IN an unremarkable brick building headed by a square and compass lies 300 years of ritual and secret.
For the first time, Peel Lodge Freemasons opened their doors to The Leader.
In a dinner suit, cinched at the neck with a bowtie sits David Robertson, 60 years after his initiation.
“There are secret handshakes, and that goes right back to the days before there were Freemasons and operative masons,” he said.
“Hardly anyone in 1700 could read or write [but] way back into the 1400s we can read the meetings of the minutes.
“When a person was admitted as an apprentice to a craft lodge he was given the ‘Mason Word’ – we have no idea what that word was.”
Freemasonry is a fraternal organisation that started with the Grand Lodge in London in 1717.
In New South Wales, Freemasons follow the rituals of the Irish constitution.
No women are allowed to join.
Everything in the lodge exudes symbolism. Members must walk in a clockwise direction in the same way the planets move around the sun.
Sitting beneath a golden G in a triangle, in front of a checquered floormat with a sun – “the blazing glory” – in the centre, Mr Robertson tells of the three degrees.
“When you join the lodge, you learn things and progress from one degree to another,” he said.
“There are masonic lodges that go up to 33 degrees.
“You become an entered apprentice when you’ve done your first degree and you sit in the northeast corner of the lodge. When you do your second degree, you move and sit in the southeast corner. When you’ve done your third degree, you can sit anywhere in the lodge.”
The northeast corner is typically where the cornerstone of a new building is placed, the idea being that new members are built up as they move around the room.
Christopher Kelly is an entered apprentice. He worked at a Masonic Lodge RFBI nursing home in Tamworth before deciding to join.
“To start with, I’ll be upfront: yes it was [confronting],” he said.
“It was a big eye-opener for me because everything I looked at online – and you do get those false videos on YouTube – that’s what I thought it was going to be like.
“You walk in and it’s completely different.”
The grand master, addressed as Most Worshipful Brother, sits at the head of the room beneath the square and compass.
“I’ve sat on the board with the grand master and he’s addressed as that; after that, you call him Derrick or boss,” Mr Robertson said.
Members are forbidden from talking about religion or politics, yet a Bible sits on the masonic altar at the front of the room.
There are rituals, but Mr Robertson said he couldn’t give away too much.
“There are some secret things, the teachings we teach,” he said.
“But we’re not a religion and we have no dogma; we do not reject anybody else’s dogma.
“You have to respect everybody’s right to their own beliefs. It’s not a case of tolerating them, it’s acknowledging that they’re entitled to their own beliefs.”
Dressed in a smart black-and-white dinner suit, the slick uniform is more about equality than formality.
Known by the square and compass logo, even that has meaning, Mr Robertson said.
“We act on the square to all mankind and the compass is to keep our passions and prejudices within due bounds,” he said.
“We say we meet on the level and part on the square.”
At the front of the room sit two blocks of stone, one rough and one shaped.
It’s a metaphor for the way Freemasons enter the lodge and how the rituals change them.
Mr Robertson said the purpose of the rituals was to get a message across.
“It’s a bit like the parables in the New Testament or the Aboriginal Dreamtime stories,” he said.
“We’re telling stories with a message in them and that’s what it’s all about.”