A Brief History of the Perth Lodge of the Theosophical Society 1897 to 1976
Updated: Jun 23, 2022
Compiled by Clare and Keith Thompson
LODGE BEGINNINGS 1897-1909
Towards the end of the 19th century gold was discovered in Western Australia, and in the gold rush which quickly followed, many people came from all parts of the world eagerly seeking their fortunes. Amongst those who arrived about 1895 were our Lodge founders Mr. & Mrs. Patterson. After establishing themselves, they advertised in the daily press requesting anyone interested in Theosophy to contact them. This attracted a group of people who became the base on which the Lodge was formed. The early records are very vague and sketchy, but we know that a Charter was signed on the 10th of June 1897, and the Lodge was formed 12 days later. Mr. (later Bishop) D. B. Ewart was one of the first comers, but he was too young and had to wait until 1898 to join the Theosophica1 Society. After a 1ifetime of dedication he died in his 90th year. At a later date the Patterson's left Perth and founded the Fremantle Lodge which after many years of activity has recently been disbanded.
During the next five years the young Lodge became very active. Classes were formed which studied “The Ancient Wisdom” by Annie Besant each Thursday. Public meetings were held in the Mechanics (later Literary) Institute once a month, the subject of the first meeting being “The Ethical Value of Pain”. In 1902 a book depot was formed this was the seed from which our flourishing bookshop and library has grown and the hub of all this progress was a group of 15 members with a General Fund of £4.3.7 and a Book Fund of £2.11.7.
By this time there was a weekly class at Mrs. Johnson’s house in Adelaide Tce. and a public meeting once a month in McDonald’s tea-room in Barrack St. (the tea room being cleared for the meeting). Mrs. McDonald’s niece now Mrs. Isabel Johnston and in her 80’s is still an active member of the Co-Masonic organization. Other devoted members of this period were Mrs. O.J. Farmer who started the Co-Masonic movement in W.A., Mr. Buckie, Mr. S. Fisher who helped to establish the Liberal Catholic Church, and was a lifetime worker for Co-Masonry and the Theosophical Society. Also well known were the Misses Kate and Edith Priest. The latter, with her sister Miss Lottie Priest were instrumental in forming and giving a home to the Claremont Lodge until the death of Lottie in her 90's.
The year 1906 showed great activity. Student classes were held on Thursday’s, enquirers’ classes on Wednesday, public meetings on the first Sunday of the month, and “Secret Doctrine” classes on Thursday also. By 1907 the secretary is able to say with satisfaction, “The Library and Book-Depot, both very important activities, have done really good work. The average number of books given out each month has been 68, and we also have 37 names on our roll as non-member subscribers to the library”. The fee was l/- per quarter.
To return to 1905. In that year Miss Florence Fuller who had rooms in West Australian Chambers, St. George’s Tce. (now Terrace Arcade), offered the Lodge a sub-tenancy for 5/ per week, which was accepted.
In 1907, Mrs. Muriel Chase joined the Lodge. She was the mother of Mrs. Parkes and of Mrs. Sandra Hodson. She helped to found the Silver Chain Movement, wrote for the West Australian under the name of “Adrienne”, and her husband was aide-de-camp to the Governor. In this year the Lodge took over the tenancy of the rooms in West Australian Chambers. Mr. (afterwards Sir Winthrop Hackcett, a leading Perth figure who gave large donations to the University of Western Australia), insisted that someone would have to be responsible for the rent, and the President, Mr. Allum, undertook this. In 1910 Mr. Allum resigned after being president since 1899.
In 1909 the Lotus Circle was started, on Sunday afternoons for children. This was to continue with the order of the Round Table for many years. By the end of 1909 the membership had risen to 54. Six meetings were held weekly on Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings, and on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons.
THE LODGE ESTABLISHES ITSELF 1910-1917
Resuming our journey through the Lodge records we find ourselves back in the year 1910 and the first names we meet are those of Mr Stanway Tapp and his wife Gertrude. Mr. Tapp was a talented artist who in 1908 joined the art staff of the West Australian and who was for many years its illustrations manager. He was a man of great culture, an outstanding lecturer, and he is still remembered for his kindly ever helpful personality and for his great originality of thought. In many ways he was ahead of his time in his thinking. He played a large part in the life of the Lodge and was its President many times. His wife was an early worker in the Women’s Service Guild. He remained active in the Theosophical Society until his death in 1950.
