Freemasons Centre

Freemasons hall Freemasons hall

Freemasons Centre (1933)

Friendly societies and male bonding

Like friendly societies, volunteer fire brigades, military units and bands, the lodge played a vital role in the social and business life of the colonial male. Here he could escape domestic worries, talk business, socialise and build networks in a new community. Like most towns and cities, Ōamaru had several lodges. The first, the Oddfellows (Manchester Unity), put down roots in 1864 and was joined by a Masonic lodge, Lodge Waitaki IIII E.C., a year later.

Oamaru Kilwinning was founded in 1872 and more followed.

Ōamaru’s Wansbeck Street Masonic site borders on the bizarre, although it is neither registered by Heritage New Zealand nor scheduled on the district plan. In fact, few books on the town’s heritage even note it in passing. The front building, constructed in 1933 to the design of J.M. Forrester, is one of the Victorian town’s few stripped classical structures. It is a substantial and dignified masonry building with a stunning interior.

Step back and stand on your toes, however, and you will see part of the top of another large masonry, classical-style lodge building, completed in 1876 to a design by Thomas Glass. Blocked in front by the 1933 building and walled off around the sides, the rear building can be reached only by going through the front building. In his 1981 book, The South Island of New Zealand from the road, photographer Robin Morrison chided the Masons for their ‘pretentious architecture’ – but here is the opposite, the architecture of concealment.

Further information

This site is item number 90 on the History of New Zealand in 100 Places list.


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