"To preserve the reputation of the Fraternity unsullied must be your constant care."


Sunday, November 06, 2016

Reporter Has Kittens Over GL of Victoria, Australia Hiring Female CEO

The Weekend Herald Sun in Melbourne, Australia featured a lengthy article on Friday about the Grand Lodge of Victoria (Freemasons Victoria) breaking with longstanding tradition, throwing in the towel, and hiring a woman as their new Chief Executive to run the business and public image side of the fraternity.

It's difficult sometimes to tell with a news article whether the reporter intentionally added needless, ignorant and insulting swipes to the story herself, or if some sneering editor inserted their own after the piece was submitted. That's especially true with anti-Masonic insults. I've come to just expect them in the UK papers with stories about the fraternity, but it seems like a recent development in Australia. 

Unfortunately, smart-assed, snarky news writers seem to be the big thing in the mainstream press now, in some desperate attempt to remain "entertaining" enough to snag enough eyeballs to justify their ad rates.

From The Woman Set To Save Freemasonry by Susie O'Brien:

Freemasonry is an ancient worldwide secular society of men with its antecedents in medieval stonemasons’ guilds. 
It has a long and distinguished history in Australia, starting with botanist Joseph Banks on board the Endeavour in 1770. 
Until the 1970s, just about all Australian prime ministers were Freemasons. Other well-known members included cricketer Sir Donald Bradman, Sir Robert Menzies, Graham Kennedy and the inventors of the Freddo Frog and Vegemite.However, these glory days are well and truly gone. 
In the 1960s the Freemasons had 110,000 members in Australia; now there are only 9500 [sic - see my note at the bottom]. The organisation is losing 700 members annually — an unsustainable 8 per cent loss per annum. 
It’s no wonder this men’s-only club is undergoing the biggest overhaul in its Australian history. 
There is simply no choice. With declining revenues, memberships and relevance, the Freemasons must modernise or slowly die. 
In a startling move, the person Freemasons Victoria has chosen to oversee this monumental task is a woman; its first female CEO, Jane Sydenham-Clarke. 
Engaging, razor-sharp and dressed in chic black, Sydenham-Clarke has built an impressive reputation turning around struggling organisations. Or, as she calls it, undertaking “change-management journeys”. 
This is one woman who likes a challenge. 
Sydenham-Clarke is more inclined to address the gender issue head-on. 
“I want to state the obvious. I am not a man,” she told a room of curious Freemasons in September. “But I am daughter of a very proud Freemason.” 
It was just nine days after taking her post, and Sydenham-Clarke was addressing a Freemasons business lunch in a distinguished mahogany-lined room at the Rendezvous Hotel. It was almost certainly the first time anyone at such a gathering had thrown around such un-Masonic terms as “robust in the digital space” and “building brand architecture”. 
“We’ll be moving with the times,” she told the lunch. This involves “getting the product right” and working out “what success looks like”. 
“Today’s young man is well-educated, they have a family and they’re time-poor, so we need to ensure we are relevant to their lives,” she said later.Given the average age of a Freemason is 67, this emphasis on engaging younger members is no mean feat. 
Five weeks later, after a frantic whirlwind of meetings, events and research, Sydenham-Clarke admits the Freemasons is like a “parallel universe”.But it’s one she’s clearly happy to inhabit. 
It’s fair to say that in her previous positions she didn’t get escorted to her car after a meeting by a swordsman decked out in ceremonial garb. 
It’s telling that this ancient organisation has turned to a woman to rescue it — a woman it won’t admit as a member. 
This doesn’t appear to be an issue for Sydenham-Clarke. She is adamant the Freemasons can bring about renewal and rejuvenation without admitting females as members.
A tour of the new Box Hill Lodge, led by Freemasons Peter Atkin and Richard Elkington, is both enlightening and baffling. 
It is a nondescript office-style building on Maroondah Highway, but inside it contains two plush meeting places redolent with ceremonial artefacts and centuries-old traditions. The meeting rooms are grand and rectangular, with wooden seats facing inward towards a rectangular chequerboard carpet. 
Ancient symbols of Masonry abound. These include the rough and smooth stones representing the journey from ignorance to knowledge and the compass and square representing lessons in conduct. 
A letter G is suspended over the central carpet, and three grand wooden thrones dominate one end of the room. There are also wooden cupboards containing symbols of the three degrees of Freemasonry teachings and ritual processes: the shaping tools, the managing tools and the recording tools. 
Once a month Freemason members from surrounding lodges meet there. They come to meetings in dinner suits, wearing different sheepskin aprons according to their rank and experience. 
Atkin says the sheepskin is highly significant because it “reminds us that despite how high up you get, you remember who you were when you first came through the door”. 
A sign in the Box Hill Lodge cloakroom for a prostate cancer support group symbolises the age range of the cohort. 
Atkin says he was initiated to the Freemasons 46 years ago. 
“I’m a young guy,” he chuckles. 
This is what passes as a joke in Freemason circles. 
It’s hard not to be impressed by the passion and respect both Atkin and Elkington feel for this somewhat strange set of rituals. But at the same time, it’s all a bit odd. 
Where else do grown men discuss the Grand Architect of the Universe? Wear ceremonial aprons? Stand around talking about installation of the Sunshine Wisdom Lodge or the Lodge of the Golden Fleece? 
And that doesn’t even include the secret bits they don’t talk about: the rumoured rolled-up trouser leg on initiation, the secret handshake involving... 
There it is, right on cue: the rubber stamped "rolled-up trouser leg" trademark of the Anglo-influenced press. Never mind. You get the picture. But honestly - was there some compelling reason to take special schoolgirl glee in the middle of an otherwise fairly respectful piece to go out of the way to toss off completely unnecessary and uncalled for insulting wisecracks, and even childishly dish up what she thinks is the "secret handshake"? 

