Despite the secrecy and conspiracy theories shrouding the controversial organisation- one thing remains clear. Membership numbers are dwindling in the Freemason lodges of Kelmscott and Gosnells. Brenda Chew reports.
I’ll be honest – when I first approached the secretary of Kelmscott Freemason lodge James Adams, I expected an outright refusal of my request to visit their grounds.
One, I’m female trying to gain access to the fraternal organisation and two, I’m a journalist so there is no way they can ensure privy of their information.
I was wrong.
Mr Adams took me through the tired brick Armadale Masonic complex, built almost a hundred years ago. A day lodge was holding its meeting, made up of wizened, greying men in their 70s.
The worn carpet and musty odour is a strange accompaniment to etched symbols, that were of deep importance to Freemasons.
Using the ancient skill of stonecutting as a metaphor to be good men, Freemasons learn about the symbolic meaning behind each tool, according to Mr Adams.
“For example, the level, which is used to lay stones teaches that we should meet on a level, that every man is born equal.
“As measuring instruments, the tools represent judgment and discernment.”
Freemasons meet once a month – the first 30 minutes is a business meeting and they conduct ceremonial proceedings after that.
Mr Adams is reluctant to tell me what goes on at the ceremony. A brief glimpse reveals that a member, called the outer guard, sits outside for the entire duration of the meeting, brandishing an unsharpened sword.
Although the ancient ceremonies seem out of place in modern times, Mr Adams insists that Freemasons play an even more important role in today’s society.
“And the way things are going now, we are more relevant because we teach people morality, good manners and to obey the law.”
But in the Da Vinci Code controversy, the Freemasons are portrayed as a secret cult that conducts sexual ceremonies with phallic imageries.
“The Da Vinci Code is just fiction,” Mr Adams said.
“It hasn’t increased nor decreased our members but it did generate a lot of interest.
“We’re not a secret society or practise occultic practices.
“We’re non-religious, anyone who believes in a supreme being, be they Buddhist, Muslim, Jew or Christian can join us.
“The tests and ceremonies are a secret – basically a way of testing the good character of those who join.
“And if you’re really curious, the internet or the library has the information anyway.”
The stagnant membership is a stark reminder of an ageing lodge. At the height of membership numbers, both lodges saw more than 100 members in 1950s to 1960s. They have 44 members now.
Mr Adams said the Kelmscott and Gosnells lodges will be joined next month to form the Heritage Lodge.
“The numbers have dropped to the point where they can’t operate individually,” he said.
“So we became associate members of each other’s lodge.
“When Gosnells meet, they have Kelmscott members as well and vice versa – we’ve been doing that for two years now.
“Because of the existing camaraderie we decided to surrender our warrants (the paper that gives lodges the right to conduct ceremonies) by handing them to our grand master and a new lodge will be formed called Heritage Lodge.
“We’ll still be meeting at the Armadale Masonic Complex.
“Because we are expecting more than 100 attendees at the ceremony and this lodge room (Armadale) isn’t equipped to take in so many people, we’ll be holding the banquet in the Victoria Park lodgeroom.”
They may be in need of new members but membership requirement hasn’t changed.
Prospective members follow a chain of approvals, Mr Adams said.
“You have to be 21 years of age but they can be brought in at 18 if they have a father or grandfather who is a member,” he said.
“When someone expresses a desire to join, the person who sponsors them has to vouch for his character.
“The sponsor has to know him for more than 12 months. Then he proposes the potential member to the lodge.
“The person must be civilly obedient, adhere to law of the land and cannot have criminal convictions.
“There is an investigation committee who then goes to speak to his partner and the person.
“The committee will need to know if the partner is happy with him joining the Freemasons, if she is aware of the commitments involved.
“Each member starts out as an apprentice, before moving on to the next level. They’ll have to pass a test to get to the next stage.
“We don’t reveal what the tests are, but they are questions that the member will have to answer.”
To find out, you’d have to become a Freemason.
History of Freemasonry
The precise origins have been lost in time but its traditions date back to the middle ages and to the stonemasons who built the castles and cathedrals of Europe. These skilled masons formed themselves into lodges to protect the skills and secrets of their trade and to pass on their knowledge to worthy apprentices.
By the 17th century, the building of castles and cathedrals subsided. Freemasonry began to lose their operative aspects and men of other professions deemed worthy by the group were also accepted into its membership.
Mr Adam said Freemasons in WA are one of the biggest organisers of retired villagers and homes in the state.
“We have villages from Port Hedland to Esperance. These are open to everybody, not just for the people of Masonic background,” he said.
“At the moment the grand lodge has donated to various organisations such as the Autistic Society and Alzheimer’s Foundation.
“There are also benevolent funds, funds for widows and aged freemasons, funds for anyone in distressed situation.
“We also run disaster appeals. Whenever there’s a disaster the grand master will open a disaster appeal.
“When the Victorian Fire was over east a few years ago, we donated $100,000. These are just some of the examples of charity we do.”
All photographs by Matt Devlin.
Published in Gosnells Examiner, Armadale Examiner, Canning Examiner, Victoria Park Examiner and Serpentine Jarrahdale Examiner on July 21, 2011. PDF here: X21GOS_039p