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Friendly Societies 1

Friendly Socities

Friendly Societies were founded in the Australian Colonies in the mid-19th Century by immigrants from England who had been members in Societies which dated back to the 18th Century.

They reflected the changing times that followed the Industrial Revolution of the late 17th Century in England and probably harked back to the Guilds of Medieval Europe.

Like all working people these immigrants experienced sickness, accidents, unemployment, death and burial. They needed help of like fellows to tide their families over these times. So they formed a branch of one of the Friendly Societies back in the mother country.

The idea was simple they decided to make fixed contributions to a fund and when they were off work they would receive a payment, when they died funeral benefits would be paid, the widow and children would be cared for; it was a form of local insurance for hard times.

This was a time of 'look after yourself' as the Colonial Governments did not provide Workers Compensation, Health Funds, Pensions, Health and Safety Regulations, Medical Benefit Schemes, Hospital Benefits Schemes, unemployment benefits; all those were 20th Century innovations.

The idea spread and many Friendly Societies appeared sometimes with religious affiliations and sometimes secular. They also provided medical, hospital, unemployment benefits as well as local picnics, dances, sporting teams, encouraged education and generally promoted the welfare of their members.

Some Current Friendly Societies in Australia

ALL: Austock Life Limited
AFSL: Australian Friendly Society Ltd
IOOF: Independent Order of Oddfellows
GUOOF: Grand United Order of Oddfellows
IOOR: Independent Order of Rechabites
MUIOOF: Manchester United Independent Order of Oddfellows
HACBS: Hibernian Australasian Catholic Benefit Society
AOFV: Ancient Order of Foresters in Victoria
NFSL: Newcastle Friendly Society limited
OFGFS: Over Fifty Guardian Friendly Society Limited
ASGFSL: Australian Scholarships Group Friendly Society Limited
PAFSOA - Protestant Alliance Friendly Society of Australia

1st Record of the PAFSA in Brisbane

The earliest reference we have to the PAFSOA in the Brisbane Area is 1876 when the following meeting was reported in the Brisbane Courier 19-5-1876 p.3

A TEA and public meeting, in recognition of the services of P.G M. (Past Grand Master) R. Baker, Esq., of Melbourne, in opening the Queensland Grand Council of the Protestant Alliance Friendly Society of Australia, and also in honour of the inauguration of the Grand Council here, was held in the large room of the Town Hall yesterday evening, when about 250 persons sat down to tea.

After tea, the public meeting was commenced by singing the Opening Ode. His Worship the MAYOR, who presided, introduced the business of the evening. Before doing so he made some favourable comments upon the words just sung, dwelling also at some length on the name of the society. He also expressed his pleasure at meeting Mr. Baker on that occasion, and desired to welcome him to Brisbane as a brother worker.

To be able to draw a gathering of 250 persons, chaired by the Mayor of Brisbane in the Town Hall, shows clearly that the Society was firmly established in the Brisbane area by that date. It was probably started by English immigrants who were already members before they left England.

Government Legislation:

On the 1st January 1877 the Queensland Government brought the Friendly Societies Act into force. It was a response to "some irregularities in dealing with the funds of the societies". The Act placed the societies under Government control and they were made to furnish periodical returns. The new regulations were not fully enforced for the first 10 years, but both Societies and Government were learning by experience. (Brian F. Stevenson p. 13)

2nd Record of the PAFSA in Brisbane

Brisbane Courier Sat. 7-1-1888 p .6

At the quarterly meeting of the Queensland Lodge, No. 4, P.A.F.S.O.A., held in the Protestant Hall, Ann-street, on Wednesday, the 4th instant, the Worshipful Grand Master, Bro. G. II. Shillito, assisted by the Grand Secretary, Bro. R. AV. Kingsford, installed the following as officers of this lodge for ensuing: six months: Past Master, Bro. French ; Worshipful Master, Bro. Melton : Deputy Master, Bro. Samuels ;Bro. Secretary, Bro. Thomas ; assistant Bro Secretary, Bro. Hill ; treasurer, Past Grand Master Bro. Dorsett ; Chaplain, Bro. T. Rhoades ; Elders, Bro. D. Rhoades and Bro. Ryal; inside guard, Bro. J. Martin; outside guard, Bro. Links.

This short note gives us a glimpse into the different executive positions in the Society. The somewhat grandiose titles were possibly derived from the Medieval Guilds and gave the officials some dignity. The last two refer to the entrance to the meeting place, one inside the room the other on the outside to make sure only bona fide members are admitted.

The Worshipful Grand Master, referring to the quarterly balance-sheet, congratulated the lodge on its good position as regards the funds, and trusted that during the next six months the newly-installed officers would be able to raise the lodge to its original standard in the order. There are seventy-eight members in this lodge, and during last quarter£18 18s was paid to sick members. The Worshipful Grand Master then presented Past Grand Master Bro. Dorsett with a Past Grand Master's Regalia, and in a very appropriate speech congratulated the Bro. on being the first Grand Master of the Order in Queensland, also the first to receive the special mark of the Grand Council.