Then there's this a little farther down:
Change is definitely afoot, but there’s a long way to go. Sydenham-Clarke will have her work cut out. 
First the Freemasons need to get over the public perception that their organisation is little more than a bunch of old men keeping ancient secrets, exchanging secret handshakes and riding goats at initiation ceremonies.Reynolds is keen to make one thing very clear — there are no goats.“I haven’t seen one yet,” he says. 
Given he joined the organisation at 24, and has been a Freemason for close to 40 years, he probably knows. 
Secret rituals? Yes. 
Handshakes? Yes. 
Goats? No. 
Good to get that cleared up. 
Sydenham-Clarke also wants to move the agenda on from handshakes and farmyard animals...
Yuk. Yuk. Yuk.

Feel free to read the whole thing if you feel some morbid compulsion. Sadly, this is what passes for "journalism" now, and we need to be aware of it before we go nosing around for publicity. It's certainly been all over the mainstream press in England since the 1990s, and it has apparently been transplanted to Australia now. 

If so, I'm afraid Ms. Sydenham-Clarke's mission to build Freemasonry's brand architecture in Victoria may be an arduous uphill battle.

NOTE: Reporterette O'Brien obviously wasn't taking careful notes and makes things appear more dire than the truth. She asserts early in the piece that there are just 9,500 Masons in Australia today, down from a height of 110,000. While it is certainly down substantially from its greatest post-WWII numbers these days, the most recently compiled Australian numbers actually show there to be 36,907 Masons nationwide. (That number does not include lodges operating under charters of the three Home GLs of England, Ireland, and Scotland. And if you want to unofficially toss New Zealand in just because they're so close, that adds another 7,900.)

From Grand Lodge figures reported in late 2015:

NSW 12,000
Queensland  7,400
South AU and Northern Territory 2,507
Victoria  10,200
Western AU  3,600
Tasmania  1,200


  1. The story is wrong. The 9500 members it quotes for Australia is for the State of Victoria only. The State Queensland has over 7000 members.

    Past Grand Librarian
    United Grand Lodge of Queensland.

    1. Thanks for noting that. It forced me to go look up the latest numbers from the 2016 Pantagraph list and update the post. Yes, it's down to a third of where it once was, but let's not open a vein over it because it's not nearly as catastrophic as she made it seem.

  2. Brilliant move by Freemasons Victoria to recognise the need to engage an external and impartial party to bring together the masonic community with the general community to benefit all.

  3. We have a female CEO of the Freemasons Homes and the Grand Lodge business side of things here in Western Australia. No biggie, it seems to make sense to separate the business side of things and the membership/ceremonial side. There have been some conflicts over property, but that comes from the business vs not-for-profit differences.

  4. 36,907 worldwide? There are around 21,000 Freemasons in the Philippines alone. Im sure that number is dwarfwd compared to the population of the Brethren in North America. Also, I think the appointment of the woman CEO pertains only to the proprietary part of the business of Freemasonry. It has no relation to the ritualistic part of Freemasonry which is still exclusive to members of the Craft.

    1. No, I said 36,907 Masons "nationwide", meaning the nation of Australia. That is a calculation of regular, recognized members as reported by the respective Grand Lodges there.

      As to your numbers, the GL F&AM of the Philippines currently reports just under 19,000.

      As for the US, the MSA reports that the 2015 figures sit at 1,161,253 for mainstream GLs. And very few PHA GLs publicly report their numbers, so I have no idea how to accurately determine that figure.

  5. Hi Christopher your figures do not include two states being Western Australia and Tasmania. Arguably you could add New Zealand and Pacific Islands into the mix plus the various district Grand Lodges operating under the three home Grand Lodges.

    1. Jared,
      Whoops, sorry. I added the numbers for Western AU and Tasmania to the original total, so that figure is still 36,907 for all of Australia. I just forgot to type their individual memberships on the list. Fixed now.

      New Zealand adds another 7,900.

      I have no breakout numbers available for the Home GLs' provincial and district lodges. If you or anybody else could hazard an educated guess as to their membership, I'll revise the article.

  6. Christopher,

    Just to clarify, Susie's figures are actually correct at the time of that article. The exact figures of our members are updated on our new website within our About page (for full transparency).

    However, it is worth noting that this figure relates to affiliated members, and not Freemasons within the state.

    1. Andrew,

      The article is now hidden behind a paywall that I'm not going to feed in order to see it again, but my recollection was that she said 9,500 for AUSTRALIA, not just Victoria. I don't doubt that there's a difference of 850 or so from Victoria's 2015 figures I had access to, but she obviously stumbled over her geography.


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