Our history

Take a walk with us.

It's an incredible history and one that our members are rightfully proud of.

How it all began

It was more than 126 years ago that a group of railway employees got together to form a cooperative. Each person regularly contributed a small amount of money to a fund that would be used to help out any of the group members if they needed a hand with expenses related to illness or injury. Incredibly, that cooperative went on to form Australia's first registered health fund, now known as rt health fund.

In some ways we're still a little old-fashioned – we're still driven by the goal of helping transport and energy industry employees and their families in the same spirit of friendship, compassion and care that we began with. And we're still committed to making sure the health cover we provide today delivers real value and is relevant to our members' healthcare needs.

1900

1900

The fund had already been in operation for more than a decade, when on 9 July 1900 Queen Victoria gave her royal assent to the Constitution Bill, passing the Act that would create the Commonwealth of Australia ...

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The fund had already been in operation for more than a decade, when on 9 July 1900 Queen Victoria gave her royal assent to the Constitution Bill, passing the Act that would create the Commonwealth of Australia. On 31 December, Edmund Barton became Australia's first Prime Minister and on 1 January 1901, the Commonwealth of Australia came into being. More than half a million people crowded into Sydney to watch a huge procession accompanied by brass bands carrying banners with the slogan 'One People, One Destiny'.

 

The fund's committee began the new century with a bold ambition to increase membership from three quarters of the employees in the 'great railway and tramway service' to all employees.

 

At this time men could qualify for membership by payment of 'not less than a quarter day's pay annually'. Female employees, whose husbands were not in the service, could qualify with an annual payment of 'not less than two shillings'.

1906

1906

In 1906, Sydney's Central Station was officially opened by the NSW premier, who was presented with a gold key to officially open the ticket office. But the mood at the fund's 1906 annual general meeting was solemn ...

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In 1906, Sydney's Central Station was officially opened by the NSW premier, who was presented with a gold key to officially open the ticket office. But the mood at the fund's 1906 annual general meeting was solemn. The new century had opened with more disease. Australia had suffered an outbreak of the bubonic plague, as well as the typical infectious diseases that were common at the time – smallpox, cholera and yellow fever. Cases of consumption (tuberculosis) were on the increase, 'making serious inroads upon the hospital fund finances'.

The fund had benefited a larger number of members than in any previous year with 200 people incurring hospital fees. A special 'Consumptive Fund' was established and staff were asked to help by contributing the sum of one shilling each.

1910

1910

In 1910 Halley's Comet shot across the night sky in what was a magnificent spectacle in the Southern Hemisphere. One Sydney newspaper recommended that people should have a jar ready to bottle some ...

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In 1910 Halley's Comet shot across the night sky in what was a magnificent spectacle in the Southern Hemisphere. One Sydney newspaper recommended that people should have a jar ready to bottle some of the gases in the comet's tail as it passed overhead!
The fund was experiencing a return to good fortunes, and by 1913 collections had topped all previous records, which was 'regarded as highly creditable to the railway and tramway men as a whole'.

1914

1914

The outbreak of World War I in 1914 was greeted with considerable enthusiasm by the Australian population. Even before Britain declared war on Germany, the nation pledged its support for the Empire ...
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The outbreak of World War I in 1914 was greeted with considerable enthusiasm by the Australian population. Even before Britain declared war on Germany, the nation pledged its support for the Empire alongside other Commonwealth nations, and almost immediately preparations began to send forces overseas.

By late 1915, some 3,000 railway and tramway employees had enlisted for active service and lists of employees 'killed in action or died of wounds' began to appear in the employee newsletter.
1917

1917

The mood of the 1917 annual general meeting was grim but stoic and it was agreed that 'the maximum endeavour must be put into the work of the fund' because 'no cessation of this cruel war was in sight'...
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The mood of the 1917 annual general meeting was grim but stoic and it was agreed that 'the maximum endeavour must be put into the work of the fund' because 'no cessation of this cruel war was in sight'.

