The precise origins of Freemasonry are unknown.
While theories abound, the most widely held belief is that modern Freemasonry evolved out of stonemasons' guilds in 17th century England.
Early in 1949, on a very wild and windy night, several yachtsmen were attending a meeting at the Blantyre Lodge in Elsternwick. After the lodge meeting they decided to check the safety of their yachts in the harbour at Brighton. Huddled down in the lee of the pier shed, their task completed, Vic White was heard to say - "A Masonic Lodge for yachtsmen - what about it boys?"
The seed fell on fertile ground indeed. The inspiration came from Brothers Vic White, Bill Kershaw, Bert Ireland, F. Stevens, E. Ireland and K. Eriksen, who advanced the idea, arranged meetings to encourage interest and form the plan for the consecration of the new Lodge. The Brighton-Lowry Lodge was the sponsor and is now referred to as our 'mother' Lodge.
So in June 1950, the new Lodge was consecrated at the Brighton temple, and was named 'Hearts of Oak' after the stirring naval marching music. By all accounts it was quite an event, presided over by the then deputy Grand Master, Brother Tom Baillie, representing the Grand Master; the temple was packed to its limit on the day and a full report of the proceedings was published in the masonic paper, 'The Victorian Craftsman' shortly thereafter. It has often been irreverently referred to as 'Hearty Soaks'.
Following a custom of the sea, it was decided that the Loyal Toast at the festive board would be observed seated and at attention, and the custom remains to this day.
Being a group of enthusiastic souls, it wasn't long before some lively events occurred, which rapidly grew into custom, then to tradition. These were of course all within the bounds of good taste and masonic behaviour.
The 'fore and aft' hat worn by the Master of the lodge at the conclusion of each meeting is of the style worn by the Merchant Venturers of Bristol, and was donated to the lodge by Bro Pat Swinchatt whose home port was Bristol. A handsome naval officer's sword was presented by Bro Fred Johnson and is used on ceremonial occasions.
In addition to support for both masonic and community charitable pursuits, which are a cornerstone of masonic philosophy, the lodge has in recent years instituted a scholarship for young sailors, to encourage the pursuit of excellence and offer opportunities for young people to do as well as they can. One early such recipient proceeded to win the World Champioonship in the Mirror Dinghy class.
One new scholarship is awarded each year and runs for two years. Thus, part of the focus of fund raising is directed towards this worthwhile goal.
Early in the lodge's history, a regular visit was made to a lodge in Casterton; more recently a visit is made to the Maritime Lodge (a Lodge of Merchant Seamen), often sailing across the bay and mooring overnight at Williamstown. The interchange of banter between the two lodges is well known and continues. A trophy entitled 'The Light Fingers Cup' commemorates these visits.
From all corners of the globe have come donations of flags and burgees from other clubs and organisations. One of the more significant is that of the Royal Thames Yacht Squadron, the donation being arranged by the Lodge Foundation Secretary and the donor none other than Sir Winston Churchill. Also of note is the car pennant of Sir Robert Menzies in his office as Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports in England. A naval White Ensigh is hoisted behind the Master's chair, whilst in one corner is an American flag flown at the Australian base in Vietnam during that conflict. The house flags of several shipping lines, along with the burgees of many yacht clubs and code flags adorn the supper room at every meeting.
In conjunction with the fraternal visits of Hearts of Oak and the Maritime Lodge, joint chapel services have been held in the chapel of St. Peter at the Missions to Seaman in Flinders St over the past twenty years.
Donations have come from many sources, perhaps none more significant than the model yacht used in the Little Ships Ceremony. This was built and donated by Brother Leslie Fox, whose two sons Bill and Jack became early members of the Lodge and both served in the office or Master. The ship's bell was donated by two of our Foundation members as was the Bible used at all meetings of the Lodge. The burgee which adorns the lodge room was designed and painted by Rosemary Klenner, daughter of one of our Foundation members. The motto 'Amate Fratres' means "Love to the Brethren.". The Lodge ballot box is modelled on a buoy which used to be off Brighton to warn sailors of a dangerous reef.
The March meeting each year is devoted to showing our non-masonic yachting friends a little of the customs and legendary hospitality of Hearts of Oak. An eminent speaker is engaged to speak on a yachting subject and have ranged from Brother Sir James Hardy, Lou Abrahams, to the late Ben Lexcen who in the year they won the America's Cup, said at our 1983 meeting in his larrikin manner - "we think we've got it right this time". Prophetic. A short lecture about the lodge is given for the benefit of non-masons and it is not unusual for some to express interest in joining the lodge.
Following WW1, it became custom for lodges to observe the Ceremony of the Vacant Chair - a short solemn remembrance of a place left vacant for absent brethren who did not return from that war. Following this tradition, approval was given for Hearts of Oak to conduct a ceremony of remembrance to commemorate the evacuation of 330,000 allied troops from Dunkirk in a fleet of little ships in May 1941. This ceremony is conducted at the May meeting each year and employs the house flag of the Dunkirk Veteran's Association, donated in 1991.
Most members have some connection with yachting, whether power or sail; the membership list includes landlubbers who like the company, yachtsmen, shipwrights, riggers, sailmakers, master mariners, charter operators as well as skippers and crew. Members wear a distinguished lapel badge - an anchor surmounted by a crown, with yachting as well as masonic significance. But above all, they are all masons, committed to the aims of Freemasonry.
If you would like to find out more about Hearts of Oak and Freemasonry, contact our Lodge Secretary.