and promotion. Also assisting with promotion in Queensland was the creation of a credit union magazine by the League for Queensland members.

By 1974, QCUL was in the words of Gary Lewis, “firmly established”, thanks to a hardworking group of volunteers “inspired by credit union philosophy and the support of helpful employer and union groups, NSWCUL, CUNA, CUNA Mutual and the 66,000 Queenslanders who by 1974 were members of credit unions”.

From the mid 70’s QCUL began to again have difficulties even as the credit union membership itself grew. Some of the problems were unique to Queensland but some were found all over Australia. Eventually, with new powerful computing technology available and federal financial regulation, a revamped national league made sense and a new all-encompassing peak body (CUSCAL) was created in 1992, rendering QCUL obsolete.