Nestled in the verdant suburbs of Cairns, a seemingly ordinary white building with distinctive stone pillars stands as a testament to a venerable fellowship. This edifice, a focal point for various local Freemason lodges, provides a gathering place for members of a society with deep historical roots. Tracing their origins to the artisan guilds of the Middle Ages, Freemasons developed through the period of intellectual flourishing known as the Enlightenment.
Despite the rich and storied past of Freemasonry, the society has often found itself swathed in an aura of enigma, highlighted by unique handshakes, attire, and ceremonies. Such mystery has fueled diverse conspiracy theories and suspicions, casting Freemasons at the center of global events and outlandish practices. In a bid to dismantle these misconceptions, two Freemasons from north Queensland have taken it upon themselves to showcase the inner workings of an organization that, contrary to popular belief, is less hidden than it appears. Raja Chohan, grand master of the local Freemasons, together with Duncan Walker, are shedding light on this historical institution’s present-day activities and ethos.
The Essence of Symbolism
- Pillar Significance: The twin columns symbolize historical pillars from antiquity, reflecting wisdom and strength.
- Architectural Engravings: Tools depicted throughout the structure represent Masonic tradition, serving as emblems of ethical principles.
- Checkerboard Pattern: The contrasting tiles and the arrangement of furniture evoke the strategic nature of life’s decisions, akin to a game of chess.
- Symbolic Lessons: During ceremonial times, each emblem’s historical and current philosophical meanings are conveyed, teaching lessons such as fairness and integrity.
Noteworthy Masonic Members
The fraternity of Freemasons has included various prominent figures across different eras and regions. Among these are celebrated individuals from spheres such as governance, entertainment, and sports.
Within the United States, the Brotherhood has been associated with 14 presidents. Across the pond, numerous British prime ministers have also been linked to the society. Members are not limited to the upper echelons of political power but extend to professionals like bank managers and police officers.
In the context of Australia, notable Freemasons have included cricket legend Sir Donald Bradman and pioneering aviator Sir Charles Kingsford Smith. The entertainment sector saw Graham Kennedy becoming a member. Political leaders were not far behind, with at least 10 prime ministers, Sir Edmund Barton and Sir Robert Menzies among the distinguished members.
While the image of Freemasonry often evokes a male-dominated environment, it’s significant to note that there have been female orders. A prime example was Edith Cowan, a trailblazer as the first woman to serve in the Australian parliament.
Despite the diversity in profession and gender, a common thread among Freemasons is the requirement for a belief in a higher power. This allows for a confluence of various religious beliefs, such as Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and others, within the lodges. Such inclusive practices are exemplified by members like Mr. Chohan, whose Sikh faith remains harmonious with his Masonic commitments.
Nonetheless, the organization has at times been viewed with suspicion by certain religious doctrines and regimes—some going as far as to persecute members—owing to misconceptions about its intentions or influence.
Covert Greetings Among Freemasons
Freemasons have developed private methods of identification, one of which includes a distinct handshake. While the organization is public, certain traditions remain closely held. Their rituals and customs, spanning centuries, allow members to recognize one another—solidifying a bond of mutual trust.
- Recognizing members through the handshake
- Over 6 million members globally
- No occult activities or world dominance
- Masonic activities do not involve goat riding
- Trust is established through simple gestures
- Ceremonial practices
- Social engagement
Charitable Work: Freemasons extend their impact through philanthropic efforts. In Queensland, for example, their organization Hand Heart Pocket backs multiple entities, from health facilities to initiatives aiding underprivileged youth. This assistance manifests in the form of generous donations and is integral to their community involvement.
Early Masonic Presence in Australia
- Establishing Roots: Pioneering naturalist Sir Joseph Banks, a Mason himself, arrived on Australian shores with Captain James Cook aboard the Endeavour in 1770.
- Maritime Gatherings: During the voyage of the First Fleet, Mason members conducted their assemblies upon the ocean waves.
- Exclusion of Convicts: Only soldiers and settlers participated in Masonic traditions, as convicts were not admitted.
- Soldier and Settler Membership: The influence of Freemasonry spread through these groups, forging a substantial presence.
20th Century Pinnacle:
- At the zenith of the Freemasons in Australia, around the 1960s, membership estimates reached 400,000.
Challenges and Changes:
- A Masonic center in Cairns was sold in 2019, reflective of the dwindling membership.
- Post-war periods saw a surge in lodge activity as returning soldiers sought fraternity and camaraderie through monthly meetings.
- As this cohort aged, Freemasonry faced a gradual decline in participants.
The Freemason fraternity faces the significant issue of dwindling membership numbers. The decline in religious affiliation in wider society mirrors this trend within the organization, despite its proclamations of being independent of religion, yet religious elements are inexorable to its foundation.
Politically too, their assertion of neutrality is at odds with a history of political involvement. Although renowned for philanthropy, Freemasonry is not unique in this regard—with organizations such as Lions Clubs and Rotary also leveraging a structured management system to advance charitable causes.
Freemasonry’s hierarchy and customs, with roles like Grand Masters and brotherhood, are zealously maintained. However, the commitment to such traditions poses risks akin to a precarious structure where removing one element could jeopardize stability. Their adherence to longstanding practices assumes these methods will indefinitely sustain the fraternity’s future.