CHAPTER 9: FEDERATION, AND 20TH CENTURY FRATERNAL POLITICS
The Australian Natives Association (ANA) has as its crowning achievement, for some people its only achievement, the generation of the groundswell of support for Federation. It has been, in fact, an exceptional society firstly, because it is the only Affiliated Friendly Society known to me that turned away from secret rites and rituals within six months of its origins, and, secondly, it is the only AFS known to me which was discriminated against by doctors because of its overt politics.
In 1971, the historian of this society’s first 100 years, wrote that ‘the ANA is basically a Friendly Society’ which:
has at all levels..sustained a continued and lively interest in discussion and the formulating of a policy on national and local questions.[dcccxlix]
This is not a statement that any other friendly society would have made, even in hindsight and even though many of them were heavily involved in ‘national and local questions.’ In not hiding its internal discussions behind closed and guarded doors and in its prohibition only of ‘discussions on party politics and on religious topics such as might excite sectarian issues’, it was also unique.[dcccl] But as a Perth ANA member explained at a 1900 ‘Smoke Social’ of the Boulder branch (WA) to an audience which included men from the IOOF, HACBS, AOD, AOF and the miners’ AMA:
The fundamental principle of the ANA was Federated Australia and Australia for the white man.[dcccli]
The ANA has claimed leadership roles in a large number of policy initiatives which were natural ‘spin-offs’ from its initial premise: an Australian Navy, single gauge rail, restricted immigration, the Naturalisation Ceremony, Australia Day, military training, the Antarctic stewardship, study of Australian history in schools, and many others. Along with decimal currency, ANA branches were discussing all of these ideas in the 1890’s and 1900’s.
Another fraternal begun just after the tumult of 1868, it developed the standard ‘friendly’ Rules. Being on average 10 years younger than, for example, IOOFMU, its early membership was not in need of as much medical care as others. Some of its initiators had intended to copy the NSW ‘Australian Patriotic Society’, while others wanted a ‘secret society’ with fraternal trappings. A blue sash with the Australian coat of arms was suggested but lapsed, in the face of what was considered a more ‘brisk and business like’ approach.
Established in all States before 1891, the ANA has often been identified as a Victorian society. In 1909, Victorian membership was over 27,000, while its total for the other five states together was only 7,000 (approx). Some of the disparity can be put down to its numerous harsh critics, and some to mobility of the mining population.
From all of its concerns, an opponent of the ANA today would in all likelihood, choose to object to its advocacy of White Australia. In 1900, the most sensitive issue of all was actually Australia’s quest for independence from ‘the Empire’.
Sir John Quick, celebrated in Bendigo as ‘legendary hero’ and more broadly as a ‘Founding Father’, was an honorary member of that goldfields’ branch of the ANA. It published his very influential 1896 A Digest of Federal Constitutions. Menadue’s celebration of the society and ‘Federation’ concluded with:
For a time [UK] Prime Minister Chamberlain resisted the acceptance of the (Australian Commonwealth Constitution) Bill in toto. Mr Deakin held strongly to the original Bill and, at one juncture, only the ANA in Australia, remained steadfastly behind him…(When it came into operation on 1 January, 1901) it was not inappropriate that the first Prime Minister, Hon Edmund Barton, was a member of the Australian Natives Association.[dccclii]
A less-partisan observer perhaps, the editor of the Melbourne Herald, wrote in January, 1906, at the opening of a major display of Australian industries:
Today we celebrate the anniversary of the foundation of Australia. Thanks to the patriotic efforts of the Australian Natives Association, the celebration has taken a form that cannot fail to appeal to the hearts and minds of all lovers of their country. The Association may claim a large share of the credit attaching to the creation of Federation and is now seeking to crown its work by incessant practical loyalty..[dcccliii]
The following day, The Age wrote:
Advance Australia: A luncheon to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Commonwealth and the 118th anniversary of Australian colonisation was given by the Australian Natives Association at the Exhibition Building yesterday..(Amongst) those seated at the tables were the Prime Minister (Mr Alfred Deakin), the State Premier (Mr Thomas Bent), the Lord Mayor of Melbourne (Cr Weedon), Sir Henry Wrixon (President of the Legislative Council), Mr Austin Chapman (Postmaster General), Sir Samuel Griffith (Chief Secretary)..etc[dcccliv]
Menadue notes that the first members had been immediately branded as upstarts and having ‘republican tendencies.’ In the ‘90’s The Bulletin thought them effete, inclined to dandyism.[dccclv] First attempts to set-up in NSW were bedevilled by cross-Murray rivalries, and assertions that it was a front for anti-English, pro-Irish agitators. NSW’s ‘parent lodge’, the Waratah Branch, had to be re-established in 1900 and a new push made for members.[dccclvi] Similarly, in South and Western Australia, where first ‘lodges’ also fell away, an anti-colonial bias, ie ‘anti-Australian-made products’, was strong.[dccclvii] Just after Federation was achieved, Deakin, a long-standing member, wrote privately to Thomas Heide, editor and founder of the ANA paper, Advance Australia:
..The duty which all members of the Australian Natives Association owe to the Commonwealth is that which every citizen is called upon to discharge..Voters who belong to the Association have however more than the usual obligation to do their duty to their country. They played so important a part in securing the adoption of the Constitution that they may properly be held responsible to the public for its efficient working..They will be numbered among the fathers of the Commonwealth.[dccclviii]
Heide, who had proposed and established the paper in 1895, was well aware of the restrictions imposed legislatively on the ANA by virtue of its being a friendly society with sickness and funeral benefits. His successful ‘start up’ proposal described his aims for the paper being to ‘(advance) a national sentiment’ as ‘a side-way’ approach to the expression of political statements.[dccclix]
Celebrations for Australia’s Federation took numerous forms, the best known events being in Sydney in the first week of the new century, 1901. The centrepiece of these public ceremonials was a huge street procession on 1 January. Rank upon rank of ‘the gentry’ and row upon row of the military protectors of the Empire, were followed by community representatives, the mounted police, trade unionists with an Eight Hours Day banner, friendly society leaders in carriages, firemen and so on. The official record shows that besides distinctive working clothes and tools which, for the operative stonemasons included a square and compass, hammer, chisel and a lewis[dccclx], a number of trade unions were further distinguished by sashes – Bakers (no colour given), United Labourers (blue, with ULPS in gold), Amalgamated Engineers (red). Gold miners from various locations chose to appear in white costumes with a red sash, while the Society of Tailors wore their emblem, the fig-leaf.[dccclxi]
Four days later on 5 January, a further huge parade took place, this time of just the common folk. As was usual at the time, this culminated in a sports carnival.[dccclxii] Featured were banners and floats from numerous trade and friendly societies. No Hibernians or Australasian Holy Catholic Guild members paraded, whereby hangs a tale. ‘An unhappy controversy’ concerning precedence technically due to Cardinal Moran but given to the Anglican Archbishop resulted in Moran abstracting himself from the Sydney march altogether and watching it from the steps of St Mary’s Cathedral, amongst a choir of Catholic children singing suitably patriotic songs.[dccclxiii] The official record of the celebrations, published in 1904, described this parade:
The procession through the streets of the city by the United Friendly Societies and Trades Unions presented a magnificent spectacle. Recognising the importance and numerical strength of the combined orders of the respective bodies forming this demonstration, the Government considered it advisable to set apart a separate day for the purpose..[dccclxiv]
Members of Parliament followed the crowds to the Sports Carnival which was also attended by the Governor-General and Prime Ministers of both New South Wales and New Zealand. The State organisations of Trade Unions and Friendly Societies contributed separate banquets to the festivities, each attended by a bevy of dignitaries. Prime Minister Barton spoke about the Federal Ministry’s powers at the second of these:
..(So) far as I can judge at present, the passage of a Friendly Societies Act does not come within the scope of the subjects entrusted to the federation..(However) I can assure you that…any legitimate influence I can exercise will be right heartily employed to smooth away inequalities in the law under which these societies operate.
NSW’s Premier See asserted:
No institution could do so much good as the Friendly Societies, and he hoped before the expiration of the present Parliament to bring in a Bill to give the relief which they so urgently required.
His call for a Federation of all Australia’s Friendly Societies was repeated by EW O’Sullivan, the State Minister for Works:
(The) Friendly Societies…should have a Friendly Societies’ Ground on Moore Park (Sydney).., Secondly, they should establish a Friendly Societies’ holiday, and hold an annual procession like the Trade Unions. The bank holiday on the 1st August might be utilised for such a purpose. Thirdly, they ought to have a federated Friendly Societies’ Hall, in which delegates from all parts of the Commonwealth could meet, exchange views, and hold Federal banquets, and local gatherings.[dccclxv]
See was initiated into ‘Strangers Refuge Lodge’, IOOFMU, with George Reid, at this time.[dccclxvi]
Outside Sydney, levels of Federation-enthusiasm varied. No celebration was held in Lithgow, the residents being more concerned to welcome home returning Boer War warriors. At the nearby settlement of Sunny Corner, ‘the patriotic Mafeking committee’ having money in hand determined to make an ‘appropriate’ noise for Federation – fireworks and a monster picnic preceding an afternoon of sports.[dccclxvii]
In contrast, no ‘friendlies’, not even the ANA, officially featured at the ‘Commonwealth Celebrations’ at Kalgoorlie. Specifically mentioned were Fire Brigades, Voluntary Salvage Corps, the Trades and Labour Council and the Reform League. The WA Government in Perth was inclined to secede rather than join Federation, and the League was the ANA by another name. In 1900 it had 12 operating branches and Committees at five other locations, all on the gold fields.[dccclxviii]
As Prime Minister, Barton accepted an invitation to attend the St Patrick’s Day Banquet in Sydney in 1901, the event’s draft program excluded any mention of or any toast to the See State Government. At the last moment, Catholic Senator O’Connor convinced organisers that acceptance of a Ministerial decision that St Patrick’s Day not be a State holiday was the only option for citizens wishing to prove their loyalty and law abiding temperament.[dccclxix] Known by only a few at the time, the Grand Secretary of the LOI in NSW in 1897 had written to Barton:
In conducting the campaign throughout the Colony last March for the election of 10 good representatives to the Australian [Federation] Convention, we encroached upon our limited funds to a very great extent.
As this Institution made the earliest selection and included your name in their Bunch, and thereby gave such support to your candidature as to materially secure your return, we should feel obliged if you could favour us with a donation towards the expenses of our 12’ July Celebration this year…
NB: If you should wish your donation to be treated as anonymous your wishes would be respected in that direction.
Barton scrawled on the letter:
Declined. I did not seek the inclusion of my name and was not informed of it till receipt of this letter. Have always publically & privately (denigrated?) the activism of sectarians and (avoided?) political controversy.[dccclxx]
Although there were many issues in play, ‘the Day’ had become a means by which the temper of a Government was being appraised, and the influence or otherwise of certain individuals was being judged. As in Victoria in 1859, the role of a few Catholics in a supposedly NSW Protestant government was being over-stated. In July, The Methodist claimed to see signs that the government of the Progressive Party was being seduced by the emergent forces of Labour which were doing a deal with the enemy:
The Labour Party…undoubtedly has a right to a place in our Legislature…But in so far as it has allied itself with Romanism and Drinkdom…it has become a menace to pure government and the general good.[dccclxxi]
This was ‘loving darkness rather than light.’ Though numerically on the increase and in a continued position of social ascendancy Protestants and their churches were divided over Free Trade, Protectionism and much of the social reform agenda. The strength of the temperance movement up to 1914 is evidenced by the effort put in by their opponents, the alcohol lobby, but it has since been consistently under-valued, by labour historians in particular. The number of politicians espousing temperance resulted among other things in Federal Cabinet determining early in its deliberations that ‘spirituous liquors’ would not be dispensed within the area set aside for the National Capital.[dccclxxii] The battle to turn the river town of Mildura from ‘dry’ to ‘wet’ is further illustration. The Chaffey brothers, with experience of Californian temperance colonies, established ‘their’ irrigation settlement as a ‘No-Licence’ district. The Victorian Government promised ‘to give legislative effect to the scheme’ but failed to withstand pressure from brewers and wine interests. In 1891, before sly-grogging and legalised selling of liquor became the norm, the town had no arrests for drunkenness. The Age and The Argus agreed that before the shift:
Very many of the men employed at the engineering works are landowners now, and they attribute this to the fact of the township being a temperance one.[dccclxxiii]
With their exposed anxieties again to the fore, the 1901 NSW election of the Progressives became ‘the prelude to a great rallying of Protestant forces.’ A ‘captain’ came forward in the person of WM Dill Mackey, an Orange Ulsterman and Scots Church minister. He used 12 July celebrations to issue a call for unity of the Orange lodges and the broad non-Catholic Church membership ‘that come what might Protestantism should have the first place’. Eventually launched in September 1902, the Australian Protestant Defence Association [APDA] quickly established sixty branches throughout NSW, each of which was given a number, as per ‘lodge’ format. In Goulburn on his initial recruiting tour Dill Mackey reprised the claims made about the O’Shanassy Government:
Did the present Government toady to Roman Catholics? No one would deny it. The head of it was a Protestant but the two strong men were Messrs Crick and O’Sullivan. The tail wagged the dog.[dccclxxiv]
The Poor Health of ‘the Friendlies’
Masonic membership numbers at the turn of the century were very low considering the increase in population in the same period, while trade-oriented societies were just beginning their strongest period of growth. The Affiliated Friendly Societies were, numerically, by far the largest of all the fraternal strands. Amongst all the flag-waving and the marches, the optimistic rhetoric and the vigorous extension of their networks, however, all was not well.
They were neither financially nor organisationally in a position to take up the suggestions made by Premier See and Minister O’Sullivan, developments which may have taken them to a higher level of security and influence. While their memberships continued to rise, in some cases dramatically, they were, financially, only just staying afloat.
The often frenetic expansion across the continent and the numerous innovations introduced over the period 1850-1920 were evidence the administrators of the societies were keen to compete. In hindsight, the choices made are exposed as ineffective, the thinking behind the choices superficial.
In a context of Empire bravado and national euphoria, few matched the Rechabite concern for hard social issues, major interests appearing to be material gain and competitive pragmatism. Overall, they paid little attention to maintenance of their historic uniquenesses or even to recording and publicising their achievements. A long-running Grand United advertising slogan in the 1920’s, ‘The Past is Gone – Look to the Future’, was typical. A seemingly appropriate slogan, in practice it meant that agitation to renew or re-invent the Order was always going to lack substance, having to confine itself to what ever the Government of the day set legislatively and whatever ‘the market’ demanded. Eventually, the ‘friendlies’ would find that when it was needed most, in 20th century battles with Federal Governments, they did not have the store of accurate, historic information with which to lobby hard-headed power brokers.
The very nature of 19th century society had disguised the true financial position of the ‘friendlies’. The keeping of statistics was not wide-spread, let alone understood, while lodge funds were often healthy only because of a comparatively high percentage of lapsed memberships as workers were forced to move to find jobs. Where returns on funds invested were high, as in the early 1880’s, societies could, for a while, turn aside the doom-saying of ‘experts’.
The Australian Federal Constitution of 1900 gave the new Federal Parliament power to make laws with respect to disputes between labour and capital involving more than one State. A further Act, passed in December, 1904, set up the Federal Court of Arbitration and Conciliation, its first President being appointed in February 1905. Higgins, its second President, initiated the concept of ‘the basic wage’:
I decided, therefore, to adopt a standard based on “the normal needs of the average employee, regarded as a human being living in a civilised community.” This was to be the primary test in ascertaining the minimum wage that would be treated as “fair and reasonable” in the case of unskilled labourers.[dccclxxv]
His list of necessary expenses for a ‘normal…average’ unskilled labourer included, with food, light, clothes, etc, provision for ‘union pay’ and for ‘accident or benefit societies’.[dccclxxvi] Later commentators on the arbitration system rarely mention this last expense provision.
