The Dr Bob James Fraternal Societies collection is made up of a rich assortment of photographs, certificates, honour boards, regalia, and badges. These objects belonged to fraternal societies active in the Newcastle and Hunter region, across Australia and internationally in the late 19th and 20th centuries. The collection provides researchers with the opportunity for further interrogation, exploration and interpretation to build on the narratives explored in this exhibition.
BJFSM1227 A ceremonial horn, Ancient Order of the Foresters.
BJFSM1111 Collar detail, Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes.
BJFSM0518 Chain detail with clasped hands motif.
BJFSM0519 Detail of Loyal Orange Lodge sash.
BJFSM0593 Detail of a Waratah embroidered on a blue sash.
The modern conceptualisation of fraternal societies goes back to 17th century Britain. The ultimate aim and function of these networks were preserving a working-class person's respectability through keeping out poverty. This ideal was brought to Australia by immigrants hoping for dignity in the new home. Accordingly, it could be safely suggested that the associational networks, also known as fraternal societies, at least partly shaped the future of Australian social infrastructures.
BJFSM0338: A certificate for George Ludlow, Society of United Fisherman, 1907
BJFSM0039: The Theosophical Society was openly inclusive “without distinction of race,
creed, sex, caste or colour” which is a point of difference from other societies.
The history of fraternal societies in Australia dates to the arrival of the first fleet in the late 18th century. Yet, it took about half a century for the first Australian grand lodge to open in Sydney in 1845. Since then, fraternal societies introduced many influential figures whose names appear in our institutions or political history. Lachlan Macquarie, Matthew Flinders, Samuel Walker Griffith, William Wentworth, Edith Cowan, Edmund Barton, and Robert Menzies are among the most notable members of the fraternal societies.
In Newcastle, among other movements, the Orange institute emerged in the years after 1868 and established their women’s lodge around 1898. It was a progressive move in its historical context. Newcastle was a working-class society.
BJFSM0148 Independent Order of Rechabites.
There has been a significant overlap between the lodges and Labour Party membership. By the late 19thcentury, there was a strong connection between the Labour and the Loyal Orange Lodges in Newcastle. Orangeism resonated with the Novocastrians demands for a regulated eight-hour-day, state-enforced safety conditions in mines, early closing on Saturday night for shops and establishment of retail cooperatives.
BJFSM0274 Grand executive members of the Loyal Orange Institute of Australia, November 1950
BJFSM0542 Masonic collar for the Scottish Rite, made by A S Thompson.
Above is a photograph of the Grand Executive of the Loyal Orange Institution of Australia, in November 1950, with Walter Peden Joyce Skelton (1883-1979), fourth from the left on the front row, Orangeist, railway officer and politician, in New South Wales. It illustrates that the fraternal lodges have been in a sound situation, and they continued to live their political life at least until the late 1950s.
The collar on the left was hand-embroidered by Mrs A S Thompson (nee Adelia Sylvia Magner), a resident of Islington, NSW, who spent 40 years making regalia for fraternal societies. The "Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate", published a story on Mrs Thomson's work on 20 April of 1950. This article, plus several funeral notices for Gilbert Horler, the mercery business holder in 1946 show that there had been enough lodges to support regalia making businesses in mid-20th century, Newcastle.
Adelia Thomson passed away in 1960. It seems that in the same vein, the social and political changes, as well as the establishment of the state-sponsored welfare system, resulted in the fraternal movement in general, and Orangeism in particular, also passing away in the second half of the 20th century. However, their legacy stays with us in form of buildings carrying fraternal symbols, and names of influential fraternals on streets or institutions.