Later that same year, almost 100,000 railway and tramway workers would become involved in one of the nation's largest industrial actions. The strike began at the Randwick Tramway Workshops in protest against the introduction of a card system that would record how long it took workers to do different jobs - and which workers believed would 'speed up' work to dangerous levels. The strike spread rapidly and led to massive demonstrations in Sydney, attracting crowds at the Domain numbering 200,000. The strike was over within a month when railway workers returned to work under the very card system they had so fiercely opposed, but more than 2,000 workers were not offered their jobs back. Three strikers later became prominent politicians, among them: Ben Chifley, a train driver who would become Prime Minister in the 1940s.

Not surprisingly, the strike seriously depleted the fund's finances.
1919

1919

It was 22 January 1919 when the first case of the deadly Spanish Flu was reported in Melbourne and within two months the disease was raging across the country. Within a year, more than 11,500 Australians...
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It was 22 January 1919 when the first case of the deadly Spanish Flu was reported in Melbourne and within two months the disease was raging across the country. Within a year, more than 11,500 Australians had perished.

Health authorities appealed to the Railway Commissioners for a supply of masks to be manufactured at the Randwick and Eveleigh Workshops. Within just three days, more than 60,000 masks were delivered.

The effects of the outbreak were disastrous for the fund's finances, and special efforts were made to enrol additional members.
1923

1923

The 1920s would prove to be one of the most important periods of growth in NSW railway history. In 1923 construction began on a bridge over Sydney Harbour and the following year, Cobb & Co., which had dominated...
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The 1920s would prove to be one of the most important periods of growth in NSW railway history. In 1923 construction began on a bridge over Sydney Harbour and the following year, Cobb & Co., which had dominated Australian transport for more than 70 years, made its last horse-drawn coach run. It could no longer compete with rail and motor transport. In 1926, Sydney's first regular electric train service began operating, and the following year, the first traffic lights appeared in Melbourne.

It was also a decade of growth for Australian health administration. The Commonwealth Department of Health was founded in 1921, partly in a panicked response to the 1919 Spanish Flu epidemic. And in 1929 the Public Hospitals Act was passed, incorporating all public hospitals under the NSW Government. This remains one of the most significant pieces of legislation affecting public hospitals in NSW history.
1929

1929

The Wall Street Crash of October 1929 signalled the start of the Great Depression, which would last for most of the 1930s and see a quarter of the Australian workforce unemployed by 1931. There was a 50% ...
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The Wall Street Crash of October 1929 signalled the start of the Great Depression, which would last for most of the 1930s and see a quarter of the Australian workforce unemployed by 1931. There was a 50% reduction in suburban train services, work on electrification was slowed and the Circular Quay and Eastern Suburbs railway plans were halted. Railway losses in 1931 were reported at more than £4,000,000 and most railway and tramway workers had to work reduced hours for reduced pay.

The fund's executive committee continued to meet twice a month at the Railway Institute and while all members of the fund were eligible to attend, very few did. At times it was necessary to call upon the attendance of Tom Quinn, the Institute's caretaker, to make up the necessary quorum.

The fund's cash balances often became dangerously low and fundraising carnivals were held in Petersham Park to help boost income.
1939

1939

In 1939, as Australia was preparing to enter World War II, the fund's executive was locked in its own battle. The introduction of the Charitable Collections Act the previous year had resulted in a ...

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In 1939, as Australia was preparing to enter World War II, the fund's executive was locked in its own battle. The introduction of the Charitable Collections Act the previous year had resulted in a significant increase in the fund's administration. Internal frictions eventually exploded into passionate outbursts. In one notable example, Board member, Mr Fisher, bluntly stated that the 'problem with the fund was that it was being run by an incompetent secretary and a blind executive'.

The fund had a membership of about 28,000 at that time but it should have been around 70-80,000. At a special meeting, fund Secretary Harry Lockhart spoke passionately in his own defence, beginning with the wry remark that 'it is a great pity, the executive could not sack the Secretary three or four times a year, because look what a fine gathering of members we have with us this evening'.

Financially, it was an extremely worrying time for the fund. In 1944, it reported a net loss of more than £1,000 – the greatest loss ever recorded.

1945

1945

As World War II came to an end in 1945, Australia was counting the costs: more than 30,000 servicemen and women killed; more than 180,000 injured; and over 20,000 having served time in prisoner of war camps...
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As World War II came to an end in 1945, Australia was counting the costs: more than 30,000 servicemen and women killed; more than 180,000 injured; and over 20,000 having served time in prisoner of war camps. The cost to the Australian economy had been more than £2 billion.