With trade-oriented societies and their bureaucracies on the rise, the friendlies were being subtly circumscribed in both role and function. In 1902 the Sydney Morning Herald recorded:
Ample and gratifying testimony to the importance of Friendly Societies was supplied when, the other day, the Governor laid the foundation stone of a dispensary in one of the suburbs, whilst a member of the Ministry laid the commemorative stone of a new building of the kind in the heart of the city.[dccclxxvii]
The roles they were being allowed were shrinking, as here to a provision of medical services, and their rites and regalia increasingly seen as deserving caricature not appreciation. While the life situations of many workers made their continued involvement in benefit societies inevitable, behind the rhetoric these were the fraternals under severest attack.
There ought to have been a natural fit between any ‘Workers’ Party’ and those fraternals most involved with the life and death issues of ordinary people. But of historians of labour, only Markey has noted among ‘mutual benefit societies’ the process, which he locates in the first half of the 20th century, of increasing centralisation and consolidation, and a general loss of autonomy by individual ‘lodges’:
..The eventual outcome was the decline of loyalty and participation…These developments complemented broader social trends from the middle of the twentieth century, including suburbanisation, which dissolved traditional working class communities and reduced participation in most local organisations, including trade unions and the ALP.[dccclxxviii]
He believes these trends help to explain the relative lack of concern of the official labour movement with benefit societies, ‘in which so many union and Labor Party members must have participated’:
..(The) overriding strategy of the ALP for the securing of gains for the working class has been industrial, rather than welfare-oriented: what has been called a “wage-earner security’ approach to policy…Paradoxically, this strategy relied, initially at least, upon the mutual support activities of benefit societies to protect the welfare of workers outside the workplace.[dccclxxix]
The pragmatist in WG Spence wrote in 1909:
The experience of the AMA has shown that whilst the benefit system undoubtedly tends to keep up membership, and also to lessen the opposition of the employers, on the other hand it hampers the distinctly union side.[dccclxxx]
There is a tendency to increase benefits without increasing contributions, and thus leave finances short for bona-fide union work. Members come to look upon it as a purely accident relief society rather than as a union.
It is not generally realised that ‘centralised bureaucracy and branch structure’ was a fraternal dynamic well before ‘the labour movement’ became a common expression. Neither is it well known just how recently previously-integrated fraternal functions have separated, or just how relevant to labour history theorising the broader view is.
The Hibernians later blamed their end-of-century difficulties on an incapacity to deal with success. In 1889, its NSW District Secretary noted that because of the incompetence of the Melbourne-based Executive Directory which was oversighting all policy matters:
..Branches failed through sheer neglect, the business of the Society was treated with shameless indifference, correspondence unanswered, annual meetings collapsed. Deputies disappointed, disorganisation ruling the Executive Directory and nothing doing, but the Corresponding Secretary drawing a salary of £125.[dccclxxxi]
Resolution in this case was not achieved until 1901, when Melbourne’s grip was broken and replaced with a less-powerful and more inclusive National Executive, leaving State-based Districts to largely run their own internal affairs. This was the compromise reached by most ‘friendlies’ in the period 1880 to 1915, and maintained throughout the 20th century. As with the Federal system of government, it was a result which, on the one hand, took away personal and community autonomy while failing to achieve the alleged benefits of centralisation in a single authority. Thus, it satisfied power holders at the State-level but frustrated both local level stakeholders and those wedded to complete centralisation.
The Friendly Orders which survived longest in the 20th century, PAFS, ‘the Druids’ [UAOD], the ANA, the Rechabites, the various Odd Fellows and the HACBS were those which worked very hard to recruit memberships, and achieved their best periods of growth in the last quarter of the 19th century and the first decades of the next. The issues they faced, and which they claimed to be overcoming, were common – ageing memberships, competition, and the politicisation of health and welfare within an increasingly State-centred context.
The immediacy of the life-death cycle worked both for and against local autonomy and lodge attendance. Members’ concern that their funds were safe and fully accounted for and that their health needs were being met resulted in close, local scrutiny of basic lodge records and of public health outcomes, while the complexity of the information involved encouraged more specialised, ‘big city’ expertise to look after the rest. Encouragement of those with skills outside the ken of ordinary members ultimately undermined the sense of ownership.
Understandably, involvement in the blood, sweat and tears of commercial operations seemed increasingly more relevant than a fraternal society’s origins or its memorabilia. As centralised administration took hold, the theatre of lodge and its deeper message became the baby, lost along with the bathwater of ownership by ordinary members and the emotional attachment of direct involvement. The whole friendly movement was literally unable to learn from experience.
Older members were a major problem by the 1890’s. Most of those unable to work received a de facto pension, even though their contributions had ceased and their contributions had not been calculated to cover payments which could go on for years. Many schemes to cover the situation were floated in the 1890’s and 1900’s but none proved both popular and viable. Politicans ruminated about universal schemes and the South Australian Registrar warned against an ‘excess of brotherly love’:
There is no doubt that a State pension would be administered on sounder lines, and would be safeguarded by restrictions which are not altogether consonant with the principle of brotherly love that plays so important a part in the working of a friendly society.[dccclxxxii]
A lack of sickness statistics, especially the length of time members were ‘on the books’, worked against appreciation of the dangers. Eventually debate produced wide-spread upheavals amongst the lodges of coal miners and other workers in dangerous occupations, such as the breakaway AOU at Wallsend. Demands that these lodges, often the largest in the Order, should pay higher premiums were seen as threatening meagre lives but also the democratic basis of fraternalism.
Fraternal executives were forced to pay more attention to women’s demands and to finding suitable juvenile members. But again executives, men, found they were ill-equipped for the tasks involved and unable to adapt quickly enough or imaginatively enough where a public face and sociability had become overwhelmingly important. Fraternal theory was being tested well beyond its capacities.
Though they often attended one another’s functions, the Affiliated Friendly Societies maintained intense rivalries with one another. The Provincial Grandmaster of the Hunter River District told MU’s 1910 Annual District meeting:
At our last Conference held at Kurri it was hoped that lodges would be opened at Merriwa and Denman. I regret to say that, although at great expense, I personally visited Merriwa on two occasions, obtained a requisition of over 20 gentlemen, and made all arrangements. Still, through the dilatoriness of those whose first consideration should have been for us, another Order was enabled to step in and reap where I had sown. As to Denman, I found that local jealousies are such that your executive thought it advisable not to establish a lodge there at present.[dccclxxxiii]
Even when tried regionally, as in Newcastle and Broken Hill in the 1890’s, and again in the 1930’s in the case of Newcastle,[dccclxxxiv] attempts to unify responses to Government failed. A semblance of unity would sometimes appear in response to a perceived threat, usually from the regulator, only to disappear when negotiations proved fruitless or a short-term compromise was achieved. The first appears to have been an ineffectual suggestion from Victoria’s Druids for a combined annual conference in 1873, albeit endorsed by that year’s IOOFMU executive.[dccclxxxv] A state-wide, NSW United Friendly Societies Association was attempted in the 1880’s and 1890’s and reconvened from time to time over the next 100 years but achieved little.
A Friendly Societies Council of WA was convened in 1917 in response to an unannounced amendment to the Friendly Societies Act being introduced into Parliament. This particular Act included provision for an Inspector of Friendly Societies, the Registrar being quoted as saying that he had no need to consult the various societies.
Individual Orders were marginally more successful at overcoming internal divisions wrought by State boundaries. Delegates from GUOOF in Victoria, Queensland and New South Wales came together for a number of triennial ‘Intercolonial Conferences’ from 1895 to 1901 to attempt conformity of payments, regalia, and administrative procedures for such things as clearance arrangements, female and juvenile lodges and maximum ages for admission. Even within this one ‘brotherhood’, however, agreement was impossible on some issues and difficult on others. A proposed ‘Federal Board of Management’ never eventuated. Telling is the fact that when the centenary of GUOOF was celebrated, erroneously, in 1948, the published ‘History’ was written as though NSW had been the only State in which GUOOF had ever operated.[dccclxxxvi]
A spasmodically-active ‘Inter-State Conference of Rechabites’ in 1901 established a Federal or ‘Grand High Court’ for the whole of Australia. Post-Federation, the IOR believed that its membership and financial figures, as audited by the Office of the Registrar, showed that it was the fastest growing and the soundest of all friendly societies. It was certainly the largest and the wealthiest temperance society, with well-based arguments that it had been the first to introduce into Australia graduated entrance fees and juvenile ‘tents’, the latter probably the first in the world.[dccclxxxvii] The mover of the 1901 resolution argued:
The nearer each District could get together the better it would be for the Order in Australia. They were now one great Australia, united for each other’s good, as well as for the good of the whole. Other societies and organisations had combined for mutual good, and there was every reason in favour of the various Inter-State Rechabite Districts similarly combining.[dccclxxxviii]
In August, 1910 the Victorian District alone claimed ‘six new tents in a month.’[dccclxxxix] A number of prominent politicians featured the following year in their Jubilee Celebrations which included a United Tent Meeting, at which 86 candidates were initiated and interstate and New Zealand delegates were welcomed by a Victorian Male Choir, and a specially convened ‘Inter-State Temperance Conference’. Samuel Mauger, MP, labour-oriented social reformer and a ‘Tent Guardian’ spoke first and resolutely:
..I recognise that there are in Australia the beginnings of slum life, and we Rechabites want to prevent its spreading, and the best way is to curtail the liquor traffic.[dcccxc]
He quoted The Socialist:
I never realised before this trip the strength of the contention of John Burns, Will Crooks, Ramsay McDonald and other British Labourites, that the liquor traffic chloroforms the victims of capitalism, that drink breeds contempt and keeps millions of working men from rising in revolt..Go to Deniliquin, Hay or any other town surrounded by stations and there 365 days in the year will be found bushmen ‘blueing’ big cheques with a score or two of hangers-on..
A Grand Chapter operated nationally for the PAFS almost from its inception, and a Supreme Grand Chapter for the UAOD from 1912 both with some success.[dcccxci] The NSW Druids, in particular, believed at the time they were well on the way to overtaking competitors who had lost their way:
Our progress is causing our rivals some uneasiness; it is not, however, worthwhile taking notice of the grumblings heard on all sides as to the Druids’ work; (a) conservative environment would appear to have dwarfed the minds of some of our critical friends of other societies..[dcccxcii]
Just before the outbreak of the 1914-18 war, the UAOD in NSW were benefiting from a successful Art Union, they were actively supporting their NZ and inter-State counterparts, and putting a great deal of effort into organised sport and into showing their best public face at ‘Druid Gala and Procession’ events. These were, as with the other fraternities, dependent on individuals rather than being a result of a vibrant internal culture. Grand Secretary Barry, editor of The Austral Druid wrote in 1913:
At the rate of present going the Druids seem about to knock spots off all competitors for first place as Australian Friendly Society…(This) year the Order is eclipsing all previous efforts, and it seems as if the Australian public, with its love for the forest, is making the Druidical Order the ideal institution of Australia.
He reported the widespread feeling of threat posed by ‘the Lloyd George Scheme of National Insurance’ then being discussed in Canberra:
(The Secretary) of the (Victorian) Friendly Societies Association stated that..the condition of the English Orders, since the inauguration of the scheme..made it clear that national insurance meant a severe blow to voluntary thrift societies..
..The Government..should give more encouragement to friendly societies. (They) should be given some concessions on the railways and the struggling lodges in country districts should be assisted to get a sound footing.[dcccxciii]
Government charges for the mandatory five-yearly valuations, concessions made to educational and scientific bodies but not to friendlies, and competition from societies operating sick and funeral funds but not subject to legislative scrutiny and oversight, even the poor salaries paid to Grand Secretaries, were all canvassed as negatives pulling them down. Barry reflected the current ambivalence across the Orders by sniping at ‘the ritual’ while persisting in claiming ‘the Druids’ were special and unique:
The Druids appear to be establishing themselves as a very democratic Order, with little ceremony and much benefit and brotherhood – the very features to attract the unceremonious Australians.
Is there any good reason why a friendly society should be also a ‘secret’ society? Many of its best supporters argue that in these common sense days the time for the mystic rites and grotesque ceremonies that surround the institution has long since passed away..
Lodge officers elected for their clerical and management skills were severely conflicted by having also to be ritualists. Non-initiated memberships was one solution being openly debated, and allowed in some limited cases:
In dealing with [membership without initiation], it must be looked (at) from its many sides, and the first thing that strikes one is the fact that from a ritualistic point of view our Order, in common with other kindred societies, has been all but a failure.[dcccxciv]
This was written by Henry Herron, the statistically-minded Grand Secretary of NSW’s GUOOF, at a time when it was celebrating its Diamond Jubilee and 1910 as the best year ever in terms of new branches, 40, and new members, 3750 initiations.[dcccxcv] He did not see that the numerical progress was part of the problem, but argued that despite initiatives such as ‘Lodges of Instruction’ and more emphasis on visitations, ritual improvements were minor:
(With) few exceptions, this state of laxity is very apparent, for our Initiation ceremony cannot be judged as creditably performed, and we regret to say in quite a large number of instances disgraceful is almost too mild a term to describe the work.
Herron saw that the ‘inexperience and incompetence’ of presiding officers were turning away many prospective members, and he argued that ‘after all’ it was the benefit scales which determined the future of ‘our magnificent structure’:
A person seeking to join an institution from a purely fraternal stand-point will not join a friendly society. When a proposal is made nowadays to a person to incur expense, that person desires to know whether or not value is offered, and it depends largely upon his verdict after a perusal of the benefits offered for the weekly contributions whether he becomes a member or not.
He threw down a challenge:
Let those who are against the proposal of non-initiation set an example which others may follow, in the shape of making the ceremonials attractive enough to induce membership..
The opposition was swift and vigorous, if mainly symbolic:
The Sub-Branch [lodge], Star of Newnes, (NSW) has carried unanimously a motion expressing dissatisfaction at the action of the Annual Conference in allowing such a drastic measure to be placed on the statute book without obtaining the consent of a majority of the members. True, the Conference represents a majority of the Lodges, but how many individual members knew of the proposal? Comparatively none. And no delegate should vote on such a question unless duly authorised by his Branch to do so.[dcccxcvi]
This letter-writer thought the new legislation ‘the first step to degeneracy’, another asserted that ‘No friendly society can exist for any length of time on a commercial basis’:
It is the little acts of kindness and forebearance – a willingness to assist a deserving case, a little stretching of the strict letter of the law, that goes to make Oddfellowship good…and the Ritual after it has been revised should be strictly enforced and officers of lodges should be encouraged to memorise their parts.[dcccxcvii]
In Western Australia, competitive energies were no doubt behind the regular, annual membership increases from 1894 to 1910, which that State’s Registrar stated were at a faster rate than the ‘rapid’ population increase. The Western Australian ‘Friendly Societies Office’ was established in 1894 as a sub-department of the Attorney-General’s Department. Trade Unions became the Registrar’s concern shortly after. Membership ups and downs for friendlies were the norm, but in 1924, he reported that
the past year (was) one of considerable activity..More new branches were opened in 1923 than in any previous year since 1914.’[dcccxcviii]
He was especially pleased about one thing:
In view of the observations made in previous reports regarding the desirability of spreading the friendly society movement to the agricultural areas it is gratifying to know that most of the new branches are situated in these districts. The MUOFS in WA [Manchester Unity Odd Fellows Friendly Society, not IOOFMU] has been most energetic, having opened 10 new branches in the country.
Nevertheless, in 1899, a WA Friendly Societies Review introduced itself to erstwhile readers thus:
..The most important work..which it is intended that the REVIEW shall accomplish is that of bringing the various friendly societies of the colony into closer contact with each other. At present there is but little affinity between them. The societies generally are nearly all strangers to each other, and about the only connecting link between them is the Registrar-General’s annual report.[dcccxcix]
This writer did not mince words:
At present there are a number of matters which require united consideration – the establishment of a Friendly Societies Dispensary, for instance – but under existing circumstances it seems almost impractical to obtain the required co-operation, owing to a want of unanimity among the societies, and the general apathy of one society regarding the doings of another.
It is doubtful a more diplomatic approach would have achieved any more than the short run this publication managed.
‘Not for profit’ is how nostalgia views friendly societies today. In reality, the aim of all fraternals was at least to break even and in goods years to establish a buffer against the return of trouble. Good intentions were up against the reality of executive officers who could not keep accounts or minute books accurately, and of some who decamped, suicided or ‘left under a cloud.’ All fraternals were likely to promote or elect a ‘leader’ for reasons other than to do with administrative efficiency or accounting experience.