Many Theosophists both of this period and later were active workers for the public good and extended their influence in many directions. To name a few: Mrs. Muriel Chase, as we have already seen, helped to found the Silver Chain Movement, Mrs. Joyner, a lady of culture and wealth, started the Little Citizens League, Edith Cowan became the first woman member of Parliament in Australia and possibly in the British Empire. She helped to found the Women’s Service Guild and in appreciation of her community work the clock tower near the entrance to Kings Park was dedicated to her memory. On it, beneath an excellent portrait in bronze is this inscription: “Erected in Honour of Edith Dircksey Cowan, J. P. O.B.E., by those who admired her many good works for Humanity, 1861-1932, First Woman Member of Parliament in Australia. A Life of Service”.
While on this subject we may glance ahead to 1914, when the Women's Service Guild asked the Lodge to join with them in approaching the Premier with a request that the Government should “provide a properly equipped Maternity Hospital where women could have their babies under trained medical and nursing supervision”. This was agreed to and almost certainly this was the start of the King Edward Memorial Hospital. Another Theosophist who worked tirelessly for the public good was Mrs. Bessie Rischbieth who died in recent years leaving the Lodge a bequest of $2000.
Yet another talented member of the Lodge was Miss Florence Fuller, who, as you will remember gave the Lodge a home in her rooms in the West Australian Chambers. She was a noted portrait artist and in the Lodge may be seen her oil paintings of Madame Blavatsky, Colonel Olcott and Dr. Annie Besant. She was always willing to discuss Theosophy and attracted many influential people into the movement. Her work and personality greatly attracted Dr. Besant, who persuaded her to go to India.
In the midst of this impact on the public life of the community, the Lodge itself was making steady progress. In 1910 we had our first lecturer from the Eastern States, a Miss Neville. The Literary Institute was hired and tickets were sold at 1/ each, with a booking fee of 6d. The lecture was a financial success, with a surplus of £4.15.1 which was sent to Sydney. Lectures were also arranged in Kalgoorlie.
In 1911 Mr. Stanley Fisher became secretary and remained in this position for 12 years. He was also President many times and with his wife did much for the Lodge as well as being active in the Liberal Catholic Church and in Co-Masonry. During the many visits to Perth of C.W. Leadbeater, C. Jinarajadasa, Dr. Arundale and Sri Ram, the Fishers frequently acted as their hosts.
Glancing through the minutes we see that in 1912 the first set of rules were drawn up and approved as the first Constitution of the Perth Lodge. The Lodge membership had risen to 75 and the piano was paid for. It was stated that one of the most urgent requirements of the Lodge was the training of members in public speaking. In the same year a report states: “I consider the principal function of the Book Depot is to disseminate literature on Theosophical subjects and although the question of profits must receive careful attention, this is a matter of secondary importance”. In 1914 a protest against capital punishment was approved by the executive and forwarded to the Government. Requests were made for an interstate Theosophical Convention to be held in Perth but this was rejected on account of the time and money involved in travelling the long distance from the eastern states.
In September 1914 the Lodge first considered the question of buying its own premises and suggestions were invited. Mr. W. S. Sandover gave a donation of £2.2.0 to the Lodge and this was allocated to form the nucleus of a building fund, a fund which ultimately led to the creation of the excellent building in which the Lodge functions today.
However, at this point in 1914 the Great War of 1914-1918 intervened and we were busy in many ways, including sending Theosophical literature to the troops in Cairo and elsewhere. In 1916 the Theosophical Society rented premises over Ezywalkins opposite Wesley Church. It was here that at a later date the first meeting of the Liberal Catholic Church in Perth was held.
In 1917 the Lodge again brought up the idea of owning its own premises and the Section was asked for a loan of £500 which was refused as they did not have the money available. Houses were looked at in West Leederville, Subiaco, Highgate and Mt. Lawley for conversion but no action was taken as the premises inspected were thought to be unsuitable. Early in 1917, towards the end of the war, the Lodge was in financial difficulties and the rooms were sub-let. Doors were fitted to the bookcases as books had been disappearing after the rooms had been sub-let.
