Vince Griffin remembers how the Capricornia Credit Union began in a Park Avenue parish building
Vince Griffin remembers how the Capricornia Credit Union began in a Park Avenue parish building

Griffin sings the praises of CQ’s first credit union

Vince and Betty Griffin didn't have much money, raising their seven children in Park Avenue, but they're rightly proud of the close and loving clan they created.

"They're all wonderful, compassionate kids - I call them kids but the eldest in 63 and retired now - and they're loyal to each other which is the best thing a parent could ask for," Mr Griffin said.

At a time when interest rates sat at 10 per cent flat, equivalent to about 18 per cent simple, it seemed impossible for the hardworking couple to afford their own home.

 

The original credit union building in Park Avenue
The original credit union building in Park Avenue

 

"We were fond of Park Avenue, even though it was considered the pits when it came to Rockhampton suburbs at that time," Mr Griffin said.

"My sister and brother and their kids were there so, come weekends when all the kids would be coming and going from sports and sleeping over each other's houses, I guess it was a bit of a carnival."

Mr Griffin was "dead keen" to leave school early and become a motor mechanic, but his father had other ideas.

"He was a fitter with the railroads and adamant I would have a 'clean' job," Mr Griffin said.

"I got a job as a messenger with Grant and Simpson Lawyers so I could leave school, and then I turned around and went back to college four nights a week to become an accountant."

With only a few of his final examinations left, Mr Griffin married Betty whom he met five years earlier at one of Rockhampton's many social dances.

"There were the Saturday night dances at the School of Arts and, in those days, the St Patrick's Day dance was a great big affair," he said.

"I remember marching over the bridge to the racecourse on St Patrick's Day, when I was at the Brothers College, and we'd have to get out of step with each other otherwise the bridge would start rocking."

The couple first rented in Fitzroy Street - "an absolute hellhole when I think back on it" - because Mr Griffin was knocked back for a loan by one of the major banks.

 

The building on the corner of William and East Sts which was the the Bank of Australasia, then the ANZ, and now the Capricornia Credit Union
The building on the corner of William and East Sts which was the the Bank of Australasia, then the ANZ, and now the Capricornia Credit Union

 

"I was ridiculed because I had the princely sum of 50 pounds in the bank," he said.

'They didn't care about the little bloke."

With no money to travel on vacation, the family would borrow the one-tonne truck from where Mr Griffin worked and make their way to a holiday home in Keppel Sands.

"We'd pack the bikes, TV, the fishing gear, the washing machines… everything bar the kitchen sink," he said.

Fishing-mad Mr Griffin had the kids up and out of the house by 8am and Betty wouldn't see them again until lunch.

Such was Mr Griffin's affinity for his hometown, things went terribly wrong the first time he decided to move away.

"It was after my brother came back from the war in a bad way, my father had died, and then my mother was tragically killed, I decided to take a job with David Jones in Brisbane," he said.

"Betty was having our fourth child so I put her through a lot in moving - not that she ever complained - and, after about six months in Brisbane, I got crook.

"The doctors couldn't figure out why the weight was shedding off me and, finally, they concluded I was homesick, so I came back to work at a Ford dealership."

The Griffins were renting in Park Avenue when a childhood friend who ran the local chemist asked if they'd heard about the local credit union.

An alternative to the big banks and their lending practices was a relatively new concept in Australia, but one which had piqued Father John Leahy's interest.

Head of the Catholic parish in Park Avenue, he began 'cottage discussions', going around to working people's homes to educate them about collectives which offered reasonable rates.

"He was a big, impressive man at 6ft 2in, and he had the most tremendous empathy for the average working person," Mr Griffin said.

 

The credit union when it was in the Shopping Fair
The credit union when it was in the Shopping Fair

 

Father Leahy opened a room under the presbytery on Thursday nights for ­people to make deposits into the Park Avenue Parish Credit Co-operative Society Ltd - even if it were only two shillings at a time - and Mr Griffin joined him to supervise the ledgers.

The Griffin's were proud to build their own home in nearby Bertram Street, even if the four-bedroom house was "bursting at the seams".

"I don't know how we all fitted around the kitchen table, what with friends and their kids and the grandparents and the seven kids," Mr Griffin said.

"We sang 'Happy Birthday' so often, I reckon the neighbours thought we were practising."

But his gratitude for the opportunity to secure a roof over his family's head remains with Mr Griffin to this day.

The credit union dropped 'Parish' from its name in 1969 to widen its appeal to other denominations and, 10 years later, opened its membership to all people in Central Queensland.

Mr Griffin became its first manager when it was housed in a little shack next to the old Park Avenue picture theatre, with guinea grass that grew up through his office floorboards.

"It used to make me proud, when I drove around Statue Bay, to see this big, beautiful home which was one of the first we'd financed for this young bloke," he said.

In 1981 it amalgamated with a North Rockhampton credit union and, in 2009, changed its name to The Capricornian as it reads on the current East St offices.

From humble beginnings, The Capricornian has now grown to be a $350m member-owned institution, providing home lending to over 1,000 Central Queensland families and full banking services to over 12,000 Central Queenslanders.

The Capricornian currently employs 51 local staff members, and contributes largely to the Central Queensland economy with employment, sponsorship and various community support.

"I really hope people in CQ know how remarkable it is that The Capricornian, probably the second and longest lasting credit union in Queensland, grew out of this tiny parish office in Park Avenue and the people who devoted themselves to the cause," Mr Griffin said.

 

25th Anniversary Capricornia Credit Union
25th Anniversary Capricornia Credit Union

 

"Father John Leahy, his right hand man Brian Fitzgerald, John Shaw, Hugh Grant… I have so much admiration for all these people, humble men who gave a lot of their time to help families."

The credit union commissioned an account from ­ ­historian Betty Cosgrove 25 years ago which, sadly, has gone unpublished.

"There are some anomalies we meant to get edited which, in hindsight, I would have let stand if it meant people would have had the chance to read it," Mr Griffin said.

"I have approached successive managers since I retired but nothing's come of it yet."

The Griffins had a "wonderful" Christmas in 2018 - it was the in-laws' turn last year - with more than 40 family members joining them, some of the children from interstate.

 

Vince and Betty Griffin are surrounded by family at a grandson's wedding
Vince and Betty Griffin are surrounded by family at a grandson's wedding

 

They have 21 grandchildren and their eighth great-grandchild was due this month.

The secret to such a happy family, Mrs Griffin said, was "to pick a good husband in the first place" and to be content with what you have.

"I loved having my children at home, and now we're retired, Vince is very good company," she said.

"But there's so many of us, who started off in Park Avenue all those years ago, couldn't have made a go of it if it hadn't been for the credit union."

"It saved us."

At the 2019 Annual General Meeting, the board of the Capricornian committed to producing a document that will provide its history.

The AGM was hosted following a memorable event in August, celebrating the sixty year legacy of The Capricornian (Credit Union), which brought together current and past staff and directors.



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