An initial effort at enforcing ‘sound tables’ had lost ground in Britain after the Act of 1834, causing their advocates to redouble their efforts via published literature, sermons and lectures. The better-researched and expert actuarial tables seemed, the more easily governments could hang legislation on the excuse that they were protecting fraternal societies from themselves and the now ‘irrelevant’ emotional attachments of members.
By the 1870’s, deputed spokesmen, ‘city professional men’ in the main, already had the main carriage of consultations with government Ministers when legislation was in draft, generally expressing themselves satisfied with the process and the outcomes. Discontented ‘Orders’, such as the Sons of Temperance in NSW in 1873, and trade-oriented ‘friendlies’, rarely got onto deputations or delegate meetings.[cm] Clearly by the late-19th century the government’s only concern was society finances, and equally as clearly, memberships were slowly forgetting how they came to be there. Their cumulative ‘history’ was being ignored and abandoned, rather than being collected, refined and recycled for the benefit of incoming generations.
Much social welfare debate around the end of the 19th century amongst British populations was conducted within the context of what was happening in other places, for example, what Bismarck was doing in Prussia. In contrast to that ‘unhappy situation’, some of the ‘influential classes’ had determined that ‘the British people’ were uniquely imbued with the ‘noble ideas of self-reliance and manly independence’ and that it was the ‘friendly societies’ which had done the imbuing. The principal enemy was long thought to be state aid or regulatory interference:
It was generally felt that the State should go no further in helping societies to become solvent than the preparation and publication of suitable tables…(To) compel the societies to use the tables would have been unjustified interference.[cmi]
Forcing societies to be solvent has never been a necessary part of a State’s purpose. However, State interference had long been an historical constant and in its ‘modern’ guise was unlikely to be denied, which ever ‘Party’ was in power. The guilds, the pioneer fraternals, had felt it, but a new phase, a conscious and deliberate part of the managerial revolution, had begun in 1793, had broadened and deepened in the 19th century and was to achieve its full flowering in the 20th.
State Governments legislated their first welfare payments in the late 19th – early 20th centuries, and began to look at broad-based health schemes. Society executives eyeing State involvement in old age pensions with great fear and suspicion, were seduced by the possibilities of an improved ‘bottom line’. The 1898 Victorian IOOFMU Annual Conference, swallowing its pride and embracing bravado:
recommended that all assurance of sick members for benefits after the age of 65 should be discontinued by every registered friendly society in the colony; that all future entrants into any of the societies must assure for pensions or annuities during life after 65 years of age, on a scale of contribution to be fixed, and that all the societies should co-operate in asking Parliament to amend the Friendly Societies Act in accordance with these propositions.[cmii]
Enough similarity of conditions existed in the States for a pattern to emerge. South Australia’s ‘First Report of the Public Actuary’, only appointed in 1895 as a result of the Friendly Societies Amendment Act, 1892, is extensive. It analyses the period 1888-1892, with full statistics and valuations of all major Friendly Societies, with commentary.[cmiii] Its author wrote that he had examined work of the relevant offices in other States, had determined that the system in use in Victoria with regard to Friendly Societies was the best and proceeded on that basis.
Previously all Friendly Societies in SA had been governed under the 1852 Act until the year 1867 ’when for some occult reason’ a Private Bill relating exclusively to the MUIOOF[cmiv] was passed, which Act he says was very close to the 1852 Act but which was then repealed as far as the MU was concerned. In 1874 the MU secured a further Act, which however, failed to include certain safeguards he regarded as important, eg, separation of funds, and when a further Act ‘The Friendly Societies Act, 1886’, was passed duplicating it for other Societies, these safeguards were again not included. Neither were stipulations about the compilation of sickness and mortality rates. Thus, before the 1892 Act some Societies were still under the 1852 Act, others were under the 1886 Act and MU was under the 1874 Act. The PA then commented:
The Amending Act of 1892, regardless of rivalries and jealousies, embraces all societies within its four corners.
It still did not require separation of funds, so actuarially, a further, 1894 Amendment, was required. But the 1894 Act did not compel registration, nor provide any power to compel societies to accept his ‘advice’, particularly with regard to new societies organising their contributions at sufficient level to ensure continued ability to cover their legal obligations in benefits. Societies in SA were, in 1895, still charging a uniform rate of contribution for all ages of entry, when many societies in Victoria had switched to charging graduated scales of contributions.
He was also very unhappy about the situation with regard to sick pay, which he said, was the ‘heaviest item in a Society’s expenditure’. He referred to malingering and to a lack of depth in the medical scrutiny by the lodge doctor at entry of a new member. The liability for a member’s wife was accepted by all concerned without her having to undergo any examination at all:
The schemers who indulge in this mean fraud upon their brother members resort to all kinds of devices in order to deceive the surgeon and the sick visitors, which are difficult to detect. Experience has shown that during depression in trade, and during strikes, the amount of sickness and the numbers of members sick increase abnormally.
Sick pay for life was still possible at this time in certain circumstances, and payments for medicines and treatment varied considerably, as did payment to a surgeon, depending on size of membership and where the lodge was in the State. Then, there was the problem of a lodge’s invested funds – where, how, at what rates, should be allowed, and how secure did they need to be? Annual Returns from lodges in the 1890’s ranged from good to very poor:
Many of the Societies possessed no record of the number of members who were married, nor of the ages of the members, nor when they were initiated.
Secretaries sometimes wrote on the return ‘This information is not required’ even when asked a second time. The PA referred to ‘deep seated prejudice in favor of the old order of things’, ie local and autonomous. The new was distant, bureaucratic and merely actuarially necessary.
Comparing sickness and death rates with those recorded under an English enquiry into MU rates, which he regarded as the best available, the South Australian PA said he was forced to assume the same rates for ‘his’ societies. This was despite it being generally believed that in Australia mortality was lower but rates of sickness were higher, meaning obvious problems for Australian societies.
His next Report[cmv] detailed adverse reactions to his work, especially amongst rank and file members to his recommendations, and indicated that acceptance by Societies was not yet at 50%. It contains material on a scheme of ‘superannuation’ or ‘old-age pension’ to replace sickness payments in old age, which would see friendly societies paying ‘super’ to their members after payment of extra contributions at younger ages.
Covering the period 1895-1899, his next Report[cmvi] was, again, very long. He commented that since his last many of the societies had increased their contributions, but only some of the increase had been paid into the sick and funeral funds. Some had been taken to cover management costs. This, he thundered, was illegal, and must cease. In 1903[cmvii] the full extent of his exasperation emerged:
The almost hopeless condition of the finances of many Friendly Societies in South Australia as disclosed in the (present) valuations is due to the unsound principles on which these societies were originally established, and which they are still following. It is incredible that a society which was founded in Adelaide in the year 1843 should after sixty years be still dispensing benefits to its members in return for contributions which are inadequate and uniform for all ages..
For particular Orders, he wrote:
GUOOF – ‘Taking this Society as a whole the financial position is almost hopeless, the Assets representing only 12s 5d for 20s of Liabilities.’
IOR – ‘This Society has accomplished more than almost any other Society in the State during the five years under investigation by way of improving its financial stability.’
AOF – ‘In my Valuation report I have directed special attention to the hopeless condition of this Society’s finances, and it is most important that the recommendations made therein be adopted without delay.’
UAOD – ‘No substantial improvement is noticeable in the financial position since the last Valuation.’
HACBS – ‘Since the previous Valuation the finances of this Society have gone from very bad to still worse. The members seem determined not to take steps to improve the position.’
IOOFMU – ‘Scarcely any improvement has been effected in the financial condition since my previous Valuation.’
When Registrar Coghlan was appointed in NSW in 1886, he immediately sought acceptance of his ‘advice’ on the basis that to refuse it was to risk being rendered illegal, indeed being rendered legally invisible, by de-registration. Still unhappy in 1893 with the degree to which he was being heeded he asserted that virtually all Friendly Societies were insolvent. His ‘advice’ made clear that regalia, ritual, even celebrations were not necessary, not because they were seditious but because they used members’ contributions for non-financial purposes.
Later he argued that before the 1899 (NSW) Act very little change of any kind, let alone for the better, had occurred since 1855:
The English Act [of 1855] was long recognised to be defective in many respects (it had, indeed, been already condemned in Great Britain at the time of its introduction in New South Wales ) and in 1882 a local Commission of Inquiry reported that the New South Wales Act founded on it was insufficient for its intended purpose, and that the mode of administration had not been such as to mitigate its deficiencies.[cmviii]
He believed that, in addition, two useful provisions in the ‘English Act’ had not been enforced:- viz, the requirement that an actuary sign off on a society’s table of contributions before it could be registered, and that each fund (funeral, accident, etc) should be quarantined in its own account:
The neglect to enforce these two fundamental provisions…is undoubtedly the cause of the failure of the societies to take an enlightened view of their functions, of their failure to adopt correct methods of management, and of their present backward condition financially.
He repeated claims he had first made in his 1893 Report, that even where benefits were originally commensurate with contributions, societies had often increased their stated benefits without changing the contribution rates. Further, even where a graduated scale of payments was in place, ‘the graduation was imperfect and the contributions were inadequate’:
These remarks applied, unfortunately, to the whole period of nearly twenty years which elapsed from the passage of the 1873 Act to the date when I entered upon the duties of Registrar.
Since that date, and despite assiduous efforts, he asserted, it was only by 1899 that he had been able to convince sufficient administrators of the truth of his arguments:
There were other evils in the working of the societies which called for immediate attention. Peculation was rampant; waste of money in lawsuits was common; many societies were unable to meet their obligations; and the condition of affairs generally was highly unsatisfactory…
..Even in those cases where the groundwork of reform had been embodied in the rules of a society, those rules were repeatedly ignored or violated, while the Registrar was powerless to take any action to enforce them.[cmix]
‘Improvements’ provided by the 1899 Act in NSW included a power to sue for overdue subscriptions, stronger control of branches by parent societies, and the power to invest funds in freehold securities. There was to be actuarial oversight and advice to societies, power to cancel registration for persistent non-compliance, and power to inspect books and to demand returns relating to finances, membership, sickness, mortality, etc. The vital provision of an actuary having to sign off contribution rates was re-stated and supported by a provision that all societies re-register, necessarily requiring that their Rules be re-examined in the light of the new circumstances.
Being very proud of its record since the 1840’s in the UK, where after a period of extreme maladministration, the use of statistics had been advanced by a number of degrees of magnitude, the MU in NSW was taken aback when its initial response to the Registrar in 1900 was returned marked ‘insufficient’. In particular, as with virtually all Orders, MU’s return on investments and contribution scales were considered insufficient to safeguard liabilities. Sensitivity flew close to outrage when it was realised the Registrar was saying the new Act would make it necessary for all current members to ‘pay contributions as at the age at which they joined the Society’, ie a higher rate. This was set to impact most greatly upon older members whose earning powers had diminished considerably. The Board’s Report spelt out the impact of this bombshell:
The new Friendly Societies Act, which all had so long been clamouring for, had been placed upon the statute book…and, as a consequence the (Registrar)..had interpreted one of its many clauses (Clause XII) in such a manner that our Society, with all others, young and old, (needs) to start life again.
An entire new Scale of Contributions, based upon a 3% earning power, was tendered to us by the Registrar’s office, increasing (as it proposed) our rates in some instances 20% on the rate paid by members who joined previous to 1894…
This suggestion, whether correct or not, could not be accepted…[cmx] (My emphases)
The MU 1901 State Conference was unable to attend to other pressing issues. Actuarially-derived revisions of the reforms proposed by hard-line State Actuary Trivett, were hammered out, but the conference determined to stand fast on the question of retrospectivity, and to lobby the government to have Clause XII suitably amended.[cmxi] The MU Grand Secretary announced an increase in members during the previous 12 months of 1,288:
I estimate that our true membership roll was 21,449 at the close of the century…we (hold) the proud position of being 2.93% of the male population of this State. Having regard to the whole of the Friendly Society population in the State, which is estimated by the Government to be 70,287, distributed among 17 societies, we stand in the very distinguished position of having 30.51 per cent of the entire membership.[cmxii]
The NSW Rechabite magazine in 1900 used the example of the Canadian-based Independent Order of Foresters [IOF] recently introduced into Australia, to illustrate the ‘disastrous results entailed by granting benefits at inadequate rates.’[cmxiii] The IOR executive was getting vigorous criticism from its own members for already having sharply increased contribution rates. The officers argued they were responding to dire warnings from the Registrar and claimed to be the first Society which so re-organised its affairs, including consolidation of its Sick Funds, that it was able to be re-registered after the 1899 Act.
When Coghlan presented his 1901 Report to Parliament he acknowledged that the 1899 Act ‘virtually revolutionises the law regarding benefit societies’, but was displeased that even with a doubling of the time allowed ‘only 3 societies out of 70 have been able to take advantage of the provisions of the…law.’ The crux of the problem for the established societies was that the Act stipulated that ‘old’ members had to make up deficiencies in reserves, rather than, as the IOF was asking, have ‘new’ members bear the burden.[cmxiv] Of a number of IOF-related controversies around the turn of the century, the most engaging was perhaps that with the AMP. A number of pamphlets and press releases were generated and in 1901 in Victoria a Bribery Commission of Enquiry, and then a Royal Commission were established before the dust settled and the IOF dismissed.[cmxv]
Opposition to reform continued, nevertheless, and a Conference called in 1901 in Sydney of representatives of 17 Orders heard Coghlan repeat his figures and his conclusions. In asserting that their reserves were sufficient to meet contingencies, he said later, the societies did not appear to be accepting that in 1901 alone
…there were 53 societies or branches which either did not pay their members any sick benefits, or paid them on a reduced scale; and…there were many (other) societies which had had to draw upon their reserves. Thus, out of 850 societies and branches, 184 failed to pay their way from current revenue…The mutual system on which the societies are organised enables this decay to be hidden from sight.[cmxvi]
In a separate report, Coghlan analysed valuation figures provided by all the previously registered benefit societies:
It will be seen that no society is in absolutely safe condition – that is to say with assets in excess of liabilities.
His figures showed the ratio per £ of assets to liabilities of the major Friendly Societies was:
Irish National Foresters…………………………….. 18s 10d
Independent Order of Rechabites……………………18s 1d
National Independent O of Odd Fellows….. …..17s 11d
Independent O of Odd Fellows……………………….16s 4d
Ancient O of Foresters, New England District…15s 10d
Hibernian Aust’sian Catholic Ben Socy………….15s 2d
Order of Royal Foresters……………………………….14s 11d
Aust’sian Holy Catholic Guild, Parramatta……..14s 7d
Aust’sian Holy Catholic Guild……………………….14s 4d
Grand United O of Odd Fellows……………………..13s 9d
Aust Union Benefit Society…………………………….13s 7d
Manchester Unity IOOF…………………………………13s 5d
Sons & Daughters of Temperance…………….. 12s 10d
Grand United Order of Free Gardeners……………12s 9d
Protestant Alliance Friendly Society……………….12s 5d
Loyal Protestant Benefit Society……………………..12s 4d
Ancient O of Foresters, Sydney……………………….12s 1d
Protestant Union Benefit Society……………………..11s 1d
Australian Odd Fellows Union………………………..10s 7d
United Ancient Order of Druids, Sydney………….10s 3d
United Ancient Order of Druids, Newcastle……….9s 7d
Old Protestant Alliance Friendly Socy……………….7s 2d
The IOR claimed that the reason it was able to pay higher benefits while taking in lower contributions was that ever since the 1873 Act made it possible, the Society had been investing surpluses in Government debentures which had achieved double the return being experienced by other societies with savings bank interest.[cmxvii] In a self-congratulatory atmosphere some members outraged other ‘bretheren and sisteren’ by referring to IOR as ‘purely a financial Institution’.[cmxviii]
Almost the last straw for Coghlan was that when new forms were sent out to society secretaries in NSW, forms which he believed were being used successfully in other States, the secretaries disregarded the benefit to their members of a new approach and complained of the extra work. At the end of 1903 he claimed, 11.4% of returns had not been received, this including 7 Grand Lodges.[cmxix]
Despite or perhaps because it was perceived that the rules were about to change, membership of NSW ‘friendly societies’ continued to increase, in aggregate terms from 73,139 in 1897 to 96,671 in 1902. The number of ‘branches’ (lodges) went from 774 to 990 in the same period.
