READ THIS FIRST...
Scholars, since Russell Ward's The Australian Legend, have searched feverishly for the origins of mateship, mainly in bush culture and in shearing sheds. All have reported failure because they couldn't see the answer staring them in the face - because it wasn't labelled mateship. Ward's use of folk music and bush tales to support his argument threw them completely 'off the track'.
To approach the same issue from a different direction - Bolton & Hudson, writing in 1997, pointed out a major gap in Australia's historical record:
...many Australians had hidden or covert identities hard to guess from their
public personas. Many men joined the Freemasons, a body whose influence in
Australian society has been grossly neglected by historians...Lodges, such as the
Druids, the Rechabites, the Buffaloes and the Oddfellows, provided support systems of
considerable strength and durability. Catholics had their own religious orders and lay
sodalities. (Their)diversity and importance for Australian political and cultural life
is little studied...
These are not the first to suggest that, like the fabled Inland Sea, there was (and is) something missing at the heart of Australians' understanding of themselves. In this case, however, the feeling is backed up by the evidence lying just where these two Western Australian scholars were pointing. Fraternalism is not exactly the same thing, but our notions of 'mateship' have grown in the context created by fraternalism. Keneally was probing the same 'something missing' when he wrote in 1986 that there was a
certain self-censorship on the part of Irish Australians,..a willingness to forget certain
sections of Irish and Australian history.
Spann was looking at another part of the same gap when he pointed out in 1961:
No work seems to have been done in Australia on Protestant political behaviour, which is
a pity, as any account of religion and voting is one-sided that concentrates on the
oddities of a single religious group.
In 1972, Bollen wrote:
Beyond the political parties are sections of colonial society of which little is known:
groups and institutions which helped determine the climate of public opinion.
He nominated the Protestant Churches as the most prominent of the neglected 'groups and institutions', but accepted that even his attempt at improvement would fail since:
The sociology of the Churches is a formidable subject calling for sustained co- operation between historians and sociologists of a kind, regrettably, not yet in sight.
FREEMASONRY AND AUSTRALIAN HISTORY:
At the particular moment of the first white settlement in Australia, 1788, Freemasonry was a highly conflicted phenomenon, under both internal and external pressures. There were several 'Freemasonrys', and more than one Grand Lodge, and each was impacted on by the major conflicts we now know as the Napoleonic Wars and the French Revolution.
As white settlement of Australia was beginning, and during its earliest years, secret 'combinations' throughout Britain and mainland Europe were being proscribed and, where located, were being raided and their members charged. 'Secret Committees', authorised by the House of Commons, were attempting to track any and all conspiracies and all agitators. While much of late-18th century tumult centred on reform efforts around universal rights and 'the brotherhood of man', there were also longer running religious conflicts. Freemasonry, the institution, both because of its claimed idealism and its day-to-day practice was directly involved in both struggles. And as a matter of course, these struggles spilled over from Europe into what was then called 'New South Wales'.
It is the more shadowy, less formally organised groups which pose the most interesting problems as the degree to which they can be considered 'Masonic' is pivotal to the first settlements and to what follows. Also pivotal is the allegiance of brethren to non-Masonic 'masters', eg, Protestantism, nationalism or personal ambition.
Ultimately, what is at stake here are questions of just what has been meant by the word 'Freemasonry' at any given date, and what can be regarded as 'the Masonic heritage.'
Given both the well-documented influence of enlightenment theories on late-18th century Freemasonry, and Irish influence on white Australian history from its earliest manifestation, Irish 'clubs' and 'lodges' deserve the increased scrutiny they are now receiving.
Recent research, for example, has shown the wide divergence of 'Masonic' agendas being pursued. Irish records are clear that during the very turbulent 1780's and '90's, nominally 'Masonic' lodges were being used for nationalist purposes, with numerous Catholics being initiated. Non-Protestant members may not have endured, but it is unlikely that even Protestant Masons would have passed examination as 'regular' if tested by officers of the Grand Lodge in London. There must be questions about the accuracy of the label 'Masonry', when, for example, an English Masonic magazine, in 1797 the year before the major, Catholic uprising known as 'Vinegar Hill' recorded that:
There is an enthusiasm for Masonry in Ireland which is (greater than) in this Country (England). Every village has its masonic meeting, and, therefore, no wonder can be made at the great number of Masons constantly made in that country.
An account published by the Grand Lodge of Ireland admits that both 'regular' and 'clandestine' Masonic lodges were directly involved in the social upheaval being experienced:
(It) was usual for the lodges to declare their loyalty to the King and Constitution, and offer their services in defence of the country, by advertisement in the papers.
