Friendly Societies were established in Australia in the 1830s and were traditionally founded on mutual self-help ideals. Societies grew as ordinary Australians – labourers, miners, carpenters, bricklayers, stonemasons, blacksmiths, shop workers, railwaymen and others banded together to provide, by their own exertions and from their own slender resources, some of the medical and other essential services they lacked. They sought help from no one but each other and received none from either government or from the more affluent.
Devoid of clinics and hospitals, with few trustworthy chemists and doctors, early Australia was fruitful soil for the mutual aid organisations that were and are friendly societies. Friendly Societies with such unusual names as The Independent Order of Oddfellows, The Independent Order of Rechabites, the United Ancient Order of Druids and our own Ancient Order of Foresters have, since the establishment of this country, became a part of the history of Australia.
In the post Second World War period, society memberships began to decline as social circumstances improved due to the growth of the economy, an abundance of work and improvement in the provision of Government Benefits. Although the importance of groups such as the Ancient Order of Foresters has declined in recent years the majority of Societies, through a core of loyal and dedicated Members have never wavered from their original objectives, that being to serve the community and deserving groups by involvement in social activities and endeavours.
As the industry’s traditional investment bond business, which was its cornerstone progressed to its maturity phase, the industry saw a substantial outflow of funds and this situation coupled with the changing business environment necessitated friendly societies becoming flexible enough to adapt their business to new and profitable structures and markets.
As a result of this transition we have in recent times due to the new competitive environment and radically changed regulatory regime seen additional financial and compliance constraints placed on friendly societies and a number of the major groups have expanded their capital base by demutualisation thus changing their ownership status from one of member to that of shareholder.