In all other States Friendly Society numbers continued to increase. Insufficient comparative studies have yet been carried out to enable secure generalisations to be made.[cmxx]
Trade-Oriented Fraternalism and Registrar Coghlan
In his 1983 work, The Consolidation of Trades Union, 1851-90, (Ian) Turner read the flawed but hugely-influential 1890’s thesis of British writers, the Webbs, back into the Australian past, and asserted that only ‘genuine’ (‘regular’) trade-oriented combinations, ie ‘Trade Unions’, were worth valuing. One of the inventors of 20th century Labor History, Turner was distorting 19th century reality to serve later, pre-conceived categories and conclusions. He asserted that the Amalgamated Society of Engineers fitted the Webbs’ requirements for a ‘real Trade Union’ by not being ‘minute’, ‘local’ or ‘short-lived’:
(Founded on board ship in 1852, by) 1860 there were about one hundred Australian members..in branches in Sydney and Melbourne. By 1889 the society had 1700 members in fourteen branches throughout Australia. The Australian engineers remained members of the parent British body for one hundred years.[cmxxi]
Without a fraternal context, he understated the degree to which the ASE matched the ‘standard’:
Like most of the craft unions, the ASE provided benefits to its members similar to those offered by the earlier trade societies. It kept an actuarial eye on its membership, admitting only younger men of sober habits.
He wrongly asserted that these ‘new craft unions’ placed greater emphasis on action for economic ends than their predecessors. Among other material of which he was obviously unaware, was an 1867 editorial in the Argus which asked how the long-term viability of ‘friendly societies and trade unions’ could be assessed:
The management and stability of Friendly Societies in England have lately been commanding a considerable amount of attention, and very justly so, for they are matters in which a large proportion of the working classes is deeply interested. Nor are the questions of less importance here. It is almost a rare occurrence in the colony to meet a respectable artisan who does not belong to one of the many trade unions or friendly societies which are in existence.[cmxxii]
Agreeing with the findings of Finlaison at the National Debt Office that both forms of combination were in need of drastic reform from an actuarial point of view, the writer distinguished ‘trade unions’ – societies only concerned with ‘supporting men unavoidably out of work or on strike’ – from others which ‘embrace the two objects – a friendly society and a trade union.’ With regard to the first group, the picture was and must remain uncertain:
They may last for a long time, and may apparently show a most satisfactory balance sheet, and yet, upon the occasion of any collision between masters and workmen, the whole of the funds may be swallowed up, and the careful savings of years of hard labour..be scattered to the winds.
Some in the second group were confronting the problem of inadequate member contributions for future liabilities better than others:
This appears to be the case with the amalgamated carpenters and amalgamated engineers’ societies, which have been generally regarded as model institutions..We believe both have large balances to their credit, and yet both are pronounced (in the UK) to be hopelessly insolvent.
The Economist (UK) was his source:
Mr Finlaison..(reports) that both societies (the ASE and the Carpenters and Joiners) are unsound, that the payments they require are insufficient to meet the liabilities, that they are sure as time goes on to become insolvent.[cmxxiii]
The need amongst labour spokespersons of the time, and since, for grandiose political rhetoric generated a world-view wherein everything of value ‘to the workers’ was a new reform for which no-one but a labour insider could claim any credit. Ignorance of history, of course played a part, but the ‘closed shop’ sought by maritime workers, shearers and other occupational groups in the years 1890-94 are cases in point. Their claims only varied from those of guild artisans determined to protect their trades from ‘forrins’ in that the various Strike Committees wanted prohibition across the board run from a central position.
This variation on the long-standing fraternal notion of sacred information being available only to those who had shown loyalty to the organisation was paralleled by the labour movement’s enthusiastic pursuit of the notion that ‘head offices’ are best located in capital cities, and that decision-making power should be concentrated at the top, or at the centre.
All of this in the name of organisational efficiency and delivery of a better if cheaper ‘product’ continued a very old idea changed only by being shorn of the passionate sense of ownership amongst individual members. Any flashes of strong feelings were quickly side-lined in the name of efficiency.
The British scholars, Beatrice and Sydney Webb, in their History of Trade Unionism argued that central control of funds was essential to trade union success in ‘modern’ industrial conflict, otherwise independent ‘combinations’ would use lodge finances as they saw fit and prevent consolidated effort. This also became assumed wisdom in Australia.
The fear that local lodges could be drained by abnormal occurrences drove executives of ‘trade-oriented societies’, as with other fraternals, to comply with urgings from the various Registrars to consolidate funds at district or State-wide level. In the 1880’s, Sydney’s labour power brokers simply asserted that any ‘trade union’ seeking fraternal support and wishing to be regarded as legitimate had to accept Sydney’s hegemony, affiliate with its THC, and not set up one of its own.
The imposition of ‘the pledge’ into NSW’s labour party politics in 1894 was resisted for a while as yet another power grab by Sydney, the Lithgow Mercury reporting meetings where ‘leg-ironed’ candidates were rejected by local Labor Leaguers, forcing in one instance resignation by Gundagai’s parliamentary member, Fred Flowers. A relevant editorial began:
LABOR LEAGUE AUTOCRATS The central committee of the Labor Electoral Leagues has formally and solemnly branded the local organisation as a ‘bogus’ institution. By implication…the senior member for Hartley is set forth as a traitor…The decision embodying this astounding piece of impudence was not reached in conformity with the expressed wish of any section of the electors of Hartley….Evidently this autocratic body sees itself as sufficient authority…[cmxxiv]
The use of ‘bogus’ here is especially interesting as it closely parallels the Masonic case where, as we have seen, the word was still being used to denigrate any lodges with a non-English Constitution.
Where the rhetoricians at the turn of the century sought to deny the fraternal heritage of ‘trade unions’, later observers could claim not to know it. Specifically, the latter have not grasped that demarcating ‘industrial’ from ‘welfare’ arenas was neither logical, nor useful to their claimed constituency.
Protectionist and free-trade policies were apparently new political issues in the decade before and after Federation, but the religious allegiances of candidates and their supporters remained central. ‘The Irish’ were declared natural protectionists and control of protectionist politicians the strategy whereby the Catholic Church sought to increase the flow of tax revenues to their schools. Aspirants locked horns over which Church, and which society demanded political allegiance from members, and which could actually deliver them. The frequently-quoted 1888 Sydney Synod instruction certainly shows many major ‘Friendlies’ were not-approved by the Catholic hierarchy. What else it shows has been much conjectured:
[As] regards the Oddfellows, Foresters, Druids, Good Templars, Rechabites, and all kindred societies, they have not the approval of the church, and all Catholics who after this date shall join such societies, disregarding the instructions of their clergy, shall be deprived of the benefit of the presence and service of the Priest at their funeral.[cmxxv]
Cardinal Murray speaking at Taree (NSW) in 1902 continued the thought:
..The Bishops of Australia laid down certain laws about benefit societies in 1888, and after that date you Catholic young men could not conscientiously join any of those societies which come under the prohibition of the Bishops. I will have to deal with those who have joined since myself.. Now, don’t blame the priests – they will have no authority to deal with such cases, but blame me, the Cardinal, and all the Bishops of Australia.[cmxxvi] (My emphasis)
The Irish National Foresters are not included in this prohibition. The Hibernians applied to me some years ago to allow them to establish a branch of the society in Newcastle, and I refused, because there was no rule in the society which would bring them immediately under the authority of the Church: but now that has been changed, and as a consequence I have taken them up, and that very warmly, and I hope to see a branch established in this district soon.
Evidence compiled by Laffan agrees that Orangemen, let alone Protestants as a whole, were not easily directed at this or other times. But what was perception and what reality? Missives from the Orange Grand Lodge continued to be given space in Catholic journals, and vice versa to, at least, prove that direction was attempted, as in this from 1889:
To the members of the Loyal Orange Institution of New South Wales:-
..A serious crisis has arisen, and thrown upon us the responsibility of watching our interests and those of our common Protestantism. Viewed in any light, we are convinced that the crisis is one in which a determined struggle will take place between Papal and Protestant interests. We are indifferent whether freetrade or protection gain the day. But we are fearful lest, in the din of fiscal strife, our Protestant interests should suffer loss.[cmxxvii]
Controversial State-MPs, McElhone and Buchanan, various Orangemen, Free Trade and Protectionist spokespeople weighed into the paper debate, disclosing how heated the atmosphere was inside State Parliament, and at specific sites of battle such as St Vincents Hospital. The Secretary of the Free-trade and Liberal Association, Pulsford, used voting statistics from three Sydney electorates to support his contention that ‘a sectarian combination’ of Irish Catholics was a major opponent of free-trade candidates.[cmxxviii]
Specialisation of function amongst the different fraternal strands was clearly happening but was still not so great as some asserted. At Mt Lyell, Tasmania, in 1899, the local AMA (miners) had perhaps 650 members from a work force of 3000, and as at Broken Hill, according to Blainey:
(The) AMA did not attempt to strike. It rarely suggested, let alone demanded, higher wages. It tried to defend existing wages and perform the functions of a friendly society, and for this purpose it levied a shilling a fortnight from each member.…Between 1892 and 1900 the Victorian and Tasmanian branches of the AMA paid ₤121,000 in benefit money to less than 10,000 members.[cmxxix]
Competition for members and resources remained fierce. Blainey went on:
Three medical unions (‘fostered’ by the companies), seven or eight friendly societies, and two branches of the AMA gave to almost every working man of Lyell health and hospital benefits as substantial as those introduced by the Commonwealth Government half a century later.[cmxxx]
Coghlan in his Report to the NSW Parliament for the years 1903 and 1904 provided a concise historical summary for the period ‘since the inception of the Trade Union Law of 1881’ which formally recognised and legalised these fraternal combinations:
The total number of unions formed under the Act from its inception to the end of the year 1904 is 288. Of these, there were, at the latter date, 152 in existence, equal to 53% of the total registered, and 136 had disappeared by amalgamation, cancellation, dissolution and decay, equal to 47% of the whole list.[cmxxxi]
Showing he at least was prepared to discount the Webbs’ analysis, he pointed out:
It is evident that many of the defunct unions must have been of an ephemeral character to show such a record…I estimate the average duration of the existence of these dead unions at about nine years. No doubt the bulk of them were formed in the enthusiasm of the moment…
He considered two such ‘moments’ statistically – that of 1890-91 and the period since the Industrial Arbitration Act was passed in 1901. While on average 10 unions were formed each year from 1881 to 1889, inclusive, 38 were formed in 1890 and 21 in 1891:
The force of the movement in the direction of trade organisation then apparently had spent itself for, during the succeeding nine years, 1892-1900, an aggregate of only thirty new bodies sought registration, the record during two years, 1898 -1899, being nil.
In the four years since the 1901 Arbitration Act was passed 116 new ‘unions’ were founded out of 288 in aggregate since 1881, or 40% of all registered. Rather than history repeating itself, he thought that the enthusiasm for combination engendered by the 1901 Act was likely to take longer to die away than that of the early 1890’s. Not surprisingly his statistics appeared to show that decay was less amongst combinations in areas of industry which ‘maintained or improved their positions as vital trade forces’, ie mining, pastoral, railway, clothing, building, engineering, and other manufacturing groups.[cmxxxii]
His scrutiny of internal finances was not as keen for ‘trade unions’ as for the ‘friendly societies’. He was prepared to compare relative strengths of industrial sector under just two headings, aggregate memberships and funds held:
For the year 1903, the numerical test shows that the strongest were the mining class, followed closely by the pastoral, upwards of 14,000 each; and then at lengthy intervals by the railway, 9,000; shipping and food groups, about 6,000 each; the remaining groups being at a fairly level strength of about 4,000 members each.[cmxxxiii]
The difference in rigour meant that he had no power to insist upon returns from ‘unions’ nor could he do anything if he noticed a deficiency in their recorded funds, apparently a result of defalcation.
The average membership of 131 ‘unions’ sending returns was 560. Viewed financially his figures showed the wealthiest ‘unions’ were in the engineering and metal trades with £2/17/7d per member, the lowest on this scale being in the pastoral sector, 3/10d. The average for all ‘unions’ was 18/4d. In respect of accumulated funds of individual unions, the wealthiest was the Federated Seamens’ Union of Australasia with assets amounting to £9,031, followed by the Colliery Employees Federation (Newcastle) with £7,982, down to the AWU at £2,821.
From the standpoint of accumulated wealth against ordinary income, ‘the unions do not on the whole display much strength’:
In two cases the amassed funds are equivalent to more than 10 years income, but the membership in each case is so insignificant, and the corresponding revenue so small, that no deduction can fairly be derived as to consequent power. Otherwise we find 71 unions with less than 1 year’s revenue saved; 31 with less than 2 years; 14 with less than 3 years; 11 with less than 4 years; 1 with less than 5; 1 with less than 6. On the whole the unions possess funds equivalent to about 14 months income.
Prior to 1904, he asserted, the available figures of registered combinations were at best questionable. In that year he instituted an extensive purge, removing registrations of bodies which did not respond to his requests for returns. Thus, there appears to have been a large drop from 1903 to 1904 when in fact most of those removed would not have been extant for some time. In the interests of efficiency and accuracy he now asked ‘unions’ for ‘preliminary rough drafts’ of their Rules, ‘which, when annotated and corrected, are returned to the applicants’ for printing and return to his Office where registration then occurs.[cmxxxiv]
Since the 1899 Act, registration was being refused to ‘trade unions’ which included in their rules provisions for ‘benefits of a Friendly Society character.’ This at base was because registering as a ‘Trade Union’ and not a ‘Friendly Society’ meant that a society did not have to get benefit scales actuarially approved and did not have to ensure that each fund was operated for just the purpose designated:
Of course, the benefits provided by the older unions, constituted prior to the passing of the Friendly Societies Act, have been preserved to those unions, but I have very little doubt that in most instances the members of such unions as possess these benefit provisions are living in a state of illusionary expectancy, and that it is hopeless in many cases, on account of the state of their funds, for them to realise the advantages they look for in old age and sickness.
Miners, in lieu of benefit schemes, levied their members on behalf of others in near-to-starvation situations but there were limits, and there was heavy reliance on friendly societies to provide relief in ‘normal’ times.[cmxxxv]
In Victoria, trade unions had to be reminded in 1907 that that State’s 1890 Trades Union Act had exempted them from the operation of the Friendly Societies Act of the same year. Their anxiety about amending legislation was then at such a level they organised deputations to the Chief Secretary who arranged for a Registrar’s briefing note. Inter alia, it spelled out the contradictory status of ‘Trades Unions’:
..Apart from legislation, trade unions are illegal combinations, but for many purposes they are, by reason of the statute relating to them, perfectly lawful associations.[cmxxxvi]
The Registrar’s explanation was that Trades Unions remained in the limbo Friendly Societies had only recently escaped:
Although the statute gave trade unions certain powers, it was never intended that contracts entered into by their members should be made legal contracts inter se, so that courts of law would interfere to enforce them. If an agreement by a trade union to provide benefits to its members is not enforceable by law, the mere fact that the benefit agreed to be given is based upon a certified scale of contributions would not give the members any further legal right than they now possess.
Freemasonry, Secret Armies and Other Secret Societies
Despite all of its previous difficulties, as soon as nominal independence was gained Freemasonry suddenly surged, at least in terms of member numbers. In 1914 when NSW’s UGL celebrated its Silver Jubilee, figures showed that since 1888 memberships had gone from 6,000 to just on 20,000. In the same period, Masonic numbers in Victoria had increased by a similar amount from a similar base number.