Branch No. 4 and the date 1888 indicates that this could have been one of the earliest branches in the Brisbane area.

Was the Worshipful Grand Master's comment "would be able to raise the lodge to its original standard in the order" meant to increase the membership?

However the amount of Eighteen Pounds and Eighteen Shillings being paid to sick members over a three month period was a large amount of money; in today's value it would amount to about $5,548. And it was raised by only 78 members!

Bro. Shillito then referred to his late visit to Melbourne to attend the meeting of the High Court of their order, and stated that the members of the said High Court had been pleased to elect him to the honorable position of president.

The use of the term High Court indicates that the Australian centre of the Society may have been in Melbourne

The meeting was then closed in peace and harmony at 10.15 o'clock.

Great emphasis was placed on good order in their meetings by the members and this is emphasised in the Rule Book below.

1st Record of a PAFSA Branch Near Downfall Creek

Friendly Society Tom Hamilton's joins Lutwyche Lodge

On the 11th October 1894, Thomas Hamilton of Gympie Road, Downfall Creek joined the Pride of Lutwyche, Lodge No. 27 PAFSA probably because it was the nearest one to Downfall Creek. There could well have been others from Downfall Creek in the above lodge, possibly Tom's father Andrew, but there is no known record.

Perseverance Lodge No. 54 Downfall Creek PAFSA

The Downfall Creek Branch was Perseverance Lodge No. 54 which began in 1901 and ended or amalgamated with another lodge in about 1970. (Informant Mavis Rye) Sam Harris was the secretary for 34 years, he died in 1964 and the lodge folded a few years later (Informant Jean Tune)

The following excerpt from the Brisbane Courier Friday 28th October 1932 p.17 confirms the date of foundation.

On Saturday afternoon the Perseverance Juvenile Lodge, No. 16, celebrated its anniversary in the Chermside School of Arts. Grand Master Bro. French and Past G. M. Bro. Popham officiated, and about 150 Juveniles and their friends were present. The new merit board, the gift of the senior Perseverance Lodge, was opened by Grand Master Bro. French., while Past Grand Master Bro. Popham distributed the prizes won during the year. A lodge church service was held in the School of Arts on Sunday afternoon, when addresses were given by the Revs. Lanham, Watts and Caulfield. Musical items were rendered by the Methodist Church Orchestra. On Monday evening the Perseverance Lodge, No. 54, celebrated its 31st anniversary. The grand secretary, Bro. R. A. Eaton, delivered an address, and Items were contributed by Mrs. Collins and Mrs. H. V. smith and Messrs. Carson and Smith.

Perseverance Lodge No.54 Executive

Friendly Society Executive Chermside

Sister Christine Argo (Assist. Secretary), Store Keepers and Post Office on Gympie Road, Chermside.
Bro. Charles Vellnagel (Junior Elder), Blacksmith on Gympie Road, Chermside.
Bro. Alexander Herbert Rode (Treasurer), Fruit grower on Gympie Road, Aspley.
Bro. Hugh W. Hamilton (Senior Elder), Motor Body Builder, on Gympie Road, Chermside.

Sitting - Bro. William E. Sammels (Secretary) Store keeper & Post Office, Gympie Road, Chermside
Sister G. Richardson (Acting Worshipful Mistress), Nil
Bro. Joseph Packer (District Master), Tannery & Wool Scour, Webster Road, Chermside
Sister Clara A. Hamilton (Past Mistress) Carriage Building, Gympie Road, Chermside

In Front - Sister Eliza Jane Packer (Pianist), Tannery & Wool Scour, Webster Road, Chermside.
Sister Mary Stiles (Chaplain) Died in 1918 Home Duties -

With the death of Mary Stiles the photo must have been taken before 1918.

The composition of the Executive reflects the village atmosphere of the early 20th Century Chermside with all the members living and working in the small local area, in small local businesses, probably within walking distance of the meeting place, the Chermside School of Arts. Another important factor is the role of women in the Lodge, they make up almost half the officers, five women to seven men and the Acting Worshipful Master (aka President) is a woman.

Junior Members of PAFSA

Friendly Societies Mavis Rye's Membership Certificate

The Perseverance Lodge was a family affair and there was room for all ages as is shown by this Membership Certificate of Mavis Smith. Mavis would have been about six years old when she joined the Junior Lodge.

The certificate reflects the strongly Religious ethic of the Protestant Churches with the portraits of Luther, Knox, Calvin and Cranmer all venerable leaders of the Protestant Reformation.

