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Published July 10th 2016
Gouger, Gilbert, Hanson, Morphett & Wakefield... all prominent South Australians who had streets in Adelaide named after them (Hanson Street was later changed to Pulteney Street in the 1960's). However they all had something else in common - they were all Freemasons.
Freemasonry stems from an ancient order which is open to conjecture when it actually began, however one theory is that freemasons originally descended from medieval stone masons who built great cathedrals and castles. Over time the order attracted men of intellectual ability, thus forming the first of the Grand Lodges. It first reached Australia's shores in 1803 and in South Australia soon after the first settlement in 1836, the first meeting being held at Black's Hotel in Franklin Street, Adelaide in 1838.
After meetings were held in varying locations across Adelaide and South Australia, a lot of them in pubs, purposely built infrastructure began to appear including a sizeable building in Flinders Street, Adelaide and the Grand Lodge of Freemason's on North Terrace Adelaide finally opened in 1927, an imposing edifice in amongst the other heritage architecture in the precinct. This building was to become and still is today, the headquarters of the Grand Lodge of South Australia and Northern Territory.
The foyer is quite imposing with striking black and white chequered floor tiles as well as the use of marble and large Ionic columns built in a distinct style which Freemason's sanctioned. The staircase leading up to upper levels is elegant and fires up your imagination as to where it might lead.
The ground floor has some display cases with pieces strongly associated with Freemasonry from a historical perspective and the admin office off to the left is where you can pick up pamphlets relating both to the building and freemasonry and where you assemble for tours which run each Thursday.
On the ground floor there is also an area which focuses mainly on men's health called the Freemason's Foundation Centre, a joint venture between the University of Adelaide and the Freemasons Foundation. The aim is to foster and undertake innovative research programs into men's health and deliver ongoing education programs. Some of the health focuses for men include Prostate Cancer, Male Obesity and Diabetes as well as Aging.
A great way to explore the building as well as learn about Freemasonry is to take a tour which runs each Thursday afternoon from 2 pm for 1 hour and even better, it is free!
The knowledgeable tour guides take you into areas rarely seen by the general public including three lodge rooms upstairs which showcase ornate furnishings and the paraphernalia associated with lodges. Explanation is also given how the order works and what happens in the regular meetings which are held.
The religious feel of the building is for ever present with reference to the letter "G", representing God, the creator of the world in its architecture and displays.
A surprise awaits on the upper floor with an excellent collection and memorabilia treasure trove of information pertaining to one of South Australia's famous explorers, John McDouall Stuart - you guessed it - he was also a Freemason!
The collection is maintained by the John McDouall Stuart Society Inc which was founded in Adelaide in 1964, their aim to perpetuate Stuart's name as well as his companions and sponsors and their achievements.
As a result of Stuart's expeditions, the mystery surrounding the geographical nature of the centre of Australia was solved as well as opening up territory for pastoral and mineral development and paving the way for the eventual erection of the Overland Telegraph in the 1870's between Adelaide and Darwin.
The extensive collection covers all of Stuart's significant expeditions north as well as across to the Indian Ocean and the interpretive signage covers well the story of Stuart and his party members. There are some great examples of original pieces belonging to Stuart and his party including compasses, diaries, walking sticks and navigational aids. A fascinating look into the world of our pioneering history.
Although there are display cases throughout the building showcasing Freemasonry items including regalia, jewels, furniture, paintings and important documentation, the archival area is only open by appointment and the curator's aim is to preserve and maintain Masonic records.
As you might expect, the Grand Lodge comes with its own library accessible to members of the public and is open on Mondays and Wednesdays between 10.30 am and 2.00 pm. Whether you wish to learn more about freemasonry or interested in pursuing some research into your family history, or an academic undertaking research, the library is well stocked.
I was impressed to learn you can also hire some of the rooms for a special occasion or maybe largish corporate function which can cater up to 300 people. The main function room is downstairs and an oak walled area with a bar. Functions can also be held in the Great Hall in the foyer. Onsite is also a catering company - Homestea www.cateringservice.com.au
There's another must visit place I can cross off my bucket list - well worth a venture into!
Cracker film with freemason story thread was The Man Who Would be King with Michael Caine, Sean Connery and Christopher Plummer in terrific form in a Himalayan shangri-la. Directed by the sharp John Huston.