Near the beginning of 1918 we see the name of Miss Marjorie King on the Executive she joined in 1917. Mr. Ewert joined in 1918 and all are now deceased. The oldest member is Mrs. Clare Thompson who joined in March 1919, her membership certificate being signed by Dr. Besant. Now in 1974 she has been a member for 55 years and she is still very active on the Lodge Executive.
SOME OUTSTANDING EARLY THEOSOPHISTS 1918-1923
In the twenties the Lodge made steady progress towards the goal of finding a permanent home. However, before relating the steps leading to the fulfilment of this aim, this is a good point to include a few brief biographies embedded in the minutes of the Lodge. But for the whim and skill of some former secretary, these would just be part of a long succession of names in which all individuality had been lost.
We have already met the founders of Perth Lodge - Mr. James Patterson and his wife Henrietta, who arrived in W.A. in 1895. Here is a “close-up” of Henrietta. Mrs. Patterson was a remarkable woman. She was Irish and was noted for her great kindness and generosity and kept an open house to all enquirers. She considered herself an agent for the Masters and possessed the great quality of Buddhi (insight/intuition). She manifested love and friendship always and had a great sense of humour. People were impressed by her practical living of Theosophy. She once said: “If you cut off my head, I would still continue to live in my heart”.
Mr. Gregory, a very early member, came from the Sydney Branch (as it was then known). He was highly intellectual and was well acquainted with all western philosophies, particularly those originating in Germany. He was by far the person best versed in Theosophy in Perth in those early days. As a good public speaker he was often called on to defend the Society on the platform in public debate. In this he was aided by a remarkable photographic memory. A very sincere and unassuming man he was once described as “a great soul sacrificing himself for Theosophy”.
Mr. Allum was an Englishman sent to Australia to be the Master of the Royal Mint. He was a man of great ability with a jovial disposition and a great sense of humour. Possessed of a well trained mind, he was the Lodge's best public speaker. He was aided by his sound knowledge of the Ancient Wisdom and of Eastern philosophies and he was always ready to defend the Theosophical Society against the attacks which were fairly frequent in the early days.
Mr. Siebenhaar was a scholarly Dutchman with great literary skills, who wrote several books. In early life he was a high school teacher. Later he became the Registrar General of W.A. He was a great social reformer who was always a champion of the underdog and showed considerable ability as a speaker and debater. On one occasion he took up a challenge by the Rev. Harry, a Baptist minister, to debate “Christianity and Theosophy”. This was a memorable occasion but Mr. Siebenhaar proved stronger and more convincing in his arguments. He later retired and returned to England where he was killed in his eighties in a train accident.
Walter Johnson was a typical Englishman, well groomed and well educated. He was most likable, full of wit and carefree. He wore kid gloves and spats but was in no way a snob. A good student of Theosophy, he held classes in his home in Adelaide Terrace. He was able to draw the best out of his pupils and was an excellent speaker. He became the President of the Lodge for two years and later went to Fremantle. A many sided man he was one of the earliest motorists in Western Australia. He was also a fine organist and had a wonderful organ built into his home in Peppermint Grove which was a miniature of the organ in St. Mary's Cathedral. He was always kind and generous. Later he became very wealthy and acquired the Western Collieries at Collie.
Returning to the Lodge's search for a home of its own, in January 1918 there was a serious effort to make a definite move towards the purchase of a building. It was proposed that a company be formed with a nominal capital of £2250 divided into150 shares of £15 each. Members were asked to give written promises to make advances over a period of six years. Payment was to be made at the Lodge's pleasure and without interest. It was also resolved that the Lodge be incorporated legally.
In 1918 there was a special meeting to deal with the sub-letting of the rooms on Sunday mornings, to the Old Catholic Church, (now known as the Liberal Catholic Church), which was recently formed. Rental was 5/- weekly. In 1919 we moved to the corner of Lake and James Streets and had rooms over a chaff store. In 1920 we moved from these premises to 192 St.Georges Tce. on a rental basis. Numbers 188, 190 and 192 were three houses owned by a group of members consisting of Miss Clare Nicholas, Mr. Chas Wicks (later Bishop Wicks of Adelaide), Reg and Alf Bennett (who afterwards left WA, and formed the 2GB broadcasting station in Sydney and it is interesting to note that the G.B. stood for Giodarno Bruno said to be a former incarnation of Dr. Besant), the Winspeer Farmers and others. The Lodge rented No.192 and others lived in the remaining two houses, thus forming a community. There were rooms in the backyard with thatched roofs, these were rather primitive, but served as a home for some Lodge members. In the Lodge building at 192, a wall between two rooms was knocked down to make a meeting room, while across the passage another room was used as a library/bookshop. The rooms in this old house were small and we were rather cramped.
