The ability to easily access cheap finance is one, if not the, most pressing determinants of a person’s ability to achieve some degree of economic and even social independence. This is most significant with respect to housing finance. Loan limits, high interest rates and an unwillingness on the part of the formal financial sector to lend to lower income earners would have doomed this sector of the population to a life of tenancy without co-operative finance schemes such as Starr-Bowkett societies. Starr-Bowketts are co-operative, non-profit financial institutions that provide interest-free loans to their members and operate on the principle of mutual self-help as espoused by Dr T.E. Bowkett in 1843. This paper examines the growth of these societies in New South Wales over the period 1900-30, and considers the impact that the existence of and growth in these societies had on extending the economic capacity of those neglected by the formal financial sector.