Freemasons - Taking good men and making them better
Freemasonry is the world’s largest and oldest fraternal order, and still very much active in the Central West.
The exact origins of Freemasonry are lost to history, but its traditions and rituals are said to date back as far as the 15th Century if not further. Freemasons base their organisation and traditions on those formed by medieval stonemasons to protect the secrets of their trade and to pass on the knowledge to apprentices.
To this day, the tools and instruments of the stonemasons trade form an important part of the rituals of Freemasonry, although it has been hundreds of years since the practical knowledge of stonemasonry was a requirement of membership.
It is true that there remains a secretive side to Freemasonry, but members insist it is more a matter of keeping their rituals private and reject the popular notion they are a ‘secret society’. In recent years there has been a concerted effort to build their public profile, both to attract new members and dispel some of the wild speculation that abounds about the fraternal order.
But when Rob Finlay joined the Freemasons 52 years ago, he knew little more about it than it was an organisation his father enjoyed being part of — that was enough for him.
“My Dad was very involved in the community and I had a great respect for him. He didn't belong to anything that wasn't worthwhile, so I joined pretty early and I haven’t looked back,” said Rob.
Times have certainly changed said Rob, who welcomed Orange City Life into their lodge room here in Orange — something unthinkable in years past.
“My Dad was a Mason, but I’d never been inside the lodge room until I joined because they didn't do that then,” he said.
“I'll guarantee you would not have had this interview when I joined 50 years ago, but we realise we are in a changing world and there is really only a very small portion of it that is secret.”
Another sign of the changing times is that you will now find Masons actively publicising their activities on social media platforms like Facebook.
At 27, Matt McClure is one of the youngest members of the local Masonic Lodge, and he is passionate about sharing his love for the ancient order.
“We are always trying to attract new members and we are trying to inform people about Freemasonry. I’m active on the Central West Freemasons Facebook page and if people have a question about freemasonry, we're there to tell them,” said Matt, who actually became interested in Freemasonry after reading the Dan Brown novel, ‘Lost Symbol’, which led to him discovering both his grandfathers were Masons.
Freemasonry is open to any man regardless of race or religion; the only requirements are that a candidate must be of ‘good character’ and believe in a ‘supreme being’. But religion and politics are topics strictly forbidden in the lodge itself.
“There is no religion or politics talked; it is a place you go to get along with people,” said Rob.
“You can sit down in lodge, whether you are Christian, Jewish, Muslim or Buddhist— they can all sit down beside each other as brothers.”
At its core, Freemasonry is about taking good men and trying to make them better, Rob tells me.
“You are constantly learning about doing good”
“I look back and think I wasn't bad then, but I'm better now” he said. “And our goal is to be better again, so you never reach your goal. You are constantly learning about doing good, how you can do that and how you should be a better person… it gives you moral direction, I suppose.”
The lessons of Freemasonry are passed on through scripted, private ceremonies that have changed very little over the centuries.
“The rituals are most important because those are the teachings of Freemasonry,” said Matt. “The ritual is there for the candidate, which we call the person receiving the work, he and he alone is getting the information and that is for him to take away and interpret it in his own time and then see how that relates to his life and the people around him and how he can become a better person from that.”
“And that’s what it has done for me,” said Rob, “it has made me a better person.”
Both Matt and Rob also speak fondly of the friendships they’ve made through Freemasonry.
“It is a place where two very different people can go and they are judged as equals,” said Matt. “And it gives you this avenue of meeting new people that you wouldn't usually meet… and that is not job links or anything like that, it is pure enjoyment of fraternity and being around one another.”
“Take Matt and I,” said Rob, “there's at least three or four years between us, but nevertheless I travel with him, I respect talking to him and I think he respects me — we can bridge barriers and I think that is pretty unique situation, because we’ve got this shared experience.”
Matt McClure and Dr Rob Finlay in the lodge room of Lodge Canobolas Lewis, Orange.
Freemasons at the Installation of Worshipful Brother Len Wellington.