In March 1922, Mr.A.E.Bennett, then president and a very devoted worker moved that the Lodge, to quote: “Secure on a business basis an important property for the Perth Lodge”. A rough draft of the Memo and Articles of Assn. of the proposed company were made and approved. This enabled members to take up shares in the scheme. In 1928 the offer of 1786 shares as a gift to the Lodge from the group owning the building was accepted with gratitude. Other members did not give a great deal of financial support to this scheme. In 1923 the Lodge was still a tenant of the Trust. They had an offer from J.C. Williamsons (the big theatre combine); to buy the whole three properties as a site for a proposed theatre at a cost of £13000, but the offer was not accepted. Later in 1923, blocks 188 and 190 with the houses thereon were sold to a Mrs. Flintoff. This enabled the existing mortgage to be paid off, thus reducing expenses. The Trust which was administering the property was still receiving rent from the Perth Lodge. The purchase by Mrs. Flintoff left a mortgage of £2750 on 192, which was valued conservatively at £6000. The three blocks numbered 188 to192 were in St. George's Terrace at the sites now occupied by Yorkshire House and Alliance buildings (near the Cloisters).What would their present value be?
THE LODGE BUILDS ARUNDALE HALL 1919-1929
At the annual meeting in February 1924, the Trust which had been administering the property put a proposition to the Perth Lodge regarding the transfer of the title to the Lodge. Very briefly, the terms of the gift were: the management of the property to be vested in 10 persons, 5 from the trust and 5 from the executive. Thus the Property Management Committee was constituted and for many years it managed the property and was not a part of the executive. The management of the property and its funds were vested in the Property Management Committee, the Lodge still paying rent to it. It was proposed that the Lodge take over the title in June 1924 on these terms. Three Trustees were appointed to be responsible for the property. At a Special General Meeting in March 1924 the Lodge endorsed the takeover under these terms and thanked the members of the Trust for their generosity and service.
In February 1927 there was a move to sell 192 St. Georges Terrace but this was defeated. The reason for the suggestion to sell the property was that it was inadequate and in poor condition and the Lodge did not have the funds to make the improvements so badly needed.
It was while we were living there (I lived in one of the small rooms in the backyard), that the Economic Stores at the corner of Hay and William Streets was burnt down. I remember that our roof, which was made of wooden shingles, caught fire from the flying debris from the huge blaze of the Economic Stores and the fire brigade had to come to our fire also and put it out in the middle of the night.
In 1927 a further special members meeting was called. Mr. (later Bishop) Wicks brought to our notice a very suitable block at the corner of James and Museum streets which we could obtain for £4000. By purchasing this site and the shops next door we would be freed from the annual deficit caused by interest on the remaining mortgage on No.192. We would also get the rent from the two shops. The green light was given to sell No.192 St. Georges Tce. and an option was procured over the block in James Street. We were offered £8000 cash for No.192 and this was accepted. This paid off the remainder of our mortgage and also paid for the block in James Street.
In July 1928 the Property Management Committee reported having arranged finance with the W.A. Trustee Co. and accepted a tender from Finlay & Stoneman to build the present Lodge building for £8272. Mr. W. Tracey, my brother, who was an architect, did the architectural work free of cost. In building the hall provision was made in the foundations for possible future erection of flats over the main hall. It was expected that the new building would be ready for occupation in January 1929 but the minutes do not give the exact date of our taking over. In March 1929 there is a report that Mr. Stanway Tapp had photos of the building taken and a short account of the opening had been sent to Adyar (Note: Refer to The Theosophist of June 1929 pg. 205 for photo and pg. 211-212 for article, available in the reading room archives). This probably took place somewhere between January and March 1929. The membership at this date was 114.
