SECRET rituals, rumours of strange goings on, for many people, these are their first thoughts of Masonic Lodges.
But now, that is all about to change, as lodges around Ipswich open the doors to welcome new members into their ranks.
As Ipswich's Lodge Caledonian Number 14 celebrates its 150th anniversary, three of the city's Masonic Lodges are opening their doors and inviting new members to become part of the global movement.
The Lodge Caledonian was officially warranted on February 19, 1866, after the United Tradesmen's Lodge Number 12 received its sanction on December 7, 1865 while the Queensland Lodge Number 2 is the oldest, with its warrant dated June 19, 1861.
Initially, members of the lodges were drawn from industry and commerce around the district, with the Queensland Lodge membership comprised mostly of merchants, while the other two drew applicants from tradesmen, especially the railways works.
Greg Murray, Master of the Lodge Caledonian, said his father was the lodge's first member who did not work on the railway.
Ian De Villiers, immediate past Master of Queensland Lodge Number 2, said Freemasonry traces its history to 600BC, in the era of King Solomon.
"It was the earliest form of trade unionism, it was a way of supporting their trade skills, and recognising each other," Mr De Villiers said.
"Masons are the largest men's club in the world, but within the masonic fraternity there are organisations for young men, women and ladies."
Mr De Villiers said the Masonic movement has a strong community support ethic, and lodges regularly support the needy in their community.
"That is very important to us, one of our basic roots is charity."
The Queensland Lodge makes an annual donation of books to school libraries, and also supports the Ipswich Women's Shelter with donations.
"We always provide goods, the recipients identify what is needed and the lodge buys it for them."
Mr De Villiers said the Queensland Freemasons Board of Benevolence provides 'dollar for dollar' support to every lodge in Queensland, to a capped limit of $3,000 each year.
"It means if we raise $2,500 for a charity, then we actually have $5,000 to support them with."
Jim Williams, of United Tradesmen's Lodge Number 12, said there are seven lodges in Ipswich, with four using the Ipswich Masonic Centre, and another three use the Masonic Hall in Booval.
"We are all independent, but any mason can be admitted to any lodge in the world," Mr Williams said.
Another basic tenet of the masonic fraternity is equality, with all members seen as equals, Mr Williams said.
"We all wear dinner suits, so that we are all equals, Masonry is not based on social standing, you could have a doctor and a lawyer and a streetsweeper, they are all equal."
Instead, Mr Williams said prospective members must be 'good men'.
"Our members must be an honest person, of good moral standing, we find the members we attract are the more community minded, they are givers, not takers.
"We take good men, and make better men out of them."
While the lodges are working to improve their public perception, Mr De Villiers said the Masonic 'secrets' would always remain.
"The 'secrets' date back to the formation of Masonry, they were illiterate, so the secrets were the way they could communicate without the written word," he said.
"Hence our belief in turning a good man into a better man, it reflects the masonic art of taking a rough stone and making it perfect."
Mr De Villiers said while Masonry is not a religious organisation members must have a belief in a 'Supreme Being', but each member is allowed to make their own choices.
"We believe in a Supreme Being, not necessarily God, it allows all religions to participate equally, it is up to the individual to have their own belief structure.
"But all lodges pledge allegiance to the leader of the country, whether it is a Queen, President or Prime Minister."
Mr Murray said Masonry is a 'fun' organisation, although it does have serious aspects.
"We do have serious parts, but we have a lot of fun parts, our only taboo is there is no discussion of religion or politics while in the hall," Mr Murray said.
"We have a 'festive board' after each meeting, plus there is an 'instillation banquet' when a new Master is installed each year."
Mr Williams said the lodges are inviting gentlemen to come forward if they are interested in becoming a Mason in Ipswich.
"The Queensland Lodge meets in the daytime, but the Tradesmen's Lodge and Lodge Caledonian both meet at night, there are opportunities for everyone."
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