As was to be expected, the fund was sympathetic to claims for treatment by ex-servicemen and women. Any suggestion to reduce such payments was 'overwhelmingly defeated by a show of hands'.
1950s

1950s

As the economy and population boomed in the post-war period, Australia enjoyed its first visit by a reigning monarch when Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip visited in 1954; Melbourne hosted the first ever ...

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As the economy and population boomed in the post-war period, Australia enjoyed its first visit by a reigning monarch when Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip visited in 1954; Melbourne hosted the first ever Olympic Games held in the Southern Hemisphere in 1956; and Bruce Gyngell uttered those immortal words, "Good evening and welcome to television", as channel TCN9 in Sydney began broadcasting the first television programs.

The fund was also enjoying the boom with approximately 60,000 members. Income for the previous year had amounted to more than £90,000 and almost 15,000 claims had been settled.

It was 1951 when the fund first incorporated electrical workers into its membership. The change came about when around 2,500 railway staff in jobs associated with the generation of electricity were transferred to the Electricity Commission. The necessary rule changes were made to enable them to maintain their eligibility for membership.

While the fund's original founders had operated blissfully free of government intervention, gradually that began to change, and most significantly in the 1950s. At the 1952 annual general meeting the fund's president reported that the government's proposed Hospital Benefits Scheme had kept the Board very busy during the year and that several deputations had met with the health minister, Sir Earle Page. It was feared that the whole of the fund's rules might have to be redrafted if the scheme was brought into being'.

In 1953 Page introduced the National Health Act and the Commonwealth Medical Benefits Scheme was established. The health insurance landscape had changed forever.

1960s

1960s

As the 1960s dawned, the fund faced another difficult regulatory issue. Late in 1959, it had received a letter from the Registrar of Friendly Societies suggesting that it should be registered under the Friendly ...
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As the 1960s dawned, the fund faced another difficult regulatory issue. Late in 1959, it had received a letter from the Registrar of Friendly Societies suggesting that it should be registered under the Friendly Societies Act. Auditor Jack Kavanagh was particularly annoyed, telling his fellow Board members that 'the fund would get nothing out of registering ... but it would have a lot to lose'. Even so, the fund was registered as a friendly society in late 1960.

Since the tramways had long since been replaced by buses, at the May 1963 annual general meeting, it was decided that the name of the fund should be changed to the NSW Railway & Transport Employees Hospital Fund.

1964

1964

1964 was the year that saw Beatles hysteria take over Australia, Canberra's Lake Burley Griffin was finally filled, the first issue of Australia's first national daily newspaper, the Australian was printed...
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1964 was the year that saw Beatles hysteria take over Australia, Canberra's Lake Burley Griffin was finally filled, the first issue of Australia's first national daily newspaper, the Australian was printed, and selective compulsory military service was introduced. It was also the 75th anniversary of the R&T Hospital Fund. President, Mr Alan Watson wrote a special message remarking that:

This is a remarkable achievement which cannot be equalled by any other Hospital Fund in the State of New South Wales or, I believe, in the Commonwealth of Australia ... our forefathers who established this organisation, and those who have carried the torch down through the years, must be thanked for extreme far-sightedness, courage and determination ...

1966

1966

The fund's 1966 annual balance sheet was the last to be delivered in pounds, schillings and pence as Australia adopted decimal currency on 14 February that year. More changes would be introduced throughout ...
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The fund's 1966 annual balance sheet was the last to be delivered in pounds, shillings and pence as Australia adopted decimal currency on 14 February that year. More changes would be introduced throughout the decade as state-of-the-art technology began to play a bigger role in the fund's operations.

Board members discussed the need for more telephones and whether or not they should consider air-conditioning. And in October 1968 the Board authorised the purchase of a 'photographic machine' or photocopier, and the uses to which the machine could be put were carefully explained to the Board.
1969

1969

In June 1969 the Commonwealth Arbitration Commission agreed unanimously that women should receive the same pay for the same work as men. The following month, mankind made another momentous step and Australia...
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In June 1969 the Commonwealth Arbitration Commission agreed unanimously that women should receive the same pay for the same work as men. The following month, mankind made another momentous step and Australia played its part in relaying the first television pictures of man's first landing on the moon.