Before resuming our onward progress there are a number of interesting items which have been left waiting while we followed the search for a permanent home for the Lodge. Quite a number of prominent workers for the Lodge have already been mentioned, others active during this period were:
Miss Helen Creath who worked for the Women’s Service Guild, a fine group working for women’s interests and still active today. She was also on the National Council of Women and the Girls Guides Movement and with her sister founded the Lucy Creath Home for Children.
Mrs. Bessie Rischbieth, well known in the public life of Perth, was active in the Children’s Protection Society; she was a Justice of the Peace in the Childrens Court, a worker in the Women’s Service Guild, on the Perth Hospital Board and the secretary of the Kindergarten Union.
Miss Lottie Priest was an active T.S. worker and for many years President of Claremont Lodge. She was also one of the founders of the W.A. branch of the British Union for Abolition of Vivesection.
Mrs. Sandra Hodson together with Geoffrey Hodson played a prominent part, both here and in New Zealand, in introducing humane killing in the abattoirs.
Miss Grace Holder was acting secretary and Commissioner of the Girl Guides and also an active worker in the Lodge, as was also Mrs. Mary Farrelly, known as the “Wheat Lady” who did much good work for food reform.
In the early 1920’s a Lodge magazine called the “Beacon” was started. It ran first as a monthly and then quarterly. A newsletter was sent to town members, this could be said to be the forerunner of our present “Link”.
In 1919, while at the corner of Lake and James Streets, the young people’s activities were strong. They were called the Lotus Circle and the Round Table. We literally gathered in children off the street and had an attendance of about 100 every Sunday. Some of the children were migrants who could not speak English; so much of our work had to be done with signs and dancing. Mr. Jinarajadasa said that it was unique. Miss Beth Schroeder assisted Miss Clare Tracey who ran it for some time. There were a large number of Young Theosophists in the Lodge at this time and they were very active.
In 1919 Mr. Jinarajadasa spent two weeks in Perth and in 1922 Dr. Besant, Mr. & Mrs. Jinarajadasa, Mr. Krishnamurti and his brother Nitya, Fritz Kunz, Senator Reid and others spent a day in Perth. Dr. Besant lectured in the Literary Institute, her subject being ''The Relationship between India and Britain”. The hall was packed and Dr. Besant was interviewed by the press and received excellent notices. She was entertained at luncheon by the Speaker of Parliament House. In May 1929 Mr. John Curtin, (later prime Minister of Australia), spoke under our auspices in the Arundale Hall on “Child Endowment”.
THE DIFFUCULT YEARS OF DEPRESSION 1930-1954
As we have seen, after 32 years (1897-1929) of planning and striving the Lodge had progressed from very slender beginnings to the remarkable achievement of creating the fine building in which we still meet. But life does not stand still and as the poet and mystic Blake wrote, “Joy and woe are woven fine, a garment for the soul Divine”. So, unknown to the members, close ahead lay the testing times of world depression (1929-1935) and world war (1939-1945). As the following extracts from our records show, the same dedicated spirit which had led to the creation of our own home, was also to lead us safely through to the happier times of peace.
In these early days the Lodge had its ups and downs, both financially and with its membership. There were slight financial losses in the running of the property as we were still paying mortgage interest. Innumerable committees were formed to try out many ideas and these together with various fetes, functions, and gifts from generous members, gradually reduced the debt. In the Annual Report for 1930 it was stated that the Lodge had had a difficult year. These were the Great Depression times and although our membership stood at 131, only 66 were financial. At this time, we were paying £500 annually for mortgage interest. In 1931 finances were so low that we had only £4 in the bank with accounts of £13 passed for payment. In 1934 the mortgage of £7200 was renewed.
Life was not all serious in those difficult times. In 1932 our car park was a tennis court much used by the Young Theosophists. For some years a shadow convention was held to match the Eastern States Easter Convention which distance prevented us from attending. After several years the shadow convention was abandoned because it was difficult to get people together during the holiday period. In 1934 a social was held in the form of a mock banquet in Elizabethan times and an amount of £10 was passed to the ever hungry building fund. The members were dressed up in Elizabethan costumes and we had great fun.
