The John Woolley Building is an interesting building for me. I’ve always been most drawn to the N395 Lecture Theatre. It’s my favourite room on campus to study. It’s dark; it’s mysterious; it breeds curiosity. In a sudden wave of interest, I decided to investigate the old mahogany file cabinet at the bottom of the hall. Letting my intuition take over, I opened one of the drawers. It creaked as it slid open, and as I fully opened it, it exposed a little scroll of old paper with a string tied round it. The place felt more silent than before. I went back to my stuff, sat on the old wooden bench, and unravelled my new obsession.
Attend her, Attend her,
The lodge for Gate Keeper,
Where thirteen fig trees line the rough
In the third, a receiver,
For dear old Grim Reaper
On what this has all been about
After an in-depth Google search of various parts of the broken down poem, I eventually concluded that this wasn’t a piece of published writing, and that whoever left it here wanted it to be found. After countless days and nights of campus walks, my friend Beth and I sat down to break everything down further.
The part of the poem that seemed like the easiest to figure out was “The lodge for Gate Keeper”. Along City Road, there’s a turn in junction that leads to Fisher Road. Right on the corner you will see one of three lodges that are facilitated on campus, “Gatekeeper’s Lodge”, with a long strip of trees starting from the back of the building right to Madsen Building. Though I’m unaware if these are fig trees or not, it seemed that this was a point in the right direction. Whilst I tried to figure out other symbols, Beth did her research in the University Archives. With a big gasp from her mouth, I looked up from my messily drawn map of campus as Beth exclaimed “Lodge Society… The Freemasons…” The rest of our research was conducted with the Freemasons at the forefront of our minds.
Freemasonry, originating in both England and Scotland, has been widely known as a secret society that focuses on fraternal brotherhood. The Freemasons tend to have private meetings in a lodge setting, however those outside of the society are unaware of what happens within. Though Freemasonry websites preach that they have meetings once per month to conduct ancient rituals of initiation, promoting members to higher degrees and positioning new Masters and Officers, there’s been a huge amount of speculation regarding these traditions and what they look like. Many outside of the society have speculated sacrificial initiation processes and worshipping of the Devil, similar to the infamous Illuminati. I cannot confirm or deny either of these as I have never been able to sit in a lodge meeting; however, I am intrigued by how prominent Freemasonry is around Campus, specifically in older buildings. We know that this history is true because the Lodge Society was present from 1924 through to 1978. With no online list of members, there isn’t much insight regarding specifics — only that we know it was there.
From there, we can delve into how John Woolley, the first Principal of the University of Sydney, was a known Freemason — alongside the original founder of the University, John Dunmore Lang. There are many symbols all around campus that proves to us that the culture of the society continues to live on while being hidden in plain sight. Architecture is the first clue surrounding the long history of campus Freemasonry. The Quadrangle has the most hidden symbols that I was able to find. The biggest one being in the S445 Seminar Room, located above the Nicholson Museum. You’ll instantly see a difference in the typical set-up of your normal classrooms to this one. With seats set up along the sides alone and a prominent altar-like format at the east end of the room, this room in the Quadrangle is the most direct link to the Freemasons on campus. Masonic temples are set up in a very similar way. However, the symbol that eerily set this apart from every other seminar room wasn’t the temple-like layout, but instead the sculpture of Solomon that is carved above the fireplace.
The Freemasons have strong connections to King Solomon’s Temple, a biblical account of the origins of the Freemasons. As Freemasonry began as a group of stonemasons coming together as a society, the story of King Solomon supporting the stonemasons in the building of the Temple is a huge part of the traditional rituals. In addition to this, from the small amount of information I could find on the initiation rituals, the traditional way the ritual is usually conducted in a way that a Worshipful Master is located at the east side of the temple, and the candidate enters from the west; the seminar room has the entrance on the west side, and the main altar-style platform on the east. There is no recorded evidence of this seminar room being a meeting room for those in the Lodge Society, however the carved Solomon, the temple-like layout, the sculpture of various innovators around the room and the main symbol of the Freemasons (the compass and gavel) being carved on the ceiling directly outside the entrance hints to a history of meetings that we may never understand or know about.
Some obvious (once you’re aware of them) symbols that you’ll see scattered around the older buildings of campus are two-headed eagles, compasses, the gavel, and even some symbolic Gods and angels. If you take a trip to the Vice Chancellor’s Garden, you will find a statue of Mercury pointing to a subtle hidden compass on the roof of the Quadrangle. Mercury was a symbol of speed and mobility in which the Freemasons believed helped the communication from Worshipful Master to Senior Warden to be conducted with ease. It’s interesting that the symbol has been placed directly within the Vice Chancellor’s Garden, right beside the Deans of the Schools.
This all may seem very historic and somewhat irrelevant to our current University lives, but this society continues to live on… we just aren’t aware of it. USyd currently has a Freemason Scholarship that isn’t advertised on the University website unless intentionally searched. The Freemason Scholarship is for eligible children and grandchildren of Freemasons who have been under the United Grand Lodge of NSW for at least five years. Though this is not a formal University-run organisation, the scholarship exists through donation or bequest of the Lodge University of Sydney No. 544. This lodge was established by USyd graduates and academics in 1924 and has expanded beyond this scope. With this being continuing, and an almost concealed side to the University, who knows if there’s more behind-the-scenes societies or traditions still continuing.
Once you are involved in the deep rabbit hole of Freemasonry, you’ll spot more symbols around campus from miles away, and your university experience will change drastically. You’ll feel uneasy as you look at one of the symbols for a little bit too long, knowing that it’s something you’ll never be able to know the entirety of. Your curiosity will eat at you, and you’ll continuously be full of wonder. I’ll never know what the poem leads to, and you probably won’t either. Was it a sacrificial ritual on campus? Was it someone intentionally wanting someone to figure out the secrets of the history of USyd Freemasons? Or was this all a prank? Either way, many secrets have yet to be uncovered… will you be the one to figure it out?