Large increases continued, especially after both World Wars, Victorian Freemasonry, for example, noting that an increase from 18,000 in 1918 to 44,000 in 1926, was ‘the greatest percentage growth in our history’.[cmxxxvii] Counter-intuitively, a major policy shift in London that same year thrust ‘the craft…(into) a long era of ultrasecrecy’:
Public wearing of regalia was effectively banned and the temples were put off limits to the general community.[cmxxxviii]
This, in recent years, has been put down to harassment by the Vatican and other ideological opponents, such as Hitler and Stalin which intensified in the inter-War period. It seems rather to have been more in the nature of a strategic retreat, a circling of the wagons, as the organisation’s need for re-invention re-asserted itself. Unfortunately, and as other Protestant-based fraternities have done in the 20th century, Freemasonry’s ignorance of its own ‘authentic’ history has caused it, as an organisation, to reject calls for change. The Roman Catholic Church, on the other hand, maintained focus on a singular goal, while continuing to adapt its means.
There is a moderately-sized pile of publications purporting to tell the definitive account of ‘the Split’. This schism, which began to take shape in the 1930’s and kept the ALP from power nationally from 1949 until 1972, was the third of the century’s major splits suffered by Labor institutions. This chapter does not attempt to add to that pile. As with the Eureka Stockade, Federation, etc, it points out some of what has been missed, and where interested persons might look for further insights.
Strangio and Costar have analysed the beliefs of BA Santamaria, the man who, with (Archbishop) Mannix, was the Catholic prime-mover in ‘the Split’:
(There) existed a strong link amongst a unionised, Catholic, Irish working class and the ALP – strengthened as it had been by the conscription controversies of 1916-17 (but in) Santamaria’s eyes, the anti-socialism of the non-labour parties offered few opportunities because they were permeated with Masonic Protestantism and hostile to Catholics. [cmxxxix]
Their footnotes reference correspondence with Mannix in which Santamaria claimed that ‘the communists in the ACTU’ were backed by Freemasonry, ‘which is ruthlessly using the opportunity afforded by Catholic division to purge every Catholic influence from Public life.’[cmxl] Their bibliography, however, reveals no interest in following this apparently major ‘lead’ into Masonic archives, or other related fraternal material, an unfortunate self-limiting approach matched by other published, ‘non-Catholic’ research.
There were, in fact, many causes for the Split – excesses of faith, particular international and local circumstances and incendiary personalities – some of which the contributors to the 2005 The Great Labor Schism have demonstrated. Fraternally, the facts are far from clear on the Protestant/anti-Catholic side because of reasons already addressed, including neglect-inducing blind spots, but on the Catholic side, there has been sufficient if not adequate analysis. The main organisational players saw no reason to alter their Church’s longstanding world-view which naturally included overturning changes introduced by the Reformation. Espousing nostalgia about the fraternal traditions seemed a natural thing to do, even though the intensely centralised and hierarchical structure of Roman Catholicism meant the original, localised forms of fraternalism were impossible. All this can be deduced from the Catholic literature itself.
Truman has made clear the importance of the revival of the power and prestige of the Papacy from the last decades of the 19th into the 20th centuries, and the extension, by consecutive pontiffs from Pius IX in 1870 onwards of the claim of ‘papal infallibility’ into all areas of public and private life. He compares their claims to those once asserted by mediaeval Popes. In the 1954 words of Pius XII:
…Many and serious are the problems in the social field. Whether they be merely social or socio-political, they pertain to the moral order, are of concern to the conscience and the salvation of men; thus they cannot be declared outside the authority and care of the Church..[cmxli]
Protestants of course, as Truman explains, deny the supremacy of the Pope and his claim to divine authority, and assert
that the Reformation was a movement against what they regarded as non-Christian ideas and doctrines introduced by the Popes and a return to the purity of the Scriptures…One of these so-called innovations was the teaching of St Thomas Aquinas (1226-74) who used the philosophy of the Greek, and pagan philosopher Aristotle (384-322BC) to make a logical system out of the dogmas of the Church. His philosophy was accepted by the Church and has become a large part of the Catholic Faith. Pope Pius XII said: ‘His teaching seems to chime in, by a kind of pre-established harmony, with divine revelation.’[cmxlii]
Catholic global ambitions were perceived as having two stages – firstly, influencing all levels of government to adopt Catholic policies, followed by the ‘reconstruction of the social order’ into what Pius XI in 1931 detailed as ‘the Organic Society.’ Again, in Truman’s words:
(To) him and his advisers is due the brilliant plan for enlisting the whole Catholic laity (the laymen or Catholics outside the priesthood and religious orders) ‘conquering the world for Christ’ through the agency of the Catholic Church. This is called the Apostolate of the Laity or more simply the Lay Apostolate.[cmxliii]
Unified direction ‘of all Catholic organisations under the leadership of the Holy See and the Hierarchy’ in Rome allowed a degree of national variation:
And so we find Catholic Action organisations for young men and for men, for girls and for women. There are organisations for general Catholic Action and for specialised Catholic Action. Specialisation may derive from the profession: (lawyers, doctors, teachers, etc), or from the different milieux: young workers,..(groups) for rural areas,..students, etc. There are also Family Movements of Catholic Action..[cmxliv]
In a 1947 Statement, Australian Bishops listed nine Catholic Action ‘movements’, four adult and five youth organisations – the Workers Movement, the League of St Thomas More, the Family Movement, the Rural Movement, Young Catholic Students, the Campion Society and University Catholic Action, Young Christian Workers, National Catholic Girls Movement, and the Christian Country Youth Movement. Just as ‘at the time of the Reformation, Ignatius Loyola and his little band, the Jesuits’ were at the service of the Pope against the heretics, the Handbook of the Young Catholic Students, as one example, tells its readers their work is:
- to change and Christianise the environment of students.
- to form people for post-school Catholic Action.
- to help students to prepare themselves properly for life in the world.
Not surprisingly, in these aims and in their practices, Catholic societies manifested similar, albeit stronger and better-run counterpoints to those of their Protestant opposition. As the Freemasons, the PAFS, the Druids Hibernians and Odd Fellows still had, at least in theory, the YCS had
our prayers and religious instruction, our regular exercises and practices of the Faith, our curricula permeated with Catholic thought, and, above all, the wonderful example and inspiration of the selfless devotion of the nuns and brothers themselves.[cmxlv]
But where the Freemasons, at least, continue to this day to claim concern for religious inclusiveness, the Catholic Hierarchy made clear that such thinking was a danger, not a virtue:
(Catholics distressed by arguments with Protestants) have an itch, nay, a burning desire, to break down all the barriers by which men of good will are now separated from one another; they embrace a policy of appeasement which would fain put on one side all the questions that divide us – not merely to the extent of uniting our forces against the common menace of atheism, but actually so as to achieve a compromise of opinion, even where matters of doctrine are concerned.[cmxlvi]
Parish priests, in particular had to be warned, in large type with capital letters’:
WITHOUT HESITATION, WE, THE ARCHBISHOPS, AND BISHOPS OF AUSTRALIA, ADVISE ALL THE CLERGY OF OUR DESIRE THAT AMONG THE COMPETING NEEDS OF SODALITIES, CONFRATERNITIES AND OTHER LAY BODIES, AN ABSOLUTE PRIMACY SHOULD BE GIVEN BY THEM TO THE WORK OF CATHOLIC ACTION. FOR THE SUCCESS OF CATHOLIC ACTION IS THE VERY CONDITION OF THE PRESERVATION OF THE CHURCH IN THIS COUNTRY.[cmxlvii]
Santamaria began his selective account of ‘the Split’ with a 1912 debate over education which resulted in large numbers of Catholics being expelled from the Labor Party in Victoria because, he asserts, of their association with the Catholic Federation and ‘its fight for educational justice.’ He described this as the first 20th century episode in which ‘destructive sectarian passion had been consciously aroused for political purposes’. On 27 November, 1914, the Victorian Central Executive of the Political Labor Council, the then name of the ALP, actually resolved that the LOI, along with the Australian Catholic Federation, the Licensed Victuallers’ Association and the Womens Political Association were ‘political associations’ and could therefore no longer continue as members.
Such was the turmoil and uncertainty facing all players, that prior to the 1913 NSW State election, a desperate leader of the nationally-organised Catholic Federation actually suggested Catholics consider voting for Orangemen if only to show that the Catholic labouring man was not going to allow even the party with which he was most naturally in sympathy to deprive him, by means of ‘private and confidential’ circulars, of his most elemental right, that of being able to voice his grievances through his parliamentary representative.[cmxlviii] Fr O’Reilly, of the Federation prematurely claimed that it had ‘smashed the Labour Machine’ only to see Holman and Labor win easily.[cmxlix] One known Sydney ‘hot spot’ in 1913 was Auburn, described by ‘Jack’ Lang as he began his eventful political career, as being ‘the heart of a very deep-seated sectarian struggle.’ For a decade Cardinal Moran had battled Dill-Mackey, ‘an equally able leader of the Orangemen in (NSW)’:
They engaged in public controversy. Each Sunday their respective churches would be packed. They thundered against each other. The newspapers reported them in full and published their letters.[cml]
Lang claims to have de-fused this volatile situation in his local area by treating what he calls the ‘northern Irish and the southern Irish’ even-handedly. Santamaria’s comment in 1984 was that:
Clearly..the extremist opponents of Catholic influence in the ALP, anticipating the events of 1955, were using the (Catholic) Federation issue to push the most Catholic of their opponents out of the Party.[cmli]
Santamaria’s overall argument was that labor-oriented intellectuals used the same political ploy when faced with ‘the virus of communism’. Because he opposed ‘Red influences’ from 1937 in order, as he saw it, to defend social democracy, even Western civilisation, he was especially critical of ALP leaders like Evatt, would-be Prime Minister in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Santamaria argued that these intellectuals could have played a mediating role rather than an opportunist one to develop strategies which safe-guarded the central, moderate ground against totalitarians of both the right and the left.
His argument is sound to a point but it assumes that he and ‘his people’ were, by definition, amongst the moderates, and fails to take into account the genuine fear of Catholic totalitarianism held by many non-Catholics. It is further weakened by his failure to ask whether the politicians were creating or responding to an activist Protestant presence. Laffan has shown that the positioning of Orangemen in key labour posts in NSW’s Hunter River District industries, as just one key example, remained strong in the new century:
It was not for nothing that the annual July 12 (Battle of the Boyne) procession formed up at the (Newcastle) Trades Hall. Indeed, LOL 26 used the Trades Hall as its lodge room.[cmlii]
Laffan has observed that even the large number of ‘Orange labour’ activists he has thus far been able to locate will prove to be ‘far from exhaustive’, and that, despite prevailing wisdom to the contrary:
any attempt to understand how the Labor Party in Newcastle handled World War I, conscription, the Irish Rebellion, the Railway Strike and the Russian Revolution is impossible without paying some attention to the Loyal Orange Lodges, their origins, traditions and methods of operation.[cmliii]
The best of very incomplete Australian ‘Orange’ numbers are the following for 1907: Compared to Ireland with 1650 lodges, Canada with 1504, England, 300, Scotland 290, South Africa, 17 and New Zealand with 57, Australia had at least 683, made up of: Victoria, 183, SA, 53, WA, 64, Qld, 33, NSW 300 male and over 50 female lodges.[cmliv]
The second occasion on which ‘Labor’ politicians had consciously chosen ‘the sectarian strategy’, according to Santamaria, was, of course, the attempt by Prime Minister Hughes to win two conscription referenda in 1916-1917. Rather than see defeats in both polls as evidence that the strategy was a failure, Santamaria has argued that Evatt interpreted the near-misses as proof the strategy could work, since it had apparently increased the pro-conscription vote beyond what it would otherwise have been. ‘Jack’ Lang has insisted that a potent anti-conscription factor at the time was the fear among labour-supporters that increasing the intake of Australian soldiers would leave jobs vacant to be filled by Maltese and other ‘forrins’.[cmlv]
In 1916, to the annual Conference of the Catholic Federation a Catholic spokesperson complained that Freemasonry
under the mask of social organisation, has become the enemy of fair play and progress. In some countries it is anti-Christian; among us it is anti-social, but none the less pernicious.[cmlvi]
The then Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne Dr Mannix earned accusations of disloyalty when he warned of the dangers of Federal Government support for conscription:
This is not a Catholic question; and it is not an Irish question, nor a Sinn Fein question. It deeply concerns the Australian people and by the Australian people it should be answered on its merits..It should have been put clearly before the people, and it should not have been clouded, as Mr Hughes has clouded it, by sectarianism and racial prejudice. I claim, therefore..that Mr Hughes has degraded his office and degraded Australia..[cmlvii]
Prime Minister ‘Billy’ Hughes accused Mannix publically of being against ‘the Empire’ at the same time he, Hughes was secretly ‘organising an anti-Mannix campaign with Orange elements.’ Ex-Premier Holman, expelled from the ALP for favoring conscription, admitted in his memoirs:
Hughes made his fight definitely an anti-Mannix fight..At one time it looked as if the whole organisation of the campaign was very much less concerned with the defeat of the Hun than with that of a turbulent Catholic prelate. This was a mistake.[cmlviii]
Neither the 1917 split, which followed the referenda defeats and saw Hughes and others expelled from the ALP, nor the later schism was about religion alone. And although the eastern seaboard is where major scholarly attention has been focussed Bolton has noted that on the other side of the continent:
Nervous authorities banned a St Patrick’s Day parade in 1919, but it went ahead anyway, led by a former member of parliament and future president of the Arbitration Court, Walter Dwyer, who ended his days a knight.[cmlix]
Laffan has written:
Irish independence, of course, was seen as a threat to Empire. The 1920 election of a Labor State Government produced decisions that horrified some in the ‘God, King and Empire’ brigade. Over 100,000 turned up to a rally in the Domain [Sydney] to defend the Union Jack which Labor wished to replace with the Australian flag, while ‘satanic’ revolutionaries wanted the Red Flag and the Fenians the Green.[cmlx]
The ‘official’ historian of NSW’s Hibernian Society has joined some of the dots connecting this gathering with ‘the illiberal attitudes of establishment interests in the twenties’ by way of the career of Colonel Scott who, it is claimed, served as the model for ‘Callcott’ in DH Lawence’s Kangaroo:
Anti-Labor feeling was running high in Sydney..Opposition..came from a broad coalition..including Protestants and Orangemen angry at what they saw as the Irish Catholic element in the Labour Party, soldiers angry at Labor’s anti-conscription stance..and businessmen fearful at what ‘Bolshevik’ measures the new government might try to implement..The catch cry was ‘disloyalty’..(this) was used to launch..the King and Empire Alliance..the main purpose was to organise a secret army to take over the State..[cmlxi]
The interning of seven men suspected of belonging to the Irish Republican Brotherhood, the sensational flight, arrest and kidnapping of another lapsed Catholic nun and support given her by NSW’s Orangemen, and the possibly engineered demise of the Catholic Federation after its failed attempts to gain the Parliamentary ‘balance of power’ all added to the tension.[cmlxii] A Protestant newspaper quoted from a Mannix speech at a church stone-laying in Warwick, Queensland in 1922, wherein he alluded to continuing slanders against him and of the continuing fight by Irish people everywhere for freedom from Britain:
They would go on asking for it, and they would create all the trouble they could, not merely in Ireland, but in Australia, until they got it.[cmlxiii]
NSW’s branch of the Catholic Federation claimed 100,000 members at its peak. Kildea accepts that more specialised ‘agencies’ such as the Knights of the Southern Cross, the Catholic Evidence Guild and the Catholic Immigration Aid Association, took over its functions from 1922, but suggests ALP influence:
There were many Catholics prominent in the Labor Party who resented the damage that the Federation had caused to the labour movement by standing candidates..Although there is no direct evidence that Archbishop Kelly decided to kill off the Federation at the request of Catholic Labor politicians, the inference is compelling.[cmlxiv]
Walter Skelton, a Newcastle-based Protestant prohibitionist seeking ALP pre-selection in 1921-22 was abused as ‘a good man gone wrong’ and as having ‘sold his soul’ to a Catholic-dominated Labor Caucus by his opponent, a Past Grand Orange Chaplain and Nationalist Party candidate. After 1920, dis-affected Labor voters could not vote for the Nationals, the only major alternative. So in 1922, Skelton, lay-preacher and railway worker, having failed within the ALP, emerged as an Independent Protestant candidate and subsequently as the face of the Protestant Independent Labour Party or PILP.