During this period we had frequent visits from our leaders. Mr. (later bishop) C.W. Leadbeater then lived in Sydney and frequently visited Adyar. He stayed the day in Perth while his ship was in port. Other visitors were Mr. C. Jinarajadasa and Dr. Arundale (who both later became world Presidents). In 1933 Miss Clara Codd came to Perth for an extended stay. The Town Hall was booked and a special reception arranged. Invitations were sent to 100 leaders of other organizations. In 1936 Miss Mary Neff and also C. Jinarajadasa visited Perth. Anzac House was engaged for the lectures and 300 leaflets were distributed throughout the metropolitan area advertising their visit. In 1937 Mr. and Mrs.Geoffrey Hodson (the first Mrs. Hodson) stayed in Flat 1 for three months and gave many lectures and classes.
In 1933 a letter was sent to Adyar expressing sympathy at the passing of Dr. Besant (who died in September 1933). C.W. Leadbeater died in Perth about five months later. He was taken from the ship at Fremantle while en route to Sydney from India and died after three days in St. Omar's Hospital in West Perth. His body was embalmed and sent to Sydney where it was cremated. Some of the ashes are behind a special plaque in the wall of the Liberal Catholic Church in Perth.
In 1938 Mrs. Henrietta Patterson (one of the founders of the Lodge) passed away. We have already met one of our dedicated members Mrs. Bessie Rischbieth. It is interesting to recall the beautiful words on her fine tomb.
"The kiss of the sun for pardon,
The song of the birds for mirth,
You’re nearer God’s heart in a garden,
Than anywhere else on earth”.
In January 1941 the government asked (in fact demanded) that we let the whole of the ground floor to them for use as military offices. They paid £l2-10 per week plus £2 per week for depreciation and maintenance together with 50% of the rates. We had no choice under the wartime regulations and so we shifted to the top floor of the Alliance Building (opposite Howard St. in St. Georges Terrace) opening there in February. In July the military took over the flats also. Suggestions to sell the Arundale buildings were not adopted.
In the 1942 report it was stated : “The year passed with most of the world at war and a most anxious outlook for Australia but we who have the hope given in our teachings will be expected to help those less fortunate and in need of our comfort and assistance during the year ahead”. There was no interstate conference in 1942 owing to the war but at our shadow conference Mr. (later Bishop) Ewart said: “Wars do not happen, but have deep roots. Everything in life has a spiritual basis and it is only when man develops right thought, right action, and right desires that the cause of war will cease”. Books were distributed to soldiers in camps.
The military tenancy of the flats terminated in January 1943 but the Government retained the buildings for other uses and it was not until September 1954 that we returned to Arundale Buildings. As was to be expected the rooms were in rather poor condition and considerable repairs and painting throughout was necessary. A special meeting of rededication and rejoicing was held. Included in the greetings were letters from Sri Ram, Miss Emma Hunt, New Zealand, our General Secretary Mr. Davidge and other Australian Lodges. Mrs. Marion Lavender and 90 members were present. Mr. Ron Rees being President and Mr. John Sumpton secretary. We still had a mortgage of £1000 and the membership was 104.
THE LODGE CELEBRATES IT’S 75TH ANNIVERSARY 1955-1976
After the Government requisitioned our Lodge buildings for the duration of the war and after (1941-1954), we were virtually in exile in St. Georges Terrace. During this long period the pressing demands of war and its aftermath prevented us from making any great initiatives. But life went steadily on in the Lodge and even during the worst of the war years there were good attendances at our meetings perhaps because we were able to give credible and helpful answers to the ever present problems of suffering and death.
Over this period we had visits from Mr. Sri Ram, Mrs. Marion Lavender, the Hodson’s, Mr. Jinarajadasa, and many other world leaders in the Theosophical work. A point of interest in 1944 was the purchase by the Lodge of a gift for Mr. W.G. Hill and Miss Enid Hill on the occasion of their marriage. Mr. Hill is now the much liked and respected Bishop William of the Liberal Catholic Church. Both are still members of the Theosophical Society. Bishop William is a third generation member of the T.S. His grandparents were our Lodge founders Mr. & Mrs. Patterson. His mother and father were also active members.
In 1956 the Annual Interstate Convention was held in Perth for the first time. We had 104 members and delegates from the eastern states. All sessions were held in Arundale Hall and the theme for the Convention was “Shaping the Future of Australia”. In October a special jubilee celebration of the Perth Lodge was held. Over 100 members and their families were present. Those specially honoured were Miss C. Priest (founder of the Claremont Lodge), Mr.Legg a very old Fremantle Lodge member, Mr.Buckie, Miss Kenworthy and Mr. D. Ewart. All of these members had given sterling service to the cause of Theosophy in Western Australia over many years.
