A Brief History of ‘The Old Freemasons Hall’

The socio-geographic context

  • Emerald Hill is the weather worn cone of a volcano 16 million years old. The South Melbourne Town Hall sits on its peak.
  • The native owners of the land at the time of white settlement were the Yalukit-william clan of the Kulin nation.
  • Access to the Melbourne town centre was gained over a timber bridge (on the site of Princes Bridge). This was opened in 1850.
  • Land Sales began in July 1852 with the grid subdivision cut by the St Kilda railway running along the east side of Ferrars Street in 1855.
  • Street names in the new subdivision honoured aristocrats (North-south) and local interests (East-west)
  • In Autumn 1853 a fever epidemic swept through the canvas town that was Emerald Hill, with ladies from the Dorcas Society of the Church of England rendering much assistance.
  • Land sales progressed with the five blocks on the western side of Ferrars Street (Dorcas Street to Bank Street) purchased by Thomas Budds Payne on 8 March 1853.
  • Emerald Hill was created a Borough May 1855 and proclaimed a Town March 1872 then a City on 21 September 1883.
  • On 25 September 1883, the City was renamed South Melbourne.

The Building

  • The block now occupied by the Melbourne Camera Club remained vacant for many years until the Yarra Yarra Lodge (Freemason) purchased the site in November 1875
  • The site was 80 feet by 40 feet and sold for 11 pound 15 shillings per foot – converts to $1,320.60.
  • Architects Adamson and McKean of 35 Queen Street were instructed to draw up plans with the advertisement appearing in the Age on 26 April 1876.
  • No records have been identified but the design of the building would have been based on existing buildings in the United Kingdom.
  • Builder Leonard Haffner was the successful tenderer at 1,800 pounds which converts to $202,200 (2017)
  • The foundation stone was laid by the Worshipful Master, Brother S.W. Hart on 15 June 1876
  • In accordance with Masonic practice, the Temple faced East. Symbolic pillars on both the Dorcas and Ferrars Street Façades and on the walls of the upper hall represent the pillars of King Solomon’s temple.
  • The Building was completed in November 1876.
  • The Lodge was financially over-committed and by 1881 were forced to sell the building.
  • In 1910 the Yarra Yarra Lodge in conjunction with other Lodges in the South Melbourne area re-acquired the building.
  • Growth in membership caused the Lodges to seek a larger building and in 1925, The Old Freemasons Hall was sold.
  • The property passed through several owners including Joseph Taylor who operated a motor business, Talbot Motors from 1927 for 40 years.
  • Various owners failed to carry out the necessary maintenance on the building with the City of South Melbourne purchasing the site on 18 February 1975 for $35,000.
  • Architect Peter S. Staughton was commissioned by council to report on the condition of the Hall and make recommendations for its repair and conservation.
  • After further neglect, the South Melbourne Council sold the building to the Melbourne Camera Club (MCC) on the 10 August 1979 for $35,000.
  • In 1980, the Hall was re-opened by the Premier of Victoria, Dick Hamer after the investment of a further $83,420 to restore the building to its current form.
  • Since 1980 the building has been continuously occupied by the MCC as sole owners

Occupants of the building

1876 to 1881 Yarra Yarra Lodge, Freemasons.
1883 United Ancient Order of Druids (UAOD).
1883 Federal Ladies Lodge of UAOD.
1883 Mrs Flowers, instruction in Music, Dancing and Painting.
1883 South Melbourne Foresters Quadrille Club (winter months).
1884 (February) South Melbourne Band Grand Concert.
1884 (September) Wesleyan Methodist Sunday School Anniversary.
1885 (April) Harmony Lodge second anniversary concert.
1886 Robert Crockford 21st birthday.
1886 (May) Harmony Lodge (juvenile branch) included medical attention and medicine for members (met fortnightly).
1886 (July) Weekly meetings for candidates for the South Melbourne Council to present to voters.
1886 Branch Surgery for Doctors Stuart and Chatham.
1887 (August) Cake fair and concert raising money for the poor of South Melbourne (Period of worsening economic conditions).
1887 (September) Entertainer Cyril Forester performed.
1887 (October) Hospital Sunday Fund (fundraiser).
1887 (Dec) to 1896 Buffalo Club met Monday and Thursday evenings (renamed South Melbourne Working Men’s Club (SMWMC) from 1890).
1881 to 1887 Protestant group, Disciples of Christ (Sundays).
1893 (May) Loyal Albert Park Lodge celebrated its first anniversary.
1891 (July) Hall used as a shelter for those affected by the 1891 Yarra Yarra flood (one of those flooded out was Ludovico Hart who founded the Working Men’s College Photographic Club (now the MCC) three months earlier.
1896 to 1897 South Melbourne Try Boys Society (now Try Youth and Community Services) met with mixed financial success.
1897 South Melbourne Bicycle club and Lodge No 57 IOOF became co-tenants.
1910 to 1925 Freemasons of South Melbourne, Middle Park and Albert Park.
1927 to 1966 Joseph Taylor ran an automotive business specialising in De Dion and Talbot cars until his death in 1966. The building was used as a workshop and storehouse for spare parts.
1979 to present Melbourne Camera Club