Established in 1923, it was based on a small area geographically and while of comparatively short duration, reveals a great deal to a careful observer. This labour man was very Orange:
Skelton was a ‘big man’ in the Loyal Orange lodges and in the Protestant Federation. He had worked throughout the 1917 Great Strike [which resulted from the conscription struggles], his union had not called its members out, he was a supporter of the ‘loyalist’ volunteers [pro-conscription], and he enjoyed sufficient popularity to be elected employees’ representative on the railway superannuation board. He had excellent contacts through district conferences of his church and was one of the most frequent main speakers at Protestant rallies in the Newcastle district throughout 1921.
At the time, elections were for multi-member seats, and Skelton was elected first out of five. Most of his campaign supporters were Orangemen who helped him differentiate his message from both the ALP and the Nationals. A number were trade union officials opposed not only to Catholic influence but also to the ALP’s support of gambling, drink and Sunday sport. His public meetings were stormy and he moved with an escort of burly miners ‘ready for action.’ His unpublished memoirs relate that at least one meeting was abandoned under a hail of stones.[cmlxv] Shortly after Skelton’s win, and with the Nationalists elected federally, the NSW ALP State Executive proscribed both the Protestant Federation and the LOI.
Many conservative Orangemen voted with the Nationalists but some Protestant and Catholic Labor supporters alike now searched for compromise candidates who would not use anti-Catholic or anti-Protestant arguments and who valued the role Labor might play industrially. This brought them both into conflict with Communists and guaranteed a continuation of factional manoeuvring and internecine tumult.
JH Catts, an effective Labor MHR in the anti-conscription struggle and credited with being ‘largely responsible for the celebration of Anzac Day’[cmlxvi], was expelled from the Party in 1922 for alleging corrupt practices which, he said, stemmed from Catholic influence. In ‘Jack’ Lang’s terms, this was ‘the era of rabid sectarianism’ when a ‘strange campaign’ of religious hatred ‘destroyed the Dooley Government’:
There were no more than four practising Catholics in the Ministry. During the election (Opposition politician) Ley accused the Government of being in some dark conspiracy against all Protestants. To help him he had the libel suit brought by a Sister Ligouri against the Catholic Bishop of Wagga. His trump card was that the Labor Party was alleged to be committed to a doctrine of the Catholic Church known as the Ne Temere Decree.[cmlxvii]
‘Ne Temere’ set out situations in which the Church would, or would not regard marriages as acceptable to it. The Opposition Liberal Party was asserting the same criteria were about to be introduced into civil law and made prohibition of them part of its successful election Policy. JT Ley was later to die a convicted murderer and inmate of Broadmoor Criminal Asylum in the UK. Catt’s attempt at an independent Party perished in its infancy, while Skelton’s was scuttled when electorates were altered to single member in 1926-27. Though he retained a significant support base, it was never quite enough. Laffan has concluded:
The PILP was a significant political expression of a constituency that existed in substantial numbers throughout NSW. Its activists and supporters went various ways. In the short term some of them appear to have supported the Australian Party formed by WM Hughes in 1929.[cmlxviii]
Laffan, almost the only scholar who has looked closely at the relevant Orange records, has asserted that the Skelton schism so damaged the LOI in NSW as to render it politically impotent from then on.[cmlxix] However, Crisp’s biography of the Catholic Federal ALP leader Chifley has ‘loyal members of the Party’ asserting that Protestants ‘had little chance of election to the Cabinet’ in the 1930’s, and that sectarianism ‘was seldom wholly absent’ from Federal political contests.’[cmlxx] Was Catholicism continuing to gain strength while ‘its enemies’ bickered about who would represent them? Again, there has been little useful research. Laffan’s general conclusion is that:
Only a relatively small proportion of the community joined explicitly sectarian organisations such as the Knights of the Southern Cross or the Loyal Orange Institution but many individuals and families had their lives impacted on by sectarianism.[cmlxxi]
(Naomi) Turner has a list of over 25 Catholic societies, many of them newly-formed, operating in one Sydney parish in 1944, from the ‘Children of Mary’ to the ‘Eucharistic League’ and ‘St Joseph’s Guild of Catholic Laymen’ to a number of sporting and social ‘clubs’. Research simply hasn’t been done to establish which of these guilds, confraternities, sodalities, orders and brotherhoods, contained all the elements necessary to meet the definition of ‘fraternal’, or how many of them remain. The available evidence is that many included restrictions on who could participate, who could witness the various ‘private’ ceremonials, and what level of ‘insider’ was entitled to wear which distinctive scapular, breviary, veil or ribbon. The 1962 revised Handbook for the Legion of Mary stated unequivocally:
5.Inviolable Confidence Must Be Preserved by the Legionaries in regard to what they hear at their meetings or in the course of their work.[cmlxxii]
Differentiation of ‘insider’ from ‘outsider’, of course, contradicts strictures on ‘secret societies’ issued by the Church. This strategy of an imperio ad imperium was what produced the National Secretariat of Catholic Action in Melbourne in 1937 and a broad national network of occupation-based ‘guilds’, the last closely paralleling Masonic lodges of teachers, bus drivers, steel workers, etc, of the same period. Laffan has interesting material on this period.[cmlxxiii]
While Moore’s search for the ‘secret armies’ of the 1930’s produced ‘no proof’ that ‘the Masonic brotherhood’ was directly implicated in any conspiracies around the Colonel De Groot episode at the opening of Sydney Harbour Bridge, and forced him to fall back on a vague association of ‘conservative’ and ‘Masonic’ with ‘the Old Guard’, his bibliography shows he examined no Masonic or other fraternal society records.[cmlxxiv] For this reason alone, I assume there is more to be discovered about secretive groupings, for example, those agitated over the NSW Lang Labor Government and its attempts to defy Commonwealth and British Government Depression policies.
The Ancient Order of Froth Blowers was not one of these. Self-described as ‘a sociable and law-abiding fraternity of absorptive Britons’ keen on malt ale and on raising money for good causes it brings to mind the original ‘coffee and ale-house clubs’ from which the Freemasons, Odd Fellows and Buffaloes, in particular, appear to have stemmed. Established in England in 1928 at least one ‘branch’ meeting has been recorded in Australia between the Wars.
There were people who regarded fascist-leaning, Empire-supporting societies as acceptable, even necessary, in the period 1914 to 1945 – Australia First, the New and Old Guards, the Australia First League, the National Guard and the New Front, and no doubt others.[cmlxxv] Many would have been influenced by PR Stephenson’s The Foundations of Australian Culture. There were nationalistic societies concerned with Australia’s artistic voice, such as the Jindyworobaks and the Angry Penguins. Again, these may or may not have used ‘fraternal’ paraphernalia and procedures. Muirden notes an association between ‘the Yabber Club’ of Stephenson, the Australia First Movement and the ANA in the 1940’s.[cmlxxvi]
The Anglo-Saxon Clan, drawing inspiration from the KKK of the USA, appears to have begun its operations in November, 1923, at the instigation of a NSW parliamentarian James Wilson. Published documents indicate it intended:
A common brotherhood of strict regulations for the purpose of cultivating and promoting real patriotism towards our Civil Government; to practice an honourable clannishness towards each other; to exemplify a practical benevolence; to shield the sanctity of the home and the chastity of womanhood; to teach and inculcate a high spiritual philosophy through an exalted ritualism, and by a practical devotedness to conserve, protect and maintain the distinctive institutions, rights, privileges and principles of a pure Australian democracy.[cmlxxvii]
The words are different, the sentiments would not have been out of place in a mediaeval village.
Moore’s ground-breaking work is best on the competition between the ‘Old Guard’ and the ‘New Guard’ and the pressures this competition placed on Commonwealth-State relations and on influential figures such as the soon-to-be NSW Police Commissioner MacKay:
For the dislocation in Commonwealth-State relations entailed a severing of the ties between the New South Wales police and the Old Guard. In November 1932 it would be possible for MacKay to welcome Scott, Goldfinch and Somerville to the principal table at the annual CIB [Criminal Investigation Branch] dinner but in April it seemed he might be opposing his dinner guests at the barricades.[cmlxxviii]
Moore notes that MacKay ‘commissioned the only full-scale report’ of the Old Guard’s activities and that during the crisis, police were stopping and searching cars for arms and ammunition:
The police march through the city [Sydney] on 29 April..was..directed at the metropolitan division of the Old Guard. MacKay knew where his former allies were to be found so he personally directed the march past the buildings where they worked and the institutions where they were having lunch – the Stock Exchange, Civic Club, Union Club, Imperial Service Club, as well as the offices of CSR, pastoral companies, insurance firms and banks.
Bolton has given little research time to what may have been an analogous situation, perhaps involving the same networks, thousands of miles away:
(West Australian) Catholics came to believe that many firms, including most of the banks and Wesfarmers, discriminated against employing members of their faith. Their suspicions were fuelled by the knowledge that many prominent citizens, among them the Anglican Archbishop..were keen Freemasons..In 1922 a group of Catholic businessmen founded a local chapter of the Order of the Knights of the Southern Cross, to counter this tendency.[cmlxxix]
Moore does not note that MacKay was initiated a Freemason in 1922. He does note that during the crisis ‘Jock Garden’, well-known ‘Red’ was bashed by members of the Fascist Legion, ‘a secretive inner group within the New Guard’ who wore KKK-style hoods and gowns.[cmlxxx]
Neither does Moore note that newspaper reporters attending the 1932 Royal Commission into Starting Price Bookmaking (‘the SP’) were agog when one police officer witness accused another of ‘acting improperly’ when taking a statement from a constable ‘under masonic secrecy.’[cmlxxxi]
Where trade society membership numbers, and those of Communist and Socialist Parties, were generally on the increase, remarks about Freemasons walking away after initial contacts with a lodge member were once again being heard, and friendly society numbers were experiencing severe decline. The Depression had a lot to do with these reversals and produced the first round of suggestions about appropriate responses. It was quickly found marketing campaigns could only temporarily stabilise figures rather than increase them. Blainey, writing later about the IOOF, concluded:
Increasingly the members who were ambitious for the Order decided that certain reasons for the failure stood out. The Order was too theatrical, too secret, too ritualistic in its ceremonies to appeal to younger Australians… Curiously, these had been factors which, in their grandfathers’ day, had made the American style (of Odd Fellowship) seem attractive.[cmlxxxii]
The gap between executive officers and the rank-and-file was by now huge. In-house literature shows Grand Lodges wrestling with legislation and with the competition, and the membership wrestling with the relevance of the ritual, eg one wrote in 1931 – ‘Do not permit anyone to give a candidate the idea that he is going forward to a ceremony which is ‘funny’ or severe.’’ In the same periodical, the Reverend Lawrence of the IOOF’s West Australian Denmark Lodge could manage only very wordy and very vague moralisms in his ‘The Appeal of Ritual and Ceremonial to the Minds of Man’.
In 1931 the MU’s Hunter District Grand Master reported that ‘practically all of the lodges are affected through the slackness of the coal mining industry, (yet)..we have held our own.’ The 1931 AGM in the HRD was postponed to 1932 when the District Grand Master’s address revealed that the district was unfinancial, unable to pay annual dues to Head Office, only seven out of 34 districts being financial. Ten HRD lodges were unable to pay dues to the district office. Adult and juvenile ritual competitions between the Wars were, conducted very seriously if irregularly and cups, shields and plaques awarded. They were not universally popular and proved impotent in the face of what was happening externally.[cmlxxxiii]
But so generalised had the faith-based war become that even sport was compromised at its heart. In boxing, the tragic flight from Australian military authorities in 1915 and subsequent death in the United States of the already famous young boxer, Les Darcy, was widely believed to have been precipitated by the conflict between his Irish Catholic upbringing and British Empire loyalists. When his body was returned from the USA, his coffin and his Holy Catholic Guild member’s sash was carried to the catafalque by his fraternal brothers, the cortege including members of the INF and HACBS.[cmlxxxiv] With regard to cricket, much has been written about Bradman’s approach to ‘his’ team members while he, himself, has denied being influenced by religion. Conflicting interpretations of his actions and those of other Protestant/Masonic figures in cricket’s hierarchy were certainly widespread at the time, while a belief in an anti-Catholic bias remained current for decades:
Australian cricket teams of the 1930’s were wracked by religious differences, with Catholics such as Fingleton and O’Reilly against the Protestant/Masonic faction championed by Sir Donald (Bradman).[cmlxxxv]
One of Fingleton’s numerous Catholic supporters noted his journalism was used on occasion to push the credentials of fellow-Catholic Stan McCabe:
You did noble and well-merited service to Stan in your articles. He has certainly not been treated fairly by the critics. One cannot help suspecting the existence of a Freemason press gang collaborating to boost the members of the craft..[cmlxxxvi]
Fingleton, in his autobiography, reflected on his parent’s Catholic origins and faith but not his own. His discussion of bias and ‘favouratisms’ within Australian cricket does not include any reference to either a Masonic or a Catholic clique.[cmlxxxvii] Another of his Catholic correspondents, however, ‘a very, very insignificant old monk’ who met him and his Catholic team mates in Melbourne when they returned from a tour of South Africa, thanked him profusely:
Fancy getting Chappie to march in the procession and fancy marching yourself. These little things are wonderful and you would be surprised to know what an impression they make on others. To see you and Chap there was more good than all the sermons Fr Talty could give in a month.[cmlxxxviii]
‘Chappie’ was EA Dwyer, one of three national cricket selectors of this period and owner of the Dwyer range of Catholic Book shops, ‘the procession’ probably a St Patrick’s Day outing. Growden has commented:
Fingleton was convinced that if Dwyer hadn’t been on the selection panel he might not have played Test cricket at all. He was equally certain that McCabe would not have become one of Australian cricket’s most notable batsmen without the continuous support of the same fellow Catholic..Even the Test umpiring ranks were dominated by Protestants. Col Egar in the 1960’s is believed to be the first Catholic umpire ever appointed for an Australian Test match.[cmlxxxix]
At this time, Freemasons appeared to have achieved an attractive 20th century culture. In 1938, the number of attached Masons in NSW was 60,077, an (approx) 600% increase in 50 years, but itself a decrease from 1930 of 11,000 due to the Depression.[cmxc] Victoria achieved 100,000 Masons in 1954, a figure surpassed in NSW in 1949. Friendly Society numbers remained ahead of these but they had clearly been sidelined in the public mind by continuing rows over National Insurance, while ‘trade unions’ were both hated and loved. Freemasonry, alone, had maintained an aura of mystery and of substantial coherence. The reality was not quite up to the whispered mythologies. A South Australian doctor, under surveillance by Commonwealth security agents in the 1930’s apparently expressed interest in becoming a Masonic brother, changing his mind only when the Nazi Party began to gather strength.[cmxci] And there were other supplicants:
In 1935, Masonic Brother Clive Loch Hughes-Hallett, an Englishman living in Melbourne, sought expressions of interest in surveying the ritual of the Hung, or Heaven and Earth Society with some esoterically minded Masons in the Victorian Lodge of Research No 218 (VC).[cmxcii]
In 1937, this one-time ABC radio announcer and artillery officer, Hughes-Hallet gathered a small group of Royal Arch Masons to ‘investigate the history, teachings and rituals of the Chinese Triad Society.’ From this it can be guessed that none if any of the actual history of the Hungmen in Australia was known to them and that Hughes-Hallet, for idealistic rather than informed reasons, had assumed that a clear connection existed between Chinese Triadism and formal Freemasonry as practised in England and Australia. Another of the group wrote to NSW’s Masonic Grand Secretary in November, 1947 about long-term intentions:
…the regeneration of a very old society, which under political pressure had fallen on hard days, to a place and function in Asiatic life in some measure resembling that of the Craft today, is work which only freemasons can do…
Believing that the originating society and ritual were extremely old, the group had attempted ’re-constitution’ of known fragments of the original ritual. They then had carried out demonstrations and set up ‘lodges’, chartered from an ‘Australasian Provincial Grand Lodge’, in both Victoria and NSW, the last meetings of which had occurred by 1948. It appears Hughes-Hallett himself became absorbed into ‘mainstream’ Freemasonry and the Communist takeover in 1949 rendered further discussion of a return to China futile.