After 23 years of Liberal government, Gough Whitlam became the first Labor Prime Minister in nearly a quarter of a century when he swept to power in 1972. One of the Labor government's key health proposals was the introduction of a National Health Scheme that would be financed by a compulsory income levy – the precursor to the modern-day Medicare scheme. Medibank, as it was called, aroused fierce opposition from the Australian Medical Association and private health insurance funds. Their lobbying successfully delayed the introduction of Medibank until 1975.

By February 1976, the fund's board was discussing the fact that 'information received off the computers' indicated a 'drop of 2,000 members since the introduction of Medibank'.
1975

1975

In an unprecedented move, on 11 November 1975, Governor-general Sir John Kerr controversially dismissed the Whitlam government ...
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In an unprecedented move, on 11 November 1975, Governor-General Sir John Kerr controversially dismissed the Whitlam government.

For health funds, the 1970s saw the introduction of 're-insurance', which is based on the principle that insurers with a greater proportion of low-risk members pay contributions into the reinsurance pool, while those with a greater proportion of high-risk members receive contributions from the pool. Not surprisingly, there were a number of administrative problems with its introduction and at the 1978 annual general meeting, fund Secretary Noel McCartney described it as 'having all the elements of a game of Russian Roulette'.

At that same meeting, the fund President announced the active role taken by the fund in forming an association of closed hospital funds known as the 'Health Insurance Restricted Membership Association of Australia' or HIRMAA. The fund's president and secretary were the founding executive of this new association. HIRMAA continues today to be an active forum for all restricted membership health funds, and is further testimony to the contribution that the Railway & Transport Health Fund has made to the development of Australia's private health insurance industry.
1983

1983

1983 heralded one of those moments when the nation holds its collective breath as Alan Bond's famous winged-keeled yacht, Australia II won the America's Cup. R&T was also experiencing a win thanks to superior ...
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1983 heralded one of those moments when the nation holds its collective breath as Alan Bond's famous winged-keeled yacht, Australia II won the America's Cup. R&T was also experiencing a win thanks to superior technology. As secretary Noel McCartney explained, 'the fund had gone modern' with the installation of a computer system for rapid identification of claims.

In February 1984, a new universal health care system known as Medicare was introduced and in the first months of that year the fund was 'hopelessly inundated' with enquiries from members wanting to know how they would be affected. Normal day-to-day work virtually came to a standstill and the fund was losing members at the rate of around 100 per month as people decided to rely solely on Medicare coverage. Not surprisingly, the financial result for the year was described as 'most disappointing'.
1986

1986

In 1986, the fund witnessed its second passing of Halley's Comet and in 1988 Australia celebrated 200 years of white settlement. The Prince and Princess of Wales attended the official Australia Day ceremony ...
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In 1986, the fund witnessed its second passing of Halley's Comet and in 1988 Australia celebrated 200 years of white settlement. The Prince and Princess of Wales attended the official Australia Day ceremony at the Opera House, and Australia's new Parliament House was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II.

The highlight of 1989 was the celebration of the fund's 100th anniversary with the issue of a Centenary Medallion, a harbour cruise and a dinner held at the Railway Institute with entertainment provided by the Transport Band.

An important development in the fund's centenary year was the launch of Ancillary or Extras Cover which would pay benefits for services not covered by Medicare. The response from members was excellent, with over 1,000 signing up immediately.
1990s

1990s

Throughout the 1990s one of the biggest topics of conversation was the 'Y2K bug'. Billions were spent around the world on the problem, and people stockpiled food and batteries in preparation for the 'the end of the world as we know it'...
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Throughout the 1990s one of the biggest topics of conversation was the 'Y2K bug'. Billions were spent around the world on the problem, and people stockpiled food and batteries in preparation for 'the end of the world as we know it'. However, when the clock struck midnight the only things that exploded were fireworks and champagne corks. That year, Sydney hosted 'the best Olympics ever' and the whole of Australia came to a standstill to watch Cathy Freeman race to a gold medal victory in the 400m finals.

