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Pioneer of Australian credit union movement remembered

Leo BarchamThe ‘founding father’ of Queenslanders Credit Union has passed away in Brisbane at the age of 96.

Leo Barcham was a Director from 1963 to 1995 and remained an active Member throughout his life.

The Credit Union was his brainchild while working as a Queensland public servant and noticing that a great many of his colleagues found it difficult to purchase basic household items that we today take for granted.

In a 2013 interview for a book documenting the first 50 years of Queenslanders Credit Union, Leo said banks were only interested in mortgages back in the 1960s.

“Many people moved into their homes with nothing, not even a proper cooker in some cases, and they wanted to dress them up with all the mod cons,” he said.

“Houses often had no proper laundry facilities, no sewerage and no carpets.

“Public servants were paid quite poorly in those days and they were loathe to go to the hire purchase companies or money lenders, because the interest rates were so very high.”

After reading about the birth of the credit union movement in Europe, Leo thought this idea of local communities pooling their resources to support each other in times of need, was a way to address the funding problems of his colleagues and their families.

At a Council meeting of the State Service Union in 1963, Leo successfully moved a motion that the Union sponsor the formation of a credit union.

In a subsequent meeting, Leo gave a speech about the merits of cooperative banking.

“Because the borrower is a shareholder, a part owner of the Society, there is no stigma of debt attached to the loan,” he said.

“The needed finance is made available to him not as a favour but as a right.

“He himself has contributed to build up this organisation to meet just such an emergency for himself and his contributing neighbours.”

The Queensland Public Service Employees’ Credit Union was born at this meeting, with day-to-day operations initially running from a corner of the State Service Union offices.

While membership of the Credit Union was originally only for financial members of the Queensland State Service Union, it was eventually opened up to everyone, with a few name changes along the way.

This year, Queenslanders merged with Queensland Country Credit Union, forming the second largest credit union in Queensland.

In the 1980s Mr Barcham was recognised with a Pioneer Award at the Australian Credit Union Convention for his “devotion to, and practical demonstration of the cooperative principles and philosophy of credit unions at state and national levels”.

Former Queenslanders Chair and current Deputy Chair of Queensland Country, Christine Flynn, said Leo would be fondly remembered by staff at the Credit Union.

“Although Leo retired from the Board over two decades ago, he was still well known and loved by everyone in our team,” she said.

“Each year, including the last, he attended our AGM and would often get up and speak.

“His passion for the customer owned banking movement was inspiring and will leave a lasting legacy.”