The Manchester Unity Independent Order of Oddfellows (Manchester Unity) was established in Melbourne in 1840 by Augustus Greeves, a member of Manchester Unity in England who had migrated to Australia. It began as a friendly society which provided sickness, unemployment and funeral benefits to its members. In 1985 the Grand United Order of Oddfellows (GUOOF) merged with Manchester Unity and those members who wished to continue the fraternal aspect of their membership were invited to join Manchester Unity. In 1993 the business arm of Manchester Unity (Victoria) merged with the Australian Natives Association to create Australian Unity. However Manchester Unity continues today as a charitable and fraternal wing of Australian Unity.
Contributions payable to Manchester Unity varied according to age and sex. Members had to pay a weekly fee for management expenses of their Lodge and a quarterly fee for doctors and medicine. Basic benefits covered sick pay and funeral expenses, though varying levels of hospital benefits could be paid for through additional contributions. Although based on Christian values Manchester Unity prides itself on being non-sectarian and non-political.
In 1925, the first female member was admitted to Manchester Unity; prior to this women could only receive benefits through their husbands or fathers (to the age of 16). Through its Lodges system Manchester Unity had a strong social and educational focus, holding a variety of functions and activities including an annual Christmas dinner; this aspect is greatly diminished today. Manchester Unity also undertook a variety of charitable activities: the Manchester Unity building opposite the Melbourne Town Hall was constructed during the Great Depression to provide the unemployed with work.
The Lodge system is three tiered. New members are admitted to a Lodge, where the highest office is Noble Grand. The next level is the District Lodge, which represents all Lodges which fall within its boundaries, conducts much of the business of the society and has officers including Secretary and Treasurer. District Lodge members who have had lengthy or commendable service may be elected to represent their district at the Annual Moveable Conference, where the highest office, that of Grand Master, is elected annually. Members who have completed the Purple degree are also eligible to enter the Grand Lodge, one focused purely on the ceremony and ritual of Oddfellowship.