Masonic Buildings - Staging Post Pubs and Freemasonry

From our Lancefield Correspondent

You could easily miss it!

But catch sight of the blue square and compasses high upon the wall of the hotel built in 1889 and for those in the Craft comes immediate recognition.

You can spot it on the exterior of the third floor of the western side of the former hotel close by the then railway station at Lancefield: a little over a 60 minute drive out of Melbourne.

Though Lancefield does not figure in our “Masonic Guide” could it be that brethren met there but it closed before the United Grand Lodge of Victoria was constituted? A challenge for would be historians of the early craft!

Today it reminds one, of the close relationship Staging Posts and Pubs had in rural Australia during the earlier days of the craft. Days when it seems freemasonry was provided within easy access of people rather than, as is the case today, where masons are required to go to freemasonry.

Meeting in pubs seemed to have a number of advantages.

The Masonic brotherhood in the lodges would be strengthened by existing family, community and industry ties. Targets for assistance, charity and benevolence could be readily identified. The community would have a good knowledge of what Freemasonry is about.

Pub patrons who may be suitable for Freemasonry could be readily identified. Prospective Freemasons could be attracted by the intrigue of good well-respected citizens and some of the travelling strangers being so quickly and warmly welcomed then retiring to a private room. Pubs were a natural “catchment area” for prospective candidates. The costs including those of travelling by members would be relatively low.

Masonic Temples built near suburban railway stations in the 1920s also captured some of the advantages of community, local industry and the advantages of transport accessibility of the day.

Lancefield on the Bourke and Wills Track is now probably the first country town, a little over an hour’s drive north from Melbourne. Until 1956 there was a branch line from Clarkefield on the Melbourne-Bendigo line across to Romsey then to Lancefield. Before 1915 it then went through the Kilmore Gap, earlier called the Lancefield Gap, where it passed over the Great Dividing Range to Kilmore on the main Melbourne–Sydney train line.

In keeping with the times there was a hotel near the then Lancefield railway station, which is now a motel. That is where the blue square and compasses is high on the exterior wall of the third floor of the western side of the former hotel. Who would be likely to have attended lodge there in those early days?

The old hotel, built in 1889, would have been a remote staging post where horses were rested or changed and later a transit point for rail passengers. It would have been the only public building, except for the Mechanics Institute built in 1868 and other pubs, of which only one still stands. The former hotel is now an antiques centre and boasts an art gallery and a café – with this “yuppie” sort of stuff perhaps Lancefield is the last city town!

The other indicators of the last city town theory are what seem to be an abundance of bulky people particularly one gender – you do not see many hard working “battlers” off the land.

There are coffee shops. There is the fuel guzzling four-wheel-drives that city “farmers” prefer (yet more often than not with environmentalist pretentiousness!). You rarely see any sheep, dead or alive, or fencing material in the back of the vehicle – it is likely that most have never even towed a horse float.

Young men linger on corners at night in Lancefield triggering a recent increased police presence. The relative close proximity to Melbourne Airport at Tullamarine had an early influence on its urbanization in the early 1970s, turning it into a dormitory town for ground staff and aircrew often on small unproductive acreages in what was regarded as some of the most fertile soil in Victoria.

Lancefield would have been like many other main road towns throughout Victoria and England a couple of centauries ago, strategically positioned every 30 kilometers or so apart, a days travel on a horse.

The fathers and grandfathers of the servicemen that you see named on the World War 1 memorial statue in the main street undoubtedly would have formed the core of the members meeting in the pub. Some would have travelled by horse up to 20 miles to attend. Others would have arrived in transit by horse drawn vehicle or rail. They would have been the blacksmiths, forest workers from the nearby Cobaw Ranges, livestock farmers, railway men, bankers and small businessmen and so on. So it would have been in the other similar staging post pubs.

There would have been those similar to the A J “Banjo” Paterson and C J Dennis stereotypes – there are still a couple in Lancefield among the few remaining traditional farmers. You will find such as a couple of 3rd or 4th generation potatoes growers.

It’s easy to see how pubs and staging posts aided Freemasonry to come to the people in those early days.

Masonic Centers built and developed most recently have resulted in some, sadly only some, attractive buildings and better facilities. Others are functional but less than attractive. Such central facilities could be argued to be more cost effective, reducing the cost of Freemasonry for those that attend and provide a better venue for ritual.

The Masonic ritual “enthusiasts” would not have liked meeting in pubs but then we have been warned about enthusiasts! Central facilities seem an economic rationalist’s maintenance solution but certainly not a growth strategy.

Ironically, coinciding with the establishment of central facilities, we seem to have fewer Freemasons!

Community and family ties have largely been lost.

People have to go to Freemasonry rather it being provided for them where they are.

Maybe history is trying to tell us something and I wonder if anyone is listening!