There are many theories concerning the origins of Freemasonry. Some scholars claim to have traced the lineage of the Fraternity as far back as the original builders of the Egyptian pyramids, while others believe that Freemasonry was a development of the Knights Templar formed after their demise at the hands of King Phillip IV of France in 1307.
While there may or may not be some truth to these assertions, there does not seem to be any cast-iron historical evidence to support such theories. What we do know with reasonable certainty is as follows.
During the Middle Ages, many European monarchs embarked on ambitious building programs, resulting in the beautiful Gothic churches and cathedrals which still stand today. Many of these larger structures took decades to build and employed thousands of stonemasons. In those days, most common people lived under a feudal system whereby their work and their very lives were the property of their lord. The craft of Masonry, on the other hand, was so specialized and valuable that Masons enjoyed the rare privilege of being ‘free’ – in other words, they could travel, live and ply their trade wherever they wished. This is the origin of the term ‘Freemason’.
Masons were highly paid workers so it became essential to distinguish genuine Masons from those who would attempt to obtain work without being qualified. Local communities of Freemasons therefore organized themselves into ‘Lodges’ consisting of a Master (the chief architect), his two Wardens (who helped him run the bureaucracy of the Lodge) and a body of skilled workers. Those workers consisted of apprentices who were learning the art of masonry and ‘fellows of the craft’ who were fully-qualified Masons performing the actual construction work. The Lodges developed certain means of recognition consisting of secret passwords and signs. In this way a Freemason could ply his trade wherever he wished and the local Lodge could be sure that they were only hiring genuine Freemasons.
As these vast building programs wound down, work became more scarce for Freemasons, but the local Lodges survived since they had developed into central hubs for social activity and fraternity. In time, these Lodges began to admit ‘Speculative’ Masons – men who were not Masons by trade, but who wished to share in the Brotherhood and knowledge of the organization with like-minded men whom they might otherwise never meet due to religious, political or economic restrictions. Eventually the Speculative Masons grew to outnumber the Operative Masons, and the customs and rituals of Masonry were adapted to serve the purpose of building spiritual buildings instead of physical edifices. Freemasonry was thus born – an organization that takes good men and makes them better by applying a system of moral education founded in the symbolism and allegories of operative stonemasons.
In England in 1717 four Lodges decided to create a formal organisation by forming the first Grand Lodge. Freemasonry then spread across Europe and to other countries with amazing speed. The first Freemason to step upon the shores of Botany Bay was Joseph Banks the botanist who accompanied Captain Cook on his voyage of discovery. Yet it wasn’t until 1820 that the first warranted lodge met, the Australian Social No 260 IC, though there had been earlier meetings though not under Warrant. The distinction of being the first Grand Lodge in Australia is held by the Grand Lodge of South Australia, which was formed in 1884. Masonry in Queensland started in the year 1859 with the establishment of Northern Australian Lodge No 1098 UGLE, with the Grand Lodge of Queensland being formed in 1904. READ MORE