In 1957 a grant of land in Kalamunda was made by Mrs. McMillan. This was accepted but after paying rates for some years it was returned to her in 1960. One of the conditions of the gift was that we could not sell it and at the time we had no finance to build on it. One feels that the return of the land was a great mistake but at that time all our finance and energy were concentrated on the Perth Lodge.
In 1960 the first Indo-Pacific Conference was held at Wallacia in New South Wales, and en route Mr. Soemarjo, General Secretary for Indonesia and Chief Scout, passed through Perth. I will always remember one little incident at the end of the meeting he went around and shook hands with every member. Mrs. Gool Minwalla also visited the Lodge and gave some wonderful talks.
In 1961 W.A’s second interstate Conference was held at the Alfred Hines Homes near Rockingham. In 1963 the Annual General Meeting was changed from February to October in order to keep in step with the headquarters in Sydney. In the same year owing to the dearth of lecturers and a poor response from the public, the regular Sunday night meetings were discontinued and the first Wednesday of each month was thrown open to the public. The other Wednesdays continued as members’ only meetings. In 1964 the regular Sunday night meetings recommenced. In 1966 we had our third Interstate Convention and this also was noteworthy.
In 1967 we celebrated the 70th anniversary of the founding of Perth Lodge. Meetings were now held in the large hall which was enhanced by a decorated ceiling and by the installation of electric heaters which in winter added much appreciated warmth.
During his period in office Keith Thompson (President 1966-1968) inaugurated considerable changes in the set-up of the Lodge. The bookshop and library, on a much smaller scale, were formerly located in what is now the reading room and Lodge meetings were held in what is now the bookshop. As this became too small, on Keith's initiative, the large Arundale Hall became the Lodge room. During this period it was the custom to have a friendly cup of tea and informal talks at the close of the meeting. But how to continue doing this became a problem because of the rather awkward route from the kitchen to the hall. Much thought was given to the solving of this problem and it was even proposed at one stage that we demolish the men’s toilet room and replace it with the kitchen. However, Keith had another masterly brain wave and at his suggestion a servery hatch was cut in the wall separating the kitchen from the main hall. This combined operation was a notable success.
Phil Harris (President 1972-1973) with considerable vigour extended this initiative. At his suggestion worn out, obsolete and unsuitable books were culled out of the library and an annual grant was given to ensure that gaps on the shelves were refilled with new copies of theosophical and allied books and by newly written books which kept us well informed of new thinking in our field. Under the capable guidance of Mrs. Lal White as bookshop manager and Mrs. Hanni Stocker as librarian both departments expanded rapidly. To cope with this expansion Phil Harris made the suggestion, which was accepted, that the office and passage opposite the kitchen be reconstructed and the library resited on this expanded area. For about 8 or more years, under the dedicated care of Lal and Hanni, with the willing help of many assistants, both departments were run on a voluntary basis but about 1972 Lal White and Margaret Brown became our first salaried part time officers.
In 1973 at Phil Harris’s suggestion we ceased to let the large hall in daytime as a part time ballet school and it was resolved not to accept any further tenants for the hall. Then, thanks to the zeal and skill of dedicated members, the hall was beautifully renovated and the stage richly carpeted and curtained so making the Arundale Hall a worthy place for Lodge and public meetings. A further addition was the installation of a modern hi-fi electronic system complete with amplifier, speakers, turn table and disc, reel, and cassette facilities. This was bought out of the Bessie Rischbieth bequest and we plan to use it more fully in the future.
Early in 1972 the Lodge was advised that at a future date the Government intended to resume the Lodge properties in James and Museum Streets as part of a projected Cultural Centre. We immediately initiated an intensive search to locate a site for a new home and eventually located property on two blocks of land facing the beautiful Hyde Park in Glendower St. The government made an advance payment of $50,000 to enable us to secure it. Plans for the creation of a new Lodge building were drawn up and building estimates secured. However, due to the very unfavourable situation affecting he whole nation, this plan is temporarily in abeyance.
During the same year the Lodge purchased a very pleasant 13 acre property at Gidgegannup about 28 miles from Perth with the intention of creating a tranquil spiritual centre at a