Freemasons embrace change
AS DENIS O'Neill, 73, surveys row upon row of dusty, empty chairs at the historic Lismore Masonic Lodge, he recalls a time when there was standing room only.
“After World War ll many returning men joined the Freemasons looking to recapture the camaraderie they experienced in the war,” Mr O'Neil, treasurer of the Kyogle Masonic Lodge, said.
“In the 1950s there were 150,000 Masons in NSW. Now there are around 12,000.
“I feel ashamed that we, and our predecessors, have let it go like this. It's very sad.”
With membership dwindling and many existing members aged into their 80s, three of the region's oldest Masonic Lodges will close next month to form the new Northern Rivers Lodge in Lismore.
The Kyogle Lodge, built in 1901, and the Urbenville Lodge, built in 1945, will both be sold as members from these towns join with Lismore members in the historic Magellan Street Masonic Lodge building.
“We've chosen to keep it in Lismore because this is a substantial building and it's important to keep up a presence in the area,” Mr O'Neill said.
Despite the membership decline, Mr O'Neill said the Masons were still active in the community and provided important mentorship opportunities for younger people.
The society that once shrouded its activities in secrecy is now set to open its virtual doors on the internet in a bid to attract a new, younger membership, explained Ron Williams, secretary of the Northern Rivers Masonic Lodge Steering Committee.
“We will have information available to university students and I'm about to start up a website and we hope to get a lot of interest from that,” Mr Williams said.
“We've tried to work quietly in the community but this (secrecy) has been dangerous to the organisation.
“The other thing is that women have been deliberately excluded. Now we're trying to make it a more social thing.”
The Northern Rivers Lodge will be formally opened in a ceremony on February 5.