The mysterious world of Freemason Derek Robson. [Photo by Silas Brown]
Freemason with secrets to share
[Canberra culture August 25, 2011 at 9:21 am] by Kathryn Vukovljak
ONCE a secret society of mysterious passwords, unexplained symbols and obscure handshakes, the Freemasons are now revealing what goes on behind closed doors, according to Derek Robson, the newly elected Grand Master of the Freemasons in NSW and ACT.“We encourage men to live an ethical life; it’s not something to be hidden away,” he says.
“We’ve been told by past Grand Masters to ‘dare to be different’ and that ‘Freemasonry is good – let’s talk about it’. I want to promote open discussion.”
Derek, a former Australian Navy officer and now national secretary of the RSL, was installed as Grand Master in early August, something he describes as a huge honour, particularly as he is keen to “break down the veil of secrecy” surrounding the ancient men’s organisation.“We’re a worldwide fraternity, and although we’ve been called a secret society over the years, it’s time to reverse that,” says Derek, who’s been a Freemason since 1978.
“It’s not a secret society; it’s a society with secrets. And there’s nothing wrong with having secrets. Everyone has a PIN number that they don’t tell anyone else. For us it’s part of the mystique of the craft.”
Secrets such as Masonic passwords and handshakes date from biblical times, Derek says, when stonemasons and skilled artisans with differing dialects would use certain words and handshakes to identify themselves.
“We also use stonemasons’ tools as a visual way to remind us how to live a better life,” he says.
“Members are encouraged to allocate time to work, family, the Lodge and charitable acts. It’s important that no one thing becomes dominant in our lives, which is why we have the 24-inch ruler as one of our ‘tools’ – it reminds us to plan the 24 hours in the day.
“I particularly like the mallet, which represents taking action.”
Derek says there is some crossover between his work at the RSL and Freemasons. “The core values of care and the welfare of others are similar,” he says.
The only subjects banned in the Lodge are religion and politics, says Derek, and this is to encourage camaraderie and togetherness, and to protect the individual views of members.
“While we suggest themes for behaviour, there are no specific answers and members are encouraged to interpret themes to suit their own beliefs and what they want from their lives,” he says.
Freemason meetings are very simple, Derek says, and usually start out with administrative issues. “We also take part in 300-year-old rituals that we have to memorise,” he says.
“Then we close with a light supper, chat, speeches and toasts. There’s always a social aspect.”
Derek says there’s been a resurgence in interest in the Freemasons of late.
“Happily, we have more young men joining now than we’ve had in decades,” he says. “Our well-worn philosophy is that we make good men better, and people are attracted to that way of life.
“Anyone interested can just ask questions – we’ve taken away the mystery.”