The records created by friendly societies document how the societies governed themselves and conducted their meetings (for example minutes and attendance books), managed their members (for example members’ registers), their financial affairs (for example contribution books, ledgers and mortgage registers) and their sickness and medical benefits (for example records of sickness and hospital fund registers) . Other types of records include publications such as newsletters, photographs of conferences and correspondence files. The records also provide information about the importance of local, grassroots organisation for all the friendly societies. Likewise, they show the role of the central administration (or head office) became increasingly important over time.

The records of the Australian Natives’ Association, Manchester Unity Independent Order of Odd Fellows and Grand United Order of Odd Fellows are rich sources of information about the history of Australia in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. They show how towns and districts grew and shrank according to the economic climate of the times. They show how people spent their spare time by joining and running societies and participating in the social activities they organised. They also show how medical services were provided through voluntary organisations like friendly societies. And they show how friendly societies diversified the services they offered to members and how governments increasingly regulated their activities over time.

For information on our collections, please email the Australian Unity library.

You can also make an appointment to visit the library by contacting Beryl Armstrong on 03 8682 6813

Other resources for friendly societies in Australia

The Noel Butlin Archives Centre (NBAC) holds records of some other friendly societies, including that of Manchester Unity (NSW) lodges, the Ancient Order of Foresters and the United Ancient Order of Druids. The NBAC Reading Room is located in the Menzies Building on the Australian National University campus in Canberra. If you want to do research there, please contact the NBAC directly to arrange your visit by emailing Butlin Archives.

Another valuable source of information is the National Library of Australia’s Register of Australian Archives and Manuscripts (RAAM).

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