New Zealand’s earliest co-operatives
To the best of our knowledge, Nelson Building Society was the first co-operative (and building society) established in New Zealand – in 1864.
Established in 1869 in Southland, SBS Bank (pictured, below left) is believed to be the first building society in the world to have achieved bank registration while retaining its mutual structure. In 147 years, the ‘member bank’ has sustained mutual trust, mutual benefits and mutual respect. Read our Member Profile.
New Zealand’s first recorded producer co-operative was formed in 1871.
While attempts to set up consumer co-operatives have been recorded as early as the 1840s, the earliest record of a producer co-operative in New Zealand reports the formation of the Otago Cooperative Cheese Co. at John Mathieson’s Springfield farm on the Otago Peninsula, near Dunedin, on 22 August 1871. Please refer to photo bottom right.
Each of the eight dairy farmers purchased shares based on the amount of milk to be supplied, with each share having a value of £1 and representing the supply of ten quarts of milk.
Three enamelled cast-iron tubs, each holding up to 50 pounds of curd, were set in the kitchen wing, while a wooden vat holding 100 gallons of milk was installed in the stone-walled barn across the driveway. By the end of the first season, they had produced three tons of cheese.
This pioneering co-op is now part of dairy giant, Fonterra Co-operative Group.
According to the Historic Places Trust, this was most likely the first co-operative dairy factory in the southern hemisphere, preceded only by those in Norway and Switzerland.
By 1900, there were 111 co-operatives operating within the NZ dairy industry and 152 investor-owned companies.
The general principles adopted by this co-operative were typical of those which have prevailed in co-operative societies and companies through to the present day.