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Co-Operative Movement

The co-operative movement was influential in Melbourne by the 1850s, when compositors at the Age newspaper bought it out at £25 a share, to form a 'Co-partnery' which ran the paper for 18 months, and stonemasons set up several co-operative associations to seek contracts, paying wages and dividing profits equally. By the 1870s groups as diverse as carpenters, needlewomen, cigar-makers, musicians, iron-workers, lamplighters and railway workers had formed co-ops, either to run a workplace on co-operative principles, or as a way of making goods or services available more cheaply to their members. These same members may well have been consuming cheese and milk, fruit, meat and beer produced by the co-op.

In the depression-hit 1890s, many in Melbourne believed that the co-operative framework could be applied to the buying and settling of land, in order to provide 'homes for the people' as well as 'occupation to the unemployed'. These early 'village settlement' schemes were generally a failure. Far more successful was the first of many Victorian credit co-ops, or credit unions, the Co-operative Credit Bank of Victoria, established in Melbourne in 1905 by the Civil Service Co-operative Society.

The high rate of unemployment in the 1970s led to a renewed interest in all types of co-operatives: equity and rental housing, child care, sports and schools. The Melbourne Film Makers Co-op was registered in 1972; the Australian Performing Group (Pram Factory) Co-op was registered until 1985. In the early to mid-1980s the Victorian Government made funding available through its Co-operative Development Program to worker co-operatives, such as the feminist publishing and printing collective Sybylla Press, and the Italian restaurant L'Osteria at the top end of Lygon Street. At least half the co-ops registered in Victoria since the 1970s have been in the Melbourne and metropolitan area.

Marg Mccormack