When Mitch Fraser fronted up in Middle Park to be initiated into a 300-year-old all-male society, he was just 18 and only there because he hoped it would help him get closer to his grandfather.
“It’s a connection I cannot get anywhere else,” says the 29 year-old Melbourne barber who is still a Freemason.
Fraser, who has the secret society’s emblem tattooed on the back of his neck, fears that young people are not as interested as they once were in joining the mysterious society.
He has failed to interest friends into the 17th century group whose history in Australia dates back to settlement at Botany Bay in 1788.
He says the compass and the square on the Freemasons emblem he has had tattooed symbolise the need to live a “moral life which is straight not bent”.
“I got the emblem tattooed on my back to honor my grandfather,” he says.
Fraser believes in the benefits of masonry. “It encourages a sense of belonging and personal growth,” he says.
But he also believes it must adapt to the times. “The society needs revamping if it is to gain younger members,” he says .
Elsewhere there have been moves to reach out to younger members. A South Australian and Northern Territory Freemason group has taken this initiative of change by creating an organisation called the Young Freemasons Network. It aims to bring together younger members and allows them to meet up outside the Masonic gatherings, ensuring more engagement for the members.
A Sydney group that created a Facebook page devoted to gaining younger Freemason members has proved to be successful with over 22,000 followers on the page.
Fraser says that he believes its necessary to use social media sites to promote the freemasonry to young Victorians.
Freemason membership peaked after World War II with over 500,000 members in the UK. There were reportedly less than half that number by 2013.
A decade earlier, a report on the Freemasons in Victoria revealed a decline of nearly 60 per cent in membership in 15 years to 1995.
The Freemasons grew fast in Victoria with nearly every small town having a Masonic lodge where men joined together to create social change.
In the north eastern Victorian town of Bright, Nick Aloizos, who has been a mason for over 30 years, says that younger Australians are not interested in joining the lodge. He says the youngest member in his hometown is 52, with the majority of members joining when they are 45 to 50.
Aloizos says the masons are a “brotherhood where everyone is equal” and that being a member brings meaning to his life.
Asked about the masons’ secret initiation process, Aloizos tells The Standard some things are better kept hidden from women.
In Melbourne, Fraser worries that the society is losing the mystique that once drew young men and that this “charitable and social group … will die if changes are not made”.