A vision returned with interest at teachers' bank

Jim Johnson

Paula Gardner, who as a young teacher at Lithgow was appointed to the board of the Teachers Credit Union and later became its first liaison officer to increase teacher membership, became a legend in the institution. She visited every state school within two years, along with a colleague. She “just knew how to talk with other teachers and did a wonderful job recruiting members”, a former bank CEO said. A current manager remembers when Paula Gardner became human resources manager: “She used to fly into the officer wearing this big hat with peacock feathers and this big trench coat, and she’d mark the roll, just like we were back at school.” She died in 1990.

As a toddler in the Depression, a child of the Second World War, a teenager during the Baby Boomers and more than 60 years as an active member of Federation here are some of my reflections on the founding of the Teachers Mutual Bank (previously the Teachers Credit Union), now celebrating its 50th anniversary with an outstanding record of achievement.

Its founder was Bob Dobson, an active member of the UK National Union of Teachers, who immigrated here. Passing through Canada on his way out to Australia, Bob was struck by the ownership, participation and ethics of a teachers’ union credit union — Bob was fired with a vision.

His first appointment was Truscott Street Public in North Ryde and he rented a Housing Commission cottage close by.

It didn’t take long for Bob to join other teachers who met socially each Friday afternoon. This group soon heard Bob’s story of how a Canadian teachers’ union owned and controlled a credit union.

One member of the group, Barry Manefield — first Secretary of the Men Teachers Association (MTA) and later Federation President — encouraged Bob to attend an MTA meeting and talk to members. As a Councillor at the time, I picked Bob up and took him to the meeting at Federation House, then in Phillip Street.

Bob’s address on the credit union was an eye-opener; many of those present thought such a credit union would be a great benefit to all teachers. A resolution was prepared and offered to Executive that asked Federation to form such an organisation.

The resolution was, however, never put to a vote as it was opposed by three senior Federation Officers — Sam Lewis, Ivor Lancaster and Jack Williams, whose views were based on the history of Federation’s past involvement in financial dealings.

Many years ago, Federation established Service Supplies, a wholesale business that mainly purchased household goods in quantity and sold them on to teachers at a discount. A credit squeeze and heavy discounting by major retailers in the 1960s caused a significant loss in sales and forced Federation to sell it off.

Nevertheless, a few teachers were determined to achieve Bob Dobson’s vision of setting up a credit union.

It happened that some time later, Bob bought a house in Mount Colah, transferred to a local school and became a member of the Hornsby Teachers Association.

That Association became the structure to bring together those who wanted to achieve the goal of a teachers’ union credit union. It is now history that Bob’s vision became reality. Congratulations to all those teachers who attended that famous meeting at the Tennis Club rooms at Asquith Oval and officially created the Hornsby Teachers Association Credit Union.

The credit union quickly expanded as many teachers joined, and soon it could no longer be run by teachers on an honorary basis. The elected board, with Bob as its honorary secretary (CEO) decided to employ a professional financial officer and find an office. Since then, it has gone from strength to strength. As the Teachers Mutual Bank says on its website:

“Back in 1966 Teachers Credit Union was established by teachers, for teachers and we’ve been passionate about teachers and their families since. Since our humble beginnings, we’ve grown from 29 members and $644 in deposits, to over 174,000 members and more than $5.3 billion in assets. Not bad when you think that our very first meetings were held in a tennis shed!”