The Rule Book

Friendly Societies Rule Book

Protestant Alliance Friendly Society of Queensland was part of an Australian wide organisation and it apparently tried to systematise the administration of its branches. It was in a time when communication was slow by our standards, the postal system worked well but took time, the telegraph was much swifter, approximating our email system, but it was expensive, and so the rule book was designed to cover as many eventualities as possible. Instead of asking head office routine questions the local branch officials could, hopefully, work out their own solutions.

Every member of the Society was directed to purchase a copy of the Rule Book and read it carefully. (Rule No. 219.)

The Rule Book measures 125mm (5 inches) by 185mm (7¼ inches), includes 112 pages of small print and would fit in a large pocket. It belonged to Tom Hamilton and would have been carefully read by him as he used to take his religious, civic and business dealings very seriously. Tom often ended up as the President or Secretary of any organisation he joined because he really took an active part in local affairs and was a natural leader. Tom joined the Pride of Lutwyche Lodge on the 11th day of October 1894 as Downfall Creek did not have a branch until 1903.

The small book gives us an insight into the organisation of the PAFS of Q as the rules cover such a wide area of community activity. The aim of the rule book was partly to have well organised, smooth running local branches and secondly, to make all the local branches of the organisation work in a similar way. This enabled the local branch to know, and do, what the central organisation wanted of them and it allowed the head office to know what to look for in each branch.

There are 238 rules followed by seven dealing with Regalia worn by the officers and members.

Rule 239 Past Grand Masters reads: Purple silk velvet collar, trimmed with gold bullion fringe, with the emblems of the Society and initials of rank worked thereon.

Unfortunately I have not been able to find any suitable photos of regalia as I remember it from my younger days of approximately 65 years ago; we used to like plenty of colour.

Following the rules was the "Order of Business" which listed 36 steps to be followed in the course of a meeting including one, No. 34, which reads:

Secretary shall read the rough minutes, when remarks as to their correctness can only be received.

Then there is the "Rules of Order" which meant simply how to behave in a meeting in seven steps. No. 3 reads:

The Worshipful Master shall announce all votes and decisions. His decision on points of order shall not be debated unless, entertaining doubt on the subject, he invite(s) discussion.

Next the "Order of Debate" followed with another nine steps. No. 13 reads:

A motion to amend an amendment shall be in order, but an amendment to an amendment shall not be in order.

A section headed "Debate" covered behavior during a debate in nine steps. No. 21 reads:

No brother shall speak more than once, nor longer than five minutes, on any question, without permission of the presiding officer, which permission shall be granted or refused without debate.

Finally, the last part was "Taking the Vote" which was covered in four steps.

Passwords were used to keep the business of the Society secret and so protect the privacy of the members.
Rule No. 215, reads in part:

Members shall obtain admission into lodges or councils by a pass-word which shall be issued quarterly by the Grand executive of the Society.

The use of the pass-word was considered so important that a member could be fined Ten Shillings ($100.00 today) for misusing it in ways listed in the rules. For a serious misuse the member could be expelled.

Schedule of Fines - Penalties for Breaking the Rules. (p. 98)

The Schedule listed the fines applying to 68 rules; they varied from One Shilling (Today $10.00) to Five Pounds (Today $1,000).

Note: I am not sure if there were female members in 1893 when this copy of the Rule Book was published but there is no mention of Sisters or the use of feminine pronouns.

Decline of the Friendly Societies:

"Let Brotherly Love Continue" by Brian F. Stevenson, Boolarong Press 1994 - A history of the Protestant Alliance Friendly Society in Queensland.

The Friendly Societies flourished in the 19th and early 20th Centuries and their activities were attuned to the times but by the turn of the century the Government was providing age pensions while free hospital treatment was not far behind.

P.108 "But the time were changing, and the affluence that settled somnolently on Australia during the early 1950s wrought deep changes on the generation from which friendly societies had hoped to draw their younger members." Full employment was the norm, even the social side of the Society could not compete with the Pictures (Movies) and the Wireless (Radio) which by then was in most homes.

P.109 "In 1952, Grand Treasurer Bro. W. G. West was forced to admit ruefully that the juvenile movement had failed in its objectives." The Alliance was not attracting enough new young members to make up for the normal erosion of the older members. Young people had different goals their future looked brighter and they were not interested in their funerals.

P.110 "The power of the Society as a whole to attract more members was further sapped by subsequent Commonwealth Government encroachment into health matters." These schemes were good news to people but bad news for the Society, i.e. the Society was losing one of its reasons for existence.

P.111 "The heart of the problem lay with the Society's inability to attract young members. PAFS's fiscal conservatism worked against it. Since its inception the Society much more often than not had resisted pressure to increase the contribution rate, with the result that by the mid-1950s the contribution scales, while extremely reasonable, meant that benefits were unrealistically low."

"The decline in membership was a way of life for PAFS for the rest of the 1950s and most of the 1960s."

While peak membership in Qld was 13,174 in 1947 (P. 112) the decline has set in and by 1977 it was "below 10,000" (P.123) and by 1990 it was 5,119 (P. 132)