Steve Birt achieved a great deal in a life that was far too short. He had important roles with Earlwood Credit Union, NSW Teachers’ Credit Union, the NSW Credit Union League (NSWCUL), the Australian Federation of Credit Union Leagues (AFCUL), the Australian Credit Union Foundation (later CUFA), before he sadly passed away in 1993 aged 46.

Stephen Terence Birt was born in Newcastle, NSW on 3 May, 1948. He had finance in his blood via his father who was a banker. Steve initially became a teacher though, studying at Sydney University/Sydney Teachers’ College and working in NSW schools from 1968 to 1971.

His involvement with credit unions began while he was working as a teacher through his membership of Earlwood Credit Union. He became a Director of Earlwood CU in 1969 at the age of 21 and was elected Chairman of the Board in 1971. He remained a Director until 1976.

The pull of credit unions became so great for Steve that he left teaching for a professional career in the movement in 1971, where he used his teaching skills as the Development and Training Officer of NSWCUL. He left NSWCUL for the NSW Teachers’ Credit Union in 1976 and became Deputy General Manager there in 1987. Steve’s involvement with the Association of NSW Credit Unions saw him become President in 1986.

He was passionate about spreading the credit union word worldwide, believing credit unions can play a role in alleviating poverty.

With that in mind he joined the Australian Credit Union Foundation where he contributed in a number of capacities including to the curriculum and delivery of Development Education classes. Here students learned the fundamentals of credit union philosophy and practice and how credit unions can assist the less fortunate in developing nations.

1986 was a big year for Steve, he not only became President of the Association of NSW Credit Unions, as mentioned above, he was also made Vice President of AFCUL and appointed by the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs in NSW to the Credit Union Advisory Committee.

Much of what we know about Steve’s life and career comes from the oral history interviews he gave to the historian Richard Raxworthy in 1990 and 1991. Steve’s interviews are two of the most articulate and informative in our collection.

The following are some of Steve’s insights recorded by Raxworthy …

“I’d been given the job of organising and running education nights which were a feature of Earlwood Credit Union as a community group at that stage. We couldn’t get away with it these days but it was obligatory at that time to attend one of these education nights and be sentenced to listen to an hour and a half on credit unions and credit union philosophy before you were eligible to apply for a loan.”

“I have long held the view that the credit union movement could become the bankers for the co-operative movement …. We have for a long time operated as independent cells – the credit union movement, the building society movement, the friendly society movement and the broader co-operative movement … I think in the future there must be that opportunity for us to work together more co-operatively than what has been the case at the present time.”

“We can’t be everything to everybody. The first role of a credit union, rather than a bank, is to look after its individual members. The membership after all is the key group. I am interested in some of the things that we are talking about at the government level at the present time – such as regional development bonds which could assist in terms of regional development in particular areas of this state.

I read a recent report that said if we added just one process in terms of a manufacturing process to our raw wool before it was exported that it would be worth $16 billion to Australia in export income. We were talking with the Minister recently about a co-operative organisation being established, rather than a commercial organisation to do that first phase processing and the funding of that perhaps being made by the credit union movement on government guarantee.”

Our records hold several tributes to Steve Birt. One by his colleague Stuart Gillies sums him up nicely.

“Steve’s devotion to the cause of the movement, to its deep-seated philosophies and to its development, both nationally and internationally was, quite simply, incontestable, unmatchable.

Steve has left an indelible mark on the movement and many, many people in it. I am proud to have been just one of them.”