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Fraternal Societies Collection


For the last five years, the Special Collections team has worked on the documentation, digitisation and preservation of a collection of photographs, certificates, honour boards, regalia and badges belonging to fraternal societies active in the Newcastle and Hunter region, across Australia and internationally. The collection was donated by University alumnus and historian Dr Bob James.


BJFSM0156 Loyal Orange Lodge celebration, Melita, Canada, 1914

The Collection

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.

Masonic chain detail, clasped hands motif

BJFSM0518 Chain detail with clasped hands motif.

Loyal Orange Lodge sash

BJFSM0519 Detail of Loyal Orange Lodge sash.

Waratah embroidered on blue masonic 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.

Society of United Fishermen

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.


Highlighted Societies


Dr Garritt Van Dyk, University of Newcastle

From Rituals and Parades to Insurance and Mutual Aid: The Origin and Historical Significance of the Friendly Societies

Dr Erin McCarthy

Dr Erin McCarthy, University of Newcastle

The Dr Bob James Fraternal Societies Collection: Opportunities for Teachers and Students

Dr Heather Calloway, Indiana University

Preserving Fraternal Collections: Dr. Heather Calloway shares about Saving Fraternal Artifacts


Dr Bob James

Bob James, 2012

Dr Bob James is an historian and avid researcher of the history of Fraternalism in Australia. He has dedicated 40 years to building a collection that illustrates a history of community self-help and mutual aid, offering an alternative view to the official European Australian narrative. Dr James’ tireless collecting has uncovered an intriguing and diverse range of materials which provide a unique insight into the history of Australian Fraternal Societies and have informed his research and writing on the subject. His generous donation of the Fraternal Societies collection and ongoing support to the University of Newcastle will allow students and researchers to continue the interrogation and interpretation of this notable resource. You can read more on Dr James' research at

Conservator statement

In the last five years, a team of dedicated people within the University of Newcastle’s Special Collections, in collaboration with local donor Dr Bob James, have worked on the documentation, digitisation and preservation of a collection of photographs, certificates, honour boards, regalia and badges belonging to fraternal societies active in the Newcastle and Hunter region. As primary sources, these items provide opportunities for researchers interested in investigating early Australian working-class efforts in shaping what we know today as our welfare system. Special Collections supports teaching activities and research projects using the Dr Bob James Fraternal Societies Collection. For more information or to make a booking contact us.