Australian co-op builds on century of experience

An Australian co-operative, which started life as a part of its local dairy industry, is approaching its 110th anniversary after decades of adapting to suit its members.

An Australian co-operative, which started life as a part of its local dairy industry, is approaching its 110th anniversary after decades of adapting to suit its members.

Macleay Regional Co-operative is one of a number of co-ops in Kempsey, on the mid-north coast of New South Wales — and the changing economic climate means more may soon join them.

Susan Ramke, Chair of Macleay, is justifiably proud when she says: “We deliver a personalised service to our members and the public. This attention to customers’ needs is not always on offer in our fast day-to-day lifestyle, and we proudly intend to continue delivering such service.”

Macleay is a great example of the phoenix-like approach that many co-ops have to serving the changing needs of its members. It has a busy and colourful past, rooted in the days when dairying was a major industry in the valley.

Back then, farmers and the community relied on the co-operative’s factories to manufacture milk, butter, cheese and ice cream. As the economy changed, Macleay changed with it, recycling itself from successful dairy manufacturer to a successful retail trader.

Robbie Tracey, a resident of Kempsey and a member of Macleay for many years, said: “In joining the co-operative I became a part of a family that encompassed the whole community. We work for and support each other and want to work well. As a customer I am always made to feel special and the staff do this for every customer they meet.

“The co-op is always the first place I go to, never the ‘opposition’.”

Macleay shares the valley with a wide range of co-ops, including: Holiday Coast Credit Union; Coastline Credit Union; Jerseyville Fisherman’s Co-op; Kempsey Children’s Services; Macleay Housing Co-operative; Nakau, an aboriginal services co-operative; Carpet Court, a buying co-operative; and NORCO, a chain of rural farm supply stores.

There is a lot of co-op-to-co-op business going on. For example, the Bartlow Apple Co-operative, dairy co-op Murray Goulburn, and Norco all sell through Macleay Regional Co-operative. Each strives to offer crucial support to other co-ops whenever it is needed. Indeed, they are looking further into creating new co-operatives as the public sector reform agenda grips Australia at state and federal levels. Richard O’Leary, Chief Executive Officer of Macleay, said: “The IYC has significantly raised awareness in the business and wider communities about the potential of
co-operative possibilities.

“As a consequence, Macleay Vocational College is exploring if it can become the first co-operative vocational college in Australia and our local radio station, Tank FM, is also considering this as an option. In New South Wales, Federal state law encourages incorporated bodies to covert to companies or co-ops when they reach a certain size and we aim to take the fullest advantage of this situation.”

Awareness of the co-operative advantage is widespread in the valley. As Kempsey’s mayor, Liz Campbell, explained: “Macleay Regional Co-operative had its roots in the farming community and, as a community-based organisation into the town, it contributes to initiatives such as the Science Challenge, which encourages young people to engage with the sciences.

“Graffiti busters is another initiative and the co-op also provides medical scholarships and car parks in the town. It also supports local projects around Age Care, education and health.

“Local people recognise the Co-op as a unique and different business model that helps to provide significant employment. It supports and benefits the community in a way that other businesses do not.”

Mr O’Leary added: “Over the last decade, Macleay Regional Co-operative has pumped around 80 million Australian dollars into the 12,000 strong community.

“About half of the households in the area are members of co-operatives.’

Community continues to be recognised as one of Australia’s most precious resources, through the Australian value of “Mateship”, providing empathy, purpose and belonging.

In her history of Macleay written in 2005, Carrolline Rhodes, Nambucca Valley author, storyteller and writer
on the co-operative’s long, distinguished history, said: “Macleay Regional Co-operative provides and supports disparate aspects of community life, including car parks, youth clubs and pensioner groups, shire councils and government, surf clubs, netball and rugby league. Community is co-operation!”

Long may it continue.

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