Lifting the veil on the world of Freemasonry video

TETSURO MITOMO/FAIRFAX NZ

Freemason Jeff Elston opens up the doors of the St Augustine Freemasons Lodge.

It was an unlikely celebration for the St Augustine Lodge.

The Waimate Freemason's lodge did not appear it would even get off the ground, let alone celebrate its 100th anniversary in 1975.

Settled off the main street of the South Canterbury town, the lodge found its first stable home in a shed on a section that was bought for £41, a mere 21 years after the town was formed.

Freemason senior warden and membership warden Jeff Elston holds the wand of a deacon, while showcasing the St Augustine ...
TETSURO MITOMO/FAIRFAX NZ

Freemason senior warden and membership warden Jeff Elston holds the wand of a deacon, while showcasing the St Augustine Freemasons Lodge in Waimate.

Lodge historian TA Wilson, in an early history for the centennial programme, had noted flax and tussock were still grown along the wider portion of the main street around the time the lodge was created.

"We would surely say that the prospects of establishing an active lodge of Freemasons in this area in 1875 would indeed have been remote, to say the least," Wilson said.

The link with Timaru was via an unformed and dusty bullock track. While immigrants passed through the area, they rarely settled, he said.

The year before the lodge was settled, the population was between 700 and 800 people.

"It is said that the inhabitants included a critical and sometimes disorderly element that gave the township the reputation of being both lively and radical," Wilson said.

Freemason senior warden and membership warden Jeff Elston said the lodge was "the longest running ratepayer in the district".

"Freemason lodges have all been called 'secret societies', I prefer to call them a society with some secrets," Elston said.

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"The whole idea is symbolism."

During a meeting, two men guard the inside and outside of the door to the room, swords in hand.

Each man has to be "proven and tested" before they can enter the room, he said.

It is a symbolic nod to the days when Freemasons would have to guard their doors from intruders.

Once a man had been tested, he could enter.

A celestial sky, painted on the ceiling, would open up as he walked in.

Red patterned carpet surrounds a tessellated black and white ceremonial floor with tassels on each corner.

When a man is ready to be sworn in as a Freemason brother, he steps onto the ceremonial floor and kneels at an altar to "take an obligation" to the Freemasons.

It is the first and the last time he will touch that tessellated floor.

Elston has not stepped onto it for seven years.

"I can trace Freemasons in my family back to Dover, England in 1805," he said.

His great-grandfather, grandfather, father and now his son have all been Freemasons.

During a meeting, each brother walks around the tessellated floor clockwise as a symbolic movement to represent the Earth's orbit around the sun, past three throne-like chairs.

The Worshipful Master, Senior Warden and Junior Warden sit on these three seats, the number of steps leading to the chairs representing their places in the hierarchy.

The Worshipful Master sits on a three-stepped throne and leads the meeting. He is one of seven primary officers in the Freemasons' lodge.

St Augustine started with several townsmen in 1875 deciding to send a petition to the Provincial Grand Lodge of Scotland to set up a new lodge.

The request was granted.

St Augustine started as a Scottish lodge, before a New Zealand constitution replaced the Scottish one in 1894.

Membership has since swelled to more than 40 brothers in 2016.

Elston said "a ceremony could have 45 to 50 [brothers] and a new installation could have up to 100 in the hall".

And in front of these groups, a lone man will stand up, without a ritual book, and speak for up to an hour.

"Everything comes from memory," Elston said.

"When you start, you gradually work your way into it and they teach you how to do this."

In celebration of St Augustine Lodge's centennial in 1975, Canterbury provincial grand master KS Forne wrote a brief message.

"When your founders met this must have been a isolated spot. It was an world we would scarcely recognise," Forne said.

"St Augustine Lodge No.99 has made its due contributions to the work of Masonry in Canterbury and I have no doubt that the Waimate district is the richer for the influence of this Lodge operating quietly through its members for almost all its history."

"Keep to the principles of Masonry that the candle that you lit 100 years ago may become such a beacon as will never go out."

Wilson said" "a Freemasons Lodge is a living entity, its strength being reflected by the expression by its members of the teachings they have absorbed".

While membership was not as high as it had been, Elston said fraternity and benevolence were still central values for the Freemasons.

"The Freemasons carried out charitable work without notice," Elston said. "It keeps the mysticism."

However, a directive was issued by the Grand Master of Freemasons New Zealand late last year to lift the veil of secrecy.

Elston said brothers would still hold some of their rituals behind closed doors, but now it was time for transparency and openness.

It was a time to bring others into the fold, he said.

 - Stuff

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