In October 1991, members of Queensland Rail were welcomed to the fund. An office was opened in Brisbane and within a couple of years Queensland members would represent more than 10% of the fund's total membership.

It was a difficult decade for health insurers. Fund membership had fallen to just over 15,000 and the economic recession, together with a lack of incentives, caused private health coverage to tumble from 72% of the population in 1984, to just 36% in 1994.

For the first time in many years, membership of the fund showed an upward trend in the millennium year. The increase was attributed to the introduction of two government initiatives: the Australian Government Private Health Insurance Rebate and Lifetime Health Cover.
2004

2004

The world awoke on Boxing Day 2004 to the unfolding story of a devastating tsunami, which killed more than a quarter of a million people across 15 countries...
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The world awoke on Boxing Day 2004 to the unfolding story of a devastating tsunami, which killed more than a quarter of a million people across 15 countries.

It was a year that would be pivotal for the fund. A new board of directors and CEO would be appointed and tasked with the challenge of modernising the organisation, which by now had suffered many years of steady membership decline.

Chairperson Victoria Reynolds led the board in the search for a new CEO who would usher in a program of massive modernisation and innovation. Glenn Campbell was appointed in April 2006 and set about implementing a three-year strategic plan that would bring about some of the most fundamental change in the fund's 116-year history.

The year also saw the launch of the rt Families Foundation. The Foundation is a registered charity run by staff on a volunteer basis to raise money to assist families in times of hardship and need, whether they are members of the health fund or not.
2007

2007

In 2007 Kevin Rudd became Australia's first Labor Prime Minister in more than a decade, and within weeks had tabled a motion in parliament apologising to Australia's Indigenous peoples. The first cracks ...
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In 2007 Kevin Rudd became Australia's first Labor Prime Minister in more than a decade, and within weeks had tabled a motion in parliament apologising to Australia's Indigenous peoples. The first cracks also started to appear in what would become known as the 'global financial crisis', one of the greatest assaults on global economic stability since the Great Depression.

The year marked a significant milestone for the fund as it launched a new brand and adopted a new name. The old Railway & Transport Health Fund became rt health fund, the fund for transport and electricity industry people. New members began to flock to the fund, with membership increasing by more than 11% in the 2007/08 financial year, almost three times the industry average. The new rt brand went on to be named a national finalist in the prestigious Australian Marketing Institute Awards for Excellence.

The change to 'rt health fund' was more than just a new name, it was a new approach to business based on the belief that it had to do more than just help members pay bills when they were unwell. The fund's new tagline 'be well, get well, stay well' said everything about its ambitions to become an organisation that would take an active role in helping people to take care of their health. As a first step toward becoming a health partner, three new health management programs were launched and enthusiastically embraced by members.

The year also saw the fund create formal partnerships with key organisations in the transport and electricity industries: the RTBU, the ETU and the TWU. And, it became a national organisation for the first time, with members in every state and territory.

The private health insurance industry experienced the biggest shake up in its history since the introduction of the 1953 National Health Act with the introduction of the Private Health Insurance Act.
2009

2009

In January 2009, a 47-year-old first-term senator from Illinois, shattered more than 200 years of history when he was inaugurated as the first African-American president of the United States...
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In January 2009, a 47-year-old first-term senator from Illinois, shattered more than 200 years of history when he was inaugurated as the first African-American president of the United States.

It was also a year for new milestones for rt health fund as it achieved a more than 20 per cent increase in membership, and was named one of the 'best value' health funds by Australian Financial Review's Smart Investor magazine for the second year in a row. Today, in its 120th year of operation, rt is the fastest growing health fund in the country. It has outgrown its existing offices in Burwood and its new home, close to Central Station, will enable it to offer on-site dental, optical and wellbeing programs for members.

The values of care and service underpin the organisation as strongly today as they did when those pioneering men first sat around a table in this very building and decided to start a hospital fund. Their spirit of mateship, of banding together to help each other out, and of being part of a unique community of people bound together through a common cause, lives on in the hearts and minds of today's board, management and staff. They work diligently to protect the fund's special history and ensure that it lives and grows with many more generations of transport and energy industry people to come.