Our History

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Lodge of Australia was the first Australian lodge to receive its Warrant from the United Grand Lodge of England. Irish freemasonry, communicated through the travelling warrants issued exclusively by the Irish to military lodges, had been established already in the Australian colonies as early as 1814 through the influence of the Lodge of Social and Military Virtues № 227 IC,.By 1824, the Grand Lodge of Ireland had issued two stationary warrants to civilian Masons in Sydney.

No record survives of the early plans to petition the English Grand Lodge to charter The Lodge of Australia.  What we do know – because it is recorded on the original Warrant, is that a petition was received from “John Stephen, GT Savage, Henry Douglass, Thomas Cuming, Augustus Earle, Frederick Garling, GP D’Arcy, W Balcombe and others” and that Warrant № 820 EC was issued in satisfaction of that petition by HRH the Duke of Sussex, Grand Master on 21 June 1828. 

 

It certainly took the warrant some time to reach its destination because the first recorded meeting of Lodge of Australia wasn’t held until 6 April 1829, under the Mastership of John Stephen Junior, a colonial official and son of the second judge of the newly created Supreme Court.  Thirteen Masons were present.  The first few meetings were purely administrative; approval of an Address to the Duke of Sussex, presumably a vote of thanks for granting the Charter.  In addition, two prominent Colonial Masons and representatives of the world’s second and third oldest professions, respectively Dr William Bland and William Charles Wentworth Esquire were received as “original members”. 

Like many lodges in those days, the Lodge of Australia met at a public house at the Saracen’s Head (which stood on the corner of King and Sussex Streets). From the 1830s onward, the Lodge prospered.  Its members at that time included many prominent figures in politics, business and the professions, many of whom have become household names. 

Some of these prominent members include George and James Reibey.  They were the sons of Mary Reibey, now pictured on the $20 note and closely associated with the establishment of Australia’s first bank.  The retailers John Ellis Gowing and Anthony Hordern were members, as was Dr Bland, both a politician and a practising physician and the first President of the Australian Medical Association. Charles Cowper, the Premier of New South Wales in the mid-nineteenth century, was initiated in The Lodge of Australia in 1862.  Cowper’s sometime Attorney General, William Bede Dalley was also a member, having been initiated in 1858. 

Dalley was “one of the pioneer statesmen of the new world”.  He served numerous State governments in a variety of ministries, maintained a high-profile practice at the Bar and was a frequent contributor to the Sydney Morning Herald and The Bulletin.  Together with Sir John Jamison, the Reibeys and WC Wentworth, he shares the honour of having a Sydney street named after him.

The Lodge of Australia was at the forefront of Masonic developments in the middle of the nineteenth century.  By then the number of English-warranted lodges had increased sufficiently to have established a Provincial Grand Lodge, of which The Lodge of Australia was of course the cornerstone. In 1853, the lodge formed a committee to liaise with other lodges with a view to establishing Sydney’s first Masonic Hall and in 1856 the members voted ten guineas towards the establishment of a Masonic library (which was eventually donated to the Grand Lodge Library in 1891). 

In 1854 the members voted to contribute a shilling each per week towards the establishment of a school for the children of “indigent brethren”, from which sprang the Freemasons’ Orphan Society.  As well as members’ contributions, the lodge organised a ball at the Victoria Theatre which raised over £100 and within 10 years the fund had accumulated £2,000, rising to £2,500 by 1866.  The Orphans’ Society continues to this day, is still supported by our lodge and supports the efforts of the Masonic Youth Welfare Fund which the Lodge of Australia in turn is supporting tonight.

In addition to the Orphans’ fund, The Lodge of Australia, along with other members of the English Provincial Grand Lodge, contributed to the establishment in 1880 of the John Williams Masonic Scholarship at Sydney University.

Along with WC Wentworth and WB Dalley, Watkin Wynne was a journalist associated with Lodge of Australia.  He was one of a syndicate that founded the Sydney Daily Telegraph, for which I suppose posterity should forgive him.  He was initiated in 1881 and installed as Worshipful Master for 1887-1888.  As such he would have been the last Master to work the lodge under its English Warrant, since in June 1888 it tendered its allegiance to the newly formed United Grand Lodge of New South Wales, becoming, as we know, № 3 on its Register. Wor Bro Wynne served on the committee that produced the Articles of Union by which United Grand Lodge of NSW was formed.  For that service he was elevated to Past Grand Warden, one of the first Brethren to receive conferred Grand Rank from the new Body.

Lodge of Australia continued to prosper for the remainder of the 19th century and into the 20th.  One hundred years ago at the 1908 Installation, it was reported that there were 95 Installed Masters present – a number that we can only dream of nowadays.

If we have dwelt at some length on the past, it is intended to emphasise the importance of Lodge of Australia in the history, not only of Freemasonry in New South Wales, but in the history of New South Wales itself. By the time the lodge celebrated 175 years in 2003 its fortunes had declined significantly, due in part to Freemasonry’s decline in popularity and the advancing age and dispersal of its members. 

Between 2000 and 2005, very few Brethren joined the lodge either through initiation or affiliation, and so in 2005 a bullet had to be bitten.  The lodge decided, with great reluctance, to surrender its Charter. Mindful of The Lodge of Australia’s historic importance, the Grand Master of the day, MW Bro Lauer, resisted the surrender.  Through the “Working Tools” newsletter, a call went out for expressions of interest in the formation of a “new” lodge for younger Masons and a meeting of interested Brethren was scheduled for the end of July. 

Although not widely known at the time, the true purpose of the meeting was to try and revive the fortunes of The Lodge of Australia by repositioning it as one of the growing number of “younger Masons’” lodges.  Upwards of 40 Brethren and friends attended and from that initial meeting a smaller group emerged, which came to be known as “The Lodge of Australia Renaissance Team”. 

The plan to resuscitate the lodge received the operational name of “Project Grannysmith”, referring to the lodge’s English roots and its planting in Australian soil. For a short time the Renaissance Group worked separately from the lodge, charting the direction that it would eventually take.  New by-laws were developed and put to the Private Lodges Committee of Grand Lodge.  A project manifesto was prepared for presentation to the Grand Master and a number of prospective candidates for initiation were introduced.

In September 2005, a caretaker Master and officers were installed prior to the lodge going into what was hoped would only be a short recess.  The Renaissance Team met with the caretakers to brief them and to co-ordinate the administrative steps required to put Project Grannysmith into action.  Since nothing quite like this had ever been attempted before, we were to some extent developing the procedure as we went along but the help and encouragement we received on all sides made for a perfectly smooth transition. 

Lodge of Australia met twice more after the caretakers’ installation during which the new by-laws, which had been approved by Grand Lodge in something like record time, were formally adopted and 13 members of the Renaissance Group were accepted as affiliate members – coincidentally, the same number of Masons who met to form the lodge for the first time in April 1829.

The Renaissance Installation took place on 13 March 2006 and the refreshed lodge has met regularly ever since.  As well as retaining a number of “pre-Renaissance” members, there have been further affiliations and (far more importantly) we have initiated a number of new young men into Freemasonry, with many more petitions to be taken forward Lodge of Australia continues to move forward and meets regularly at Sydney Masonic Centre in Sydney.

Although it has had its ups and downs it is a testament to the perfect harmony between all  and the many other stakeholders, in the way it has revived the fortunes and ensured the future of this eminent and historic lodge.  Long may it continue to flourish.