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.