Stan Arneil was a giant of the credit union movement in Australia. He was also regarded as a “complex” and “controversial figure”. In her oral history interview with us in 1991, former editor of Australian Credit Union Magazine, Maggie Niven, described Stan as a “visionary and a doer”. As part of our occasional series on Australian credit union pioneers, this time we will delve into the life and work of Stan Arneil.

Mr Arneil was born in Katoomba, NSW in 1918 and he described his childhood as “Very happy”. He also said that “Although we were very poor, I never knew it”. His mother died when he was a young child and he was subsequently raised by his father.

He received an education to “intermediate standard” and got his first job in a garage “working 70 hours a week for 15s”. Stan lost his father when he was just 20 in 1938 and he borrowed the money to pay for the funeral.

Stan became a combatant in WWII as an infantryman in 1940. As a sergeant in the AIF (Australian Imperial Force) he was part of the unconditional surrender of Allied Forces to the Japanese in Singapore in 1942. Mr Arneil spent the rest of the war in the nightmarish Changi Prisoner of War Camp and on the no less horrific Burma Railway. Stan published a book of his experiences in WWII in 1980 called “One Man’s War”. In it he wrote that it was in Changi that he learnt about co-operation, “when you couldn’t go through a day or a night without someone helping you”.

After the war, Stan’s working life took a very different turn. He was working as an accountant for the ABC in Sydney and was “terribly fervent about the trade union movement” and co-operatives. While researching an article for Sydney University in 1956, he came across a book on credit unions by Peter Druyker and “this is where the flame started”.

Stan met up with credit union pioneers Keith Young and Clarrie Murphy and with them and others began work on the forerunner to the NSW Credit Union League (NSWCUL) in 1956. Mr Arneil was President of NSWCUL from 1961-1964 and was a Director for 10 years. He was one of the driving forces behind the creation of ABC Credit Unions in every state. In 1962, he appeared on the ABC Four Corners TV Program promoting credit unions and in 1965 he helped begin the Newport Credit Union Schools in Sydney.

Mr Arneil became a Director of CUNA International (later becoming the World Council of Credit Unions) and was appointed General Manager of CUMIS Insurance and CUNA Mutual Insurance in Australia in 1965/1966. It was in his capacity on the insurance side of the industry where Stan’s work brought him into conflict with the state peak bodies.

He left his position in 1971 following a dispute between CUNA Mutual and the Credit Union Leagues.   He later occupied the position of Manager at SDA Credit Union for four years.  After this he returned to accountancy at the Hooker Corporation.

Stan was a foundation director of the Australian Federation of Credit Union Leagues (AFCUL) and in his tireless career was instrumental in the formation of over 100 credit unions around Australia and one in the United States. Some considered his gift of public speaking on behalf of credit unions so impressive, they dubbed him “The Great Persuader”.

 Stan Arneil was the first Australian to be recognised for his work in credit unions by being elevated to Member of the Order of Australia on 9 June 1975. He wrote many articles and his larger works include 'Forming and running a credit union' and 'Secrets of the Boardroom:  the Credit Union Director in the Eighties’.

Stan was a remarkable and at times controversial figure throughout his career but he did a tremendous amount to promote credit unions and their values.

Stan Arneil passed away in 1992 aged 73, a husband to Dorothy as well as a father and grandfather.

*Information on the life and work of Stan Arneil sourced from Australian Credit Unions Magazine, our oral history recordings and our file of news clippings and correspondence regarding him.