Elements of the Calabrian ‘Honoured Society’, referred to as ‘the Mafia’, made their first Australian foray in the 1930’s. One ritual gathered in Victoria, and rather poorly translated, begins:
Q: (A courtesy or greeting before every question and reply)
Are you a Camorrista? A: I am and I show it. (Gives the sign)
Q: How did you enter the Society? A: With bared forehead, arms folded across my
breast like a …(?)
Q: What did you see on the floor? A: A white carpet of very fine thread, a white
handkerchief of very fine silk, a little basin
containing 27/50 and a further five
firearms, four even and one uneven.
Q: What does the uneven one represent? A: The head of the Society… [and so on]
WG Spence was only one of labour’s self-professed ‘militants’ to have been moulded by religious observances. The author of a monograph on the Communist party of Australia (CPA) in Newcastle, 1920-1940 has commented:
This hostility which existed between the churches and the CPA obscured the fact that there were many points of agreement. The CPA did not challenge most of the conventional values of Christianity and expected its members to maintain a high moral standard.[cmxciii]
The Executive Committee of the Communist International in Moscow had made the Comintern attitude to opponents, including institutionalised religion, very clear in its bulletins and it took every opportunity to impress Australian comrades with the need to make themselves familiar with the contents. As one example of why this admonition was needed, a 1923 letter shows ‘Jock’ Garden, Scottish-born Communist and trade unionist but who had been a reverend before emigrating to Australia[cmxciv], being reprimanded by his Moscow masters:
We are in receipt of your letter explaining and apologising for your participation in religious revival meetings while in Scotland. We trust that no repetition of such conduct will occur, and feel confident that you will, by increased communist activity, make up for this temporary aberration.[cmxcv]
At his most evangelical, WG Spence had not predicted certainty arising from Labour’s work. He had allowed the possibility that workers might well find their way to hell rather than heaven, and to either along a range of paths. The danger in his ‘messianic’ approach flowed inevitably from his education – his message was confused. There was firstly the idea of ‘the new’:
Spence claimed the new unions, such as the AWU, were distinguished from the old by ‘mateship’, ‘co-operation’, ‘brotherhood’ and even the ‘ideal of the lowly Nazarene.’’
And there was the idea that ‘the new’ was not new:
Unionism came to the Australian Bushman as a religion. It came, bringing salvation from years of tyranny. It had in it that feeling of mateship which he understood already…[cmxcvi]
Confusion reigned, too, when scenes resembling Hieronimous Bosch paintings occurred on the northern coalfields as the Depression bit into people already scarred physically and emotionally, and an evangelist, Mr Fred Van Eyck came to Cessnock (NSW) to conduct a ‘Revival and Healing Campaign’ in May, 1929. The Reverend Alan Walker later summarised the community’s response:
Immediately, remarkable interest was displayed by the people…mass marches were staged through the streets…a wave of mass-revivalism broke out..Crowds of 3000 gathered night after night.[cmxcvii]
Spokespeople for the Four Square Gospel Church which evolved from this campaign have claimed their meetings turned the miners from violence, picketing and the Devil, towards song, worship and salvation.[cmxcviii] The local paper, the Cessnock Eagle, while welcoming the preaching troupe, as did the Mayor, reported that at one particular meeting, where the Church claimed a triumph for healing:
The proposals [for picketing] were duly endorsed and at the conclusion of the meeting a large number of men came forward and gave their names as volunteers for picketing.[cmxcix]
Van Eyck, interviewed at the time, came very close to claiming that he was Jesus Christ:
I have had the privilege..of seeing thousands saved and healed. Perhaps that is the most wonderful part of my ministry. .I have seen the blind receive their sight and the deaf their hearing and almost every nameable disease healed.
He insisted that the desperate conditions being experienced by coalfield communities on top of company and State Government repression were the result of individual sin, but he allowed that the devil was using capitalists as ‘his’ agents. Loss of evangelical momentum was almost as rapid as the initial excitements had been when disputes broke out between Van Eyck, the Salvation Army, sundry other reverends and a compact and very active group of Communist militants.
But he returned to the same community in 1931 determined to further exploit suffering experienced in the interim, including the infamous ‘Rothbury Riot’, in which a certain Scottish police officer, WJ MacKay administered the savage punishment due to any who sought to defy the State, or was it the Empire? Once again initial response to the Four Square troupe was intense:
The scene beggars..description. Men and women apparently in an ecstasy of joy, danced about the stage, and some spoke in strange languages..The evangelist performed the usual acrobatic dances..while..women converts became apparently hysterical and laughed and cried in turns. Shouts of ‘Hallelujah’ and ‘Praise the Lord’ could be heard all over the building. Now and again the deep moaning of a male convert or the plaintive wail of a female..could be heard.[m]
There is some anecdotal evidence that the executives of Masonic lodges were working with northern coalfield mine management on lists of employees who were not to be employed after ‘the troubles.’ Agitator ‘Bondy’ Hoare asserted at a 1931 May Day rally:
All your Masonic lodges and Hibernians are unable to stop the destruction of the capitalist system.[mi]
Oral histories collected by Sheilds in the 1980’s were from Sydney metal workers who had ‘completed their time’ between 1914 and the Great Depression of the 1930’s. Entitled ‘Craftsmen in the Making’, his essay argued that previous Labour Historians had ‘under-estimated the historical resilience of the craftsman, his institutions and his culture.’ In this piece about the importance of the experience of industrial apprentices in ‘craft unions’, Sheilds has none of the substance of the fraternal context anymore than, say, Ian Turner (above) but, nevertheless, his analysis perceptively recognises the importance of the ceremonial to the fraternal package:
The rituals, practices and language associated with learning the ‘art’ and ‘mystery’ of the craft as an indentured apprentice – much of it traceable directly to the pre-industrial craft guilds – gave tangible expression to the notion of trade as property.[mii]
By ‘trade’ here, he meant the skills and information known and husbanded by ‘insiders’ initiated into the craft of metal working. The prescribed ‘means of entry into this exclusive estate’ was a completed apprenticeship. This typically entailed
a lowly paid five year term under indenture to ‘a master’,
several further years work as an ‘improver’ to become ‘a journeyman’, and
a period of ‘tramping the trade’ in search of experience.
The apparently benign Rotary, Lions, Apex, etc which appeared and spread between the Wars, did not emphasise either religion or mateship, but are clearly also children of the older fraternal societies. Chain regalias of office, fining of members during meetings for inappropriate behaviour, and charitable efforts are just three obvious carry-overs from a much earlier time. I cannot say whether and to what extent religion played a role in the evolution of any or all of these, but since many of them seem to have emerged first in the USA I would expect a religious component. Some, eg Rotary in early 1931, were attacked by the Vatican as if they posed a major threat comparable to Freemasonry.
Real and Fanciful History Since 1945
Grand United’s Alfred Walters was known as a ‘genial battler’. He’d only joined the Order after emigrating from Herefordshire to Australia in 1923 and finding manual work on wheat farms in western NSW and Queensland. In 1934 he’d begun the ‘Star of Tara’ lodge, no doubt after a deal of cajoling and urging of the locals. It closed again in 1951, perhaps because he was no longer available:
Alfred Walters joined the 25th Batallion and rose to the rank of QMS [Quarter Master Sergeant] He died of wounds received during a Japanese air-raid on Milne Bay in September, 1942.[miii]
GU’s Grand Master was still inspecting juveniles from Albury, Wagga and from the lodge ‘Bellams Pride’ in 1942, his Report emphasising ‘deportment’ and ‘memorisation’, not meaning:
The …Vice Grand was efficient and made a good showing, and made only one small error, the supporting officers being quite good. The team gave me the impression of being too hurried, and if the Superintendent, in coaching them in the future, will endeavour to slow them down slightly, to take their time, he will find that he has some excellent material upon which to work…
Some attention might be paid to the Conductors, and their method of conducting the candidate around the Lodge, as it must be realised that in an initiation, a candidate has no knowledge of the interior of the lodge, and where the officers are sitting, and I would recommend that the candidate be held by the hand…[miv]
For Masons confined as pow’s 1939-45, maintaining links to the fraternity back home was extremely important.[mv] While neither fraternalism nor mutual fear and loathing among religionists suddenly went out of fashion, both do appear to finally subside after the 1939-45 War, making relevant the question: where did the passions go? There is no need here to track the twists and turns of ‘private health insurance’, ALP and trade union history, or that of Freemasonry over the more recent decades. Of more relevance is the question of just what has changed as ‘modernisation’ has put more and more pressure on fraternalism’s defining essentials.
The probable answer is that, despite clear and significant declines in the numbers of Freemasons, trade unionists and of friendly society members in the last half of the 20th century, the mutual fear and loathing has remained, while fraternalism, now universally called ‘mateship’, has continued to grow as myth but has disappeared as an understood reality. In 1988, the year of bicentennial celebrations, Braddon oscillated between laughter and tears:
Starting from scratch, we have taken a mere two hundred years to invent Minties, stuff Phar Lap, owe more money than almost anyone in the developing world and export twenty-five koalas to Japan.
None of this is generally known. It isn’t even taught. Most Australian schools have deleted Australian history from their curricula because they find it so incredibly boring.[mvi]
Not acknowledging he had been badly taught himself, he blamed what he called ‘the Revisionists’:
In the 1960’s and 70s our British beginnings became intolerable to a new generation of Australian academics, writers and filmmakers. Provoked..and embarrassed..(they) proceeded to ignore the law, revise our history and invent the Myth of Mateship, the Legend of the Bush and the Epic of Gallipoli.[mvii]
Protestant fraternalism survived the downturn in formal Orange membership and apparent loss of parliamentary ‘sponsors’, by becoming part of the general social ambience. The Catholic version remains just as deeply engrained, if dormant. The potential for revival exists, but in Australia there has been little or no recent need for sharp-edged competition. There are sufficient other outlets to make street fighting unnecessary. Nevertheless, the minutes of a Perth lodge of the PAFS throughout the pre-War period and afterwards show that ‘The lodge was opened in the usual and proper manner’, that in 1939 it participated in ‘the protest against the deportation of Peter Wong’ and that in 1943, this friendly society was holding fast to its secret practices:
The initiation ceremony was performed by members of the Grand Lodge Executive. WGM EA Anderson gave counsel and the final charge, and PWGM Bro West instructed the new member in the signs and secrets of the lodge. After the initiation the usual business of the lodge was reverted to.[mviii]
Attempts in 1941 by Santamaria to draw a line under centuries of mutual hatred and suspicion with an ecumenical ‘common front’ proved futile. One of his then fellow-activists had predicted what would later transpire:
Frank McManus..soon after our first meeting in 1941..warned me that..some of those who might benefit from the proposal to initiate an organised struggle against the Communists were opportunists who would have no hesitation in using the sectarian weapon to disown both myself and those whom I might succeed in enlisting, once they considered their own personal interests secure.[mix]
It it likely that fraternal societies other than the trade unions, especially the Freemasons, were directly involved in post-Second World War politics, at individual, lodge and/or Grand Lodge level. Recall now the words of Donald Horne, Geoffrey Bolton and others with which I began this review, including:
The town’s tone was set by the Anglo-Presbyterian ascendancy and its affairs were largely in the hands of the Masons.
Until at least the 1950’s and ‘60’s, from anecdotal evidence, struggles for control of the various Public Service Departments were common knowledge. Everyone had a story about the Masons and the Catholics alternating as Police Commissioners, while certain departments were marked down in pub talk as irrevocably ‘green’ and others as staunchly ‘orange.’ Evidence of continued use of secretive, insider power in the 1948 selections for the national rugby league team raised hackles but little adverse public reaction:
Centre Len Smith was a strong and apparently popular leader of the Australian team before the choice of the 1948 Kangaroos.
But on the night the squad was named he became the subject of one of the most explosive decisions in the code’s history in Australia. When the touring squad was read out, Smith’s name was missing – a situation that prompted banner headlines even in times of a relatively conservative print media.. .
Jealousy over the coaching role and religious bias were put forward as the most popular theories on Smith’s sacking. At the time there were bitter Masonic-Catholic divisions in the code with the Masons holding sway and it was suggested that Smith, a Catholic, may have been an innocent victim of the feud.[mx]
An ‘Ulster Society’, apparently established by a cleric in 1960 has claimed branches in Geelong, Sydney and Melbourne. Its Constitution asserts it to be non-political and non-faith based ‘but every member must be loyal to the British Throne’, so, again Irish Catholics need not apply. A recent copy (2001?) of its periodical, The Ulster Link, claimed the following as ‘kindred societies’: The Royal Society of St George, The Royal Commonwealth Society, the Victorian League for Commonwealth Friendship, the Royal Overseas League, the British Commonwealth Day Movement, the Royal Caledonian Society, and the English-Speaking Union.[mxi]
The often-physical combat of Catholic ‘Groupers’ with Communists and others in the 1950’s and 1960’s appears today as the last ‘street rattle’ of faith-based politics, the DLP being its slow-dying expiration. But Ross Terrill, in his 1987 The Australians: In Search of an Identity, reflected on residual insularities in the story of Robert Holt, post-Split President of the ALP in Victoria, and former Cabinet Minister in a State Labor government:
(He) was a Mason who had come to hate the Catholic forces that had split the Labor Party…Protestant fear of Rome had made Australia a secular society…There was something irrationally fierce about our sectarian hostility, as if religion was being made to carry hidden psychological baggage. Many Catholics believed Masons carried out barbaric rites with goats and naked men. Many Protestants were hostile to alcohol chiefly because Catholic consumption of beer proved the sinfulness of drinking..[mxii]
Labour & Masonic History
Published material, eg, from the NSW Boilermakers Trade Union, clearly shows that fraternal practices recognisable to initiates at any time over the previous 700 years were still in place in trade-oriented fraternal societies after the 2nd World War. Rules show that the Boilermakers ‘opened’ and ‘closed’ their ordinary branch meetings, and that a Password was required to gain entry. There was a Guardian at the door, an Examiner, and a process for ‘brethren’ to be ‘initiated’:
The Guardian will now advance and give the Password..
..‘To Guard well the door, and admit none without the Quarterly Password, unless directed by you..
..An important duty, Brother, faithfully perform it. Officers and Brethren: the object of our meeting here tonight is that of mutual fellowship, to advance the interests of each other as Boilermakers.
The language is of a much older age:
There may be subjects arise tonight that will strike your minds in various forms; to discuss such matters is our equal privilege – careful to avoid all wrangling and vain disputing – ever bearing our motto in mind, Harmony is Peace and Unity is Strength..[mxiii]
The labour movement and Freemasonry today enjoy the benefits of a century and more of comparatively clear goals and clear chains of command. The model employed in both cases is not without strains, even breakouts, but compared to the fragmented and internally-focussed ‘friendlies’ these strands have offered credible images of stability and purpose.
Australian ‘Trade Unions’ have been served by their nationally centralised form of organisation, represented by the Australian Council of Trade Unions since 1923. Freemasons have their Grand Lodges at State level, and can also come together at national level if required. In both cases, tensions exist reminiscent of the English claims to pre-eminence, NSW United Grand Lodge boasting that it is the largest and most powerful Grand Lodge in Australia, and NSW’s Labor Council claiming to be the ACTU’s strongest affiliated body. This is perhaps appropriate as Freemasons have claimed to have invented the centralised, ‘Grand Lodge’ model of administration in the 18th century
These two strands have suffered major setbacks since 1945, but their in-house cultures have contributed to their long-term viability, and have been both self-sustaining and generative of enough ‘good news stories’ to go some way towards countering criticisms and internal strains.
The neglect by ‘the friendlies’ of their heritage thus appears to be of a different kind to that of the other two major strands of fraternalism. An Australian Society for the Study of Labour History launched itself post-1945 and began sponsorship of a steady stream of partisan texts and events. State administrations of Freemasonry have not been so active, but the NSW UGL has published five volumes of ‘official’ history between 1938 and 1988. Yet, the result has been much the same – in all three cases, a denial of genuine research and the creation of propaganda masquerading as history.
