Australian Mutuals History is very proud of our digital oral history collection. It consists of around 600 interviews with individuals who have made significant contributions to the Australian credit union movement. We hope to begin conducting more of these interviews in the future with the current generation of contributors to the customer owned banking sector.

One of our prized oral histories is that of Mr Les Robinson. Les Robinson sat down to be interviewed with noted credit union historian, Richard Raxworthy, on 24th July, 1990. All the information in this short profile of Les comes from his oral history interview.

Les was born in Sydney in 1925. He grew up in Leichardt in a Catholic family. At the Christian Brothers School in Lewisham, Les excelled at Maths and English. After leaving school Les worked in a small goods store for six months before he joined the public service. It was there that Les began a friendship with a man named Terry Gallagher who said to Les, “I've got on to a bit of information about these credit unions. They seem to be a good idea, can we talk about getting one started?”

Les told Raxworthy that:

“I was very keen because I had been married at that stage, this was late 1958 probably. I had been married four years and already had three children. That was a struggle. We were paying then on hire purchase twenty-odd per cent when the average interest rate was a bank rate, savings account rate of two per cent sort of thing, so there was a big difference. Then to be told we could do our own thing and not be charged more than one per cent a month, or twelve per cent a year, it was half the cost of the hire purchase, less than half the cost. So I was very keen for selfish reasons but also I could see it would do a lot of good for my fellow workers. I was always involved in that. I was in the union, a Public Service Association representative for a great many years and on their Divisional Council for many years. I was Vice-Chairman at one stage. So I did have an inclination to get involved in people's business.”

So, with that Les and Terry became the driving forces behind the creation of PWD Staff Co-operative in 1959. This eventually became SGE Credit Union in 2002 and today it trades as G & C Mutual Bank. Les’ involvement with credit unions really took off when he became General Manager of the NSW Credit Union League (NSWCUL) in 1967.

In 1970, in his capacity with NSWCUL, Les traveled to the United States in order to investigate credit union central banking systems over there with the aim of creating a Savings Protection Fund which is what NSWCUL did on Les’ watch. Les told Raxworthy proudly that, “Under the Stabilisation Protection Fund not one credit union member of an affiliated credit union lost one cent despite all the massive difficulties they had at that time. So that Savings Protection Fund really worked beautifully. Particularly considering it was a volunteer thing, because a credit union could just resign and run away from it”.

Les’ other achievements with NSWCUL included helping to set up a credit union league in Tonga, setting up Credit Union Quest newspaper with Tom Kelly in 1967 and helping many credit unions to get established.

Les was also a family man and passed away leaving several children and grandchildren behind at the age of 80 in May, 2006.