There is, in addition, the issue of official complicity in these 'troubles'. On 13 March, 1797, the province of Ulster was placed under the control of an ill-disciplined army and its 'ferocious commander' General Lake. An officer under his command admitted:
I have arranged...to increase the animosity between Orangemen and the United Irish. Upon that animosity depends the safety of the centre counties of the north. Were the Orangemen disarmed or put down or were they coalesced with the other party, the whole of Ulster would be as bad as Antrim and Down.
Lake's activities resulted in many Irish 'patriots' being transported to Botany Bay. So, true or false, the allegations at the heart of this conflict were part of the context in which the secret societies transported to Australia, including the various Freemasonrys, struck their first roots.
In their new location, they gained sufficient traction for religious differences to remain potent well into the 20th century and thus to cause very deep divisions. Harland-Jacobs, in her recent book Builders of Empire, has concluded that Freemasonry became a Protestant enclave on the basis of this enduring hostility and its reluctance to accept non-British brethren as full members. I conclude that so little research has been done into our heritage that much remains to be sorted out, argued over and absorbed.
'Why This Site?' 4 Nov, 2013.
FIRSTLY: the neglect;
SECONDLY: the lies;
THIRDLY: the History Wars.
1: Australians have been kept from their fraternal history. This is a sorry tale of neglect, confusion and myth-making. Fraternals have been publically present throughout Australia's European existence. Some still exist and are still large organisations. Some have died out, some have changed their names, some have joined with others.
Their change of mind - from not wanting to be seen and swearing oaths against telling secrets, to wearing vivid colours and wanting to be seen - is only one part of this story.
For over 200 years, they have been massive in numbers, colourful in presentation and often outspoken. Trade unions and Freemasons have generated lots of material which does not tell 'the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth'.
Many families - rich, poor, innocent and reprobate - have lived fraternalism in its many guises.
The fraternal stories of Australia's heroes, such as Don Bradman, Les Darcy and Ned Kelly, Caroline Chisholm, WC Wentworth and Alfred Deakin, have been neglected and become invisible.
The actual societies have not been hard to find, rather they have been hard to 'see'. The romanticised 'mate-ship' of Lawson and Paterson and the speculations of Dan Brown are only a pale and reflective shadow compared to the reality.
The biggest items - banners, buildings, regalia, honour boards - have been the most difficult to see.
The sheer numbers involved - hundreds and hundreds of 'lodges' and their many thousands of initiated candidates - have meant huge amounts of regalia have been produced in this country or imported into it. The hand-sewn, embroidered aprons, sashes, collars and jewels were sometimes works of art, sometimes made by firelight from the cheapest of materials and sometimes produced en-masse by specialist departments of David Jones, Anthony Hordern, Pellegrini and other stores.
How to deal with what has survived of lodges - from banners, regalia, coded ritual books and photos to lodge furniture and buildings - is a big problem.
2: Before there was much Australian History on book shelves, there were ideas about what Australia was. They didn't agree. They were used in political arguments. Some said Australia was vulgar, coarse and anti-authority BECAUSE it was a convict colony. Some said Australians were greedy and hated culture BECAUSE we had no History or literature and no artists worth talking about. Some said Australians only liked sport. Some said trade unions saved Australia by being progressive and modern and democratic. Some said mate-ship was uniquely Australian.
3: When Manning Clark began writing Australian history he wanted to replace these 'comforters' with real history.. His favourite idea was escaping the dark night of ignorance by finding the light of understanding:
(At) any given moment I was like a man looking for a chink of light at the end of a very dark tunnel, or like a man seeking the way in a heavy fog. Occasionally a shaft of light showed the way forward, but it took years to get out of that fog. Sometimes...I wanted that fog back rather desperately. Men, we have been told, prefer the darkness to the light, because madness is in their hearts while they live.
His work was attacked by people who preferred the old history, especially those who wanted to believe that Australia was peaceful, freedom-loving and tolerant, despite a poor start.
He was attacked for highlighting conflict eg, between socialists and Christians, between men and women, or between Catholics and Protestants, between indigenes and Europeans, between lower class and upper class people, between city and country people or even between individuals.
He was attacked for writing that mate-ship was a myth, whether at Eureka Stockade or among the sheep shearers, or at Anzac Cove. The radical tradition, 'the ideal of mate-ship among the bushman', especially, led too easily to xenophobia and racism.
4: These History Wars continue today.