Labour History, the journal, has, since the early 1950’s, maintained a community of scholarship and publication which is far greater in size and far more flexible than that of Australian Freemasonry which, by comparison, can number its self-reflecting materials on just a few fingers. And while ‘the Labour community’ has allowed public scrutiny of much of its published output, the various State Grand Lodges have, by design or by good luck, managed to restrict published, quality material to distributors and review systems accessible only to those ‘inside the tent.’ In the same vein, the five volumes of official history of the UGL of New South Wales contain no bibliographies of any kind, let alone of useful, related titles. Less usually, the 1999 collection of essays, Australian Labour History Reconsidered, to which reference has been made, has followed this unfortunate precedent.
Both ‘cultures’ have been weakened by this generation ‘in-house’ for ‘true believers’. The lack of a sufficiently well-informed, external community of critical observers, healthy enough to break down defensive and self-serving, myth-making postures has become increasingly critical since 1945. The Masonic publications, most obviously, lack convincing attachment to their social, economic and political contexts, the sort of thing in which Labour History revels, although Thornton’s volume on the Victorian Grand Lodge is far less offensive in this regard.
Both Freemasonry and ‘trade oriented’ fraternities have had episodes potentially shaming, even catastrophic to their public images, but these remain well-hidden. Nevertheless, they have far more to show for nearly two centuries of effort than the ‘Affiliated Friendly Societies’, the survivors of which now appear afraid of all fraternal history, and seem to have moved too far from their heritage for their current spokespeople to even imagine a shared response to their common past.
Labour authors have been unprepared to publicly examine personal, as opposed to movement, belief systems. No-doubt numerous in-house documents have been produced and passed from hand to hand. Changed political and social circumstances have caused critics from time to time to rise into public view but, in most cases, they, like the Freemasons, have confined themselves to study of membership numbers:
One of the most notable, and readily explicable, declines (in ‘trade union’ membership) took place during the Depression of the early 1930’s. That decline was reversed after 1934 and was followed by a long period of union growth, reaching a peak in the mid 1950’s…
From the mid 1950’s to the early 1970’s, union density consistently declined…[mxiv]
Rawson, long-time observer of ‘the movement’ observes here a number of measurement difficulties which, as much as anything, highlight the long-time lack of close attention to labour statistics, and their meaning. His analysis did not entail any searching within ‘the movement’ for reasons behind rises and falls, shifts having entirely to do with ‘unions’ adapting or not to changing external circumstances, and to industry expansion or contraction, sizes of workplaces, etc.
As an exception to the general rule, Costa, at the time he was writing an up-and-comer, plunged into the heart of the issues in 1992:
The union movement’s current aim to reverse the decline in participation rates, based on the development of large industry unions, is flawed. It is a strategy that fails to fully appreciate the relationship between strategy and structure.[mxv]
Costa built his heresy on some important aspects of the history of trade union organisation in order ‘to highlight the negative impact the mythology of the movement has had and is having’ on the development of strategies intended to reverse participation rates.[mxvi] ‘The most debilitating myth’ is that ‘trade unions’
organised the Australian working class as part of their great and heroic struggle against the tyrannical employers and colonial capitalism.[mxvii]
He noted the messianic fervour of WG Spence, 1890’s miners’ leader, contrasting it with the pragmatism of ‘Billy’ Hughes, who in 1908, pointed to the compulsory Arbitration Act as the main reason for the jump in the participation rate, from 6% to 28% in the decade to 1910:
If unionism is stronger than ever, it is largely owing to the fact that under the Arbitration Act it was impossible for any workman to obtain the benefits of that measure unless he was a member of a Trade Union.[mxviii]
The Arbitration Acts, in NSW 1901 and federally in 1904, were designed to encourage ‘trade union’ membership as part of an ideology aimed at a stable work force and thus a stable investment climate. While participation rates were on the rise, the myth was not tested. With its current, 21st century, irrelevance disclosed, Costa argued:
The collapse in participation rates over the last decade and the inability of the union movement to reverse the decline… indicate that the union movement has reached the point where its (myth) must be discarded before it metamorphoses ‘from myth to damaging delusion.’’
Inevitably, perhaps, Costa is now an ex-Minister of the NSW Government and an ex-member of the ALP.
In 2010, there is still a place, and a need for ‘the movement’ to produce its own history, but as with Freemasonry and the other societies, this doesn’t mean that outsiders can’t have an opinion. A more open culture should mean that those outsiders are better informed.[mxix]
There have been a few Speculative Freemasons who have not suffered from self-delusion when they look back at the rise and fall of their institution or its role and achievements over 200 years but, in an absence of context, their historians have too often fallen into hagiography. Successive ‘Grand Masters’, for example, have their statements quoted unquestioningly in tones reminiscent of Roman Catholics arguing the infallibility of the Pope. It seems that in 1948 Grand Master McDowell really did go so far as to imply he, too, was infallible:
(Guided) by our Masonic principles, with continuing faith in (God), united in the spirit of brotherhood, we can face the future with every confidence, firmly believing that truth and justice will always prevail, and that Freemasonry is truth and justice in all things.[mxx]
The five volumes, by three authors, of official NSW history, 1938-1988, set out the State’s Freemasonry in terms of the regimes of these elected officials and their estimable achievements. Cramp, author of the volume covering the decade 1938-48 saw an opportunity:
I have endeavoured to supply something more than a mere chronicle of Masonic events. I have endeavoured to spiritualise the narrative..(for) those who desire to know something of the real essence and meaning of Freemasonry, and..to encourage the Brethren..to regard their organisation as an essential factor in the buiding of ideal manhood and the social fabric.[mxxi]
Freemasonry’s ‘good works’ occupy much of the text, but sufficient material is included in the later volumes to show that since 1945 UGL has been forced to spend a lot more time debating what else is required when good intentions fail to deliver.
In a ‘Membership’ chapter in Volume IV tables show that from 1944 to 1958, initiates more than doubled, from 66,426 to 135,126. And that from 1959 to 1988 the number fell, just as consistently, one year to the next, to just over 50,000.[mxxii] In 2008, the number is around 12,000.
Among the reasons author of the later volumes, Kellerman, thought returned soldiers had flocked to Freemasonry after 1945 was ‘a desire for companionship or mateship’.
The main reason, however, was that it was a reflection of the time. There was a spirit of idealism abroad after the War, a desire to build a better world…a strengthened belief in the Brotherhood of Man.
He, like Cramp, and like other ‘insider’ chroniclers, has simply assumed that what he wanted to believe about ‘his’ Order was unassailable truth. Reference to other fraternities which experienced membership increases at the same time, such as the Buffaloes and the Odd Fellows, would have revealed that more mundane attractions such as access to beer were factors.
Because post-War increases had made active participation in key lodge affairs less likely and advancement up the lodge ladder more competitive, it was believed by senior Masons that many ambitious initiates had drifted away. Smaller, ‘sister’ or ‘daughter’, lodges were encouraged as were lodges limited to an occupational group, a sporting group or profession, eg, bus drivers, steel workers, teachers. Members of ‘friendlies’ and ‘trade unions’ already knew about the activities instituted by Masonic lodges after 1955 to encourage attendance at meetings and involvement of family members. Current members were also exhorted to involve themselves in their civil communities to provide exemplars to others. In the 1960’s, what seemed to be a new approach by senior Masons appeared:
It was recognised that world changes in social standards, life-styles, attitudes to organised groups generally and suspicion of ‘secret societies’ had resulted in loss of interest and respect for Freemasonry both within and without the Order, and potential members would not be forthcoming as they had been..[mxxiii]
In 1964 a Committee was appointed in NSW to examine the relevant issues, eventually providing what became known as the Danks Report:
The exhaustive enquiry into reasons for falling membership bore out conclusively that the reasons were bound up with the appropriateness and relationship of Freemasonry to present-day society.
It was also found that ritual work needed to be improved, that general knowledge about Freemasonry was lacking, that fees had increased more than was appreciated, and that some regulations relating to the sponsoring of new members had to be relaxed:
We must now face up to the real facts that we have either recommended the wrong persons into the Craft, or we have failed to keep in touch with them, to convey properly to them the teachings of the Craft, when they have failed to attend Lodge meetings.[mxxiv]
The Committee came to the view, in Kellerman’s words, that if a hitherto loyal Mason had lost interest, the Lodge was at fault because it had failed in its primary object to ‘give its members Masonry, operative and speculative.’ Nowhere was the opinion canvassed that the problem might be with the product.
Four years after beginning its work, the Committee’s efforts were reviewed. There patently had not been a turnaround of member numbers. The Committee was re-convened and a follow-up investigation launched. Of 941 lodges in NSW, 760 Masters or 83% responded to a mailed-out questionnaire.
As the replies were analysed it became clear that a majority of Lodges had not adopted the recommendations contained in the (Danks)Report….The Committee (now) saw the problem basically as a severe communications problem..
After 1970 and further recommendations, membership continued to slide. More lodges were having to be closed or consolidated. Internal discussions began turning away from purely procedural matters.:
The real problems facing the Craft lie far deeper…If we are to play a role in society which is such that the public regards us so highly that they seek to join us, we should look carefully at our present image, because that is the image which is presently resulting in a decline in our Order.[mxxv]
The opinions of Lodge brethren, including those in overseas jurisdictions, were sought in 1976. These crystallised into a realisation that adverse social factors had not diminished but had increased in influence. The plethora of outside activities, social and philosophical changes, particularly with regard to the significance of women, the increasing age of brethren making lodge less attractive and poor communication between Grand Lodge and brethren were isolated as fundamental causes.
This second Report stressed that Freemasonry had survived through many centuries and that in spite of having made many changes in emphasis on a variety of aspects, ‘it had retained its fundamental beliefs’. The Committee in 1970 was sure
that we must re-affirm the ancient principles but with more concentration on the operative rather than the speculative aspects of them.
This distinction of ‘operative’ and ‘speculative’ is very interesting, as it does not derive from Masonic history, as it might appear to, on the surface. With the long-term history of fraternalism in mind, it’s instructive that nowhere in the Danks or the later Report, at least as Kellerman reviews them, was there reference to or any critique of Christianity, its role within Freemasonry, its changing circumstances in Australia, or to any of the other elements relevant to the Masonic ‘transmission theory’.
Kellerman, in 1989, ended his chapter on the ‘critical’ question of membership with the grandiose assertion:
There can be no doubt that Freemasonry is essential to mankind’s moral stability…
He followed immediately with the very valuable, albeit very obvious insight:
The problem of decreasing membership resolves itself into passing on Masonic ideals and practices to a receptive society.[mxxvi]
Jumping across two indecisive decades, it is possible to believe that relief might suddenly have arrived, from what was once called ‘home’, if only it had been perceived as such. In 2007, a scholar centrally-involved with Sheffield University’s ground-breaking Centre for Research into Freemasonry and Fraternalism wrote:
(We) have now entered a new phase in the historiography of Freemasonry, one in which much of its history needs to be re-written..(We) will have to cover the complete scope of all the fields which influenced or were influenced by Freemasonry, and where Freemasonry or Freemasons played a role.[mxxvii]
In other words, what was controversial and iconoclastic twenty five years ago about my approach has now moved, with no help from me, to the northern academic mainstream, and the whole root-and-branch of Freemasonry is now to be available to forensic investigators. Of course, those investigators must now ‘see’ Freemasonry differently:
We surely need more and better studies of guilds, confraternities, chivalric and knightly orders (both the original and the neo-ones) but also of friendly societies, Masonic ‘spin-off’ societies and Trade Unions, many of which we now know incorporate part of the Masonic heritage.
The Friendly Societies
Friendly society membership in Australia peaked just after the Second World War. In 1945, Registrar Sheldon of NSW’s Co-operatives and Friendly Societies emphasised what was at stake to the Annual MUIOOF Conference and spelled out one possible path to re-invention:
The friendly society movement in its genesis was essentially a social movement. Gradually its economic services displaced its social motivation…
We cannot hope to turn back the clock to the simple pleasures of our grandfathers’ times; but what we can do and what we must do..is to organise such pleasures and relaxations as now make an appeal on a community basis and in a (family-friendly) manner..
He asked himself:
And how can this be done? I know of only two methods – either by direct government action or by the widespread establishment of community centres (not ‘civic centres’)..
All local branches of all (friendly) societies must..combine for the purpose..
Within the community organisation each society can retain its own separate entity and pursue its own particular objective, but the unified strength of all can be used for the well-being of the local community and through it for the good of the nation.
Registrar Sheldon argued for the establishment of a ‘non-official Standing Conference on Community Centres’ with an office in central Sydney’s Macquarie Place. He urged all Friendly Societies to affiliate with The Co-operative Institute, an organisation embracing not only co-operative societies but also the Association of Co-operative Building Societies and Community Welfare Institutes.
Some ‘friendlies’ did affiliate and did attend some meetings, but ‘takeover possibilities’ and competitive advantages were far more seductive. The NSW Friendly Societies Association, for example, remained a tenuous month to month proposition, its surviving records, such as they are, indicating periods of inaction punctuated by brief bouts of, usually futile, enthusiasm. Similarly, a ‘Commonwealth Friendly Societies Council of Australia’, of which there is virtually nothing known, remained ineffective. Another of the grandly-titled bodies, the IOOF’s ‘Grand Lodge of Australasia’ claimed continuity from 1878 but in 1966 was still petitioning the ‘Sovereign Grand Lodge’ in the USA to have the term ‘Free White Male’ removed from its, ie the Australasian, ‘Code of Laws and Charter’. In other words it had achieved nothing on this issue in a century and had not asserted its autonomy, even as Freemasonry had done. Its petition continued – ‘or alternatively’:
- b) That the entry into the Order of Australian aborigines be permitted provided they are living according to accepted standards in settled communities and who, by reason of their education standard, are capable of understanding the import of the Initiatory Degree.[mxxviii]
In 1966, it maintained a list of ‘telegraphic ciphers’ for lodge use, including codewords relating to fraudulent travellers and members who had taken ill or had died away from home:
Eg. For ‘Black’ – read ‘He is a fraud and if he has a card or other papers from this lodge they are forgeries.’
‘Green’ – ‘Wire instructions to us at once as to the disposition of his remains.’
By 1945, however, neglect of their heritage and the consequent erosion of self-understanding had clearly left ‘friendlies’ with few cards to play and a much-reduced resource base to tap. Politicians’ interest in welfare votes had turned out to include an increasingly short-changed public health system run by State Governments, and the re-invention of working peoples’ benefit societies as a middle-class ‘private health industry’ tightly regulated by the Commonwealth.
In the last decades of the century, by which time the Affiliated Friendly Societies were unrecognisable shadows of their former selves, Federal Governments came to finish off the idea of mutuality in commerce, with a raft of ‘financial institutions’ legislation. While only a logical extension of the interventionist process begun in 1793, and while certain long-standing contradictions have continued, these multiple controls on what was left of fraternalism were of a new level of regulatory intrusiveness.
The 1989 Friendly Societies Act required societies to report each quarter on their accounts and their funds to a State Supervisory Authority, which replaced the Registrar of Friendly Societies. This Act made ‘Directors’ more accountable for the overall fiduciary performance of ‘their’ funds. In September 1997, a new Act brought ‘Friendly Societies’ into a revamped Financial Institutions Scheme, placing their Directors and their management under yet more onerous requirements, including that ‘adequate’ levels of reserves be held separately by all benefit funds operated by a society. Prudential standards were those set by the Australian Financial Institutions Commission. A Society’s assets now had to be kept separate and each benefit fund had to have its own bank account. Other provisions allowed proxy voting at Annual General Meetings and ‘encouraged’ the ‘de-mutualising’ of a Society.
Because the collapse or success of business entities has become of immediate political significance, the regulators have been told since 2001 to further tighten internal managerial process requirements under the heading of ‘improved corporate governance’. Even so, a ‘Working Paper’ prepared for the OECD in 2003 on ‘Private Health Insurance in Australia’ observed that:
Despite universal public insurance coverage, private health insurance covers almost half of the Australian population – a high coverage rate in comparison with most other OECD countries.[mxxix]
Their one-time fellow travellers, ‘Trade Unions’ and Speculative Freemasons, despite also suffering long-term major declines in membership and questioning of their relevance, continue to escape the same degree of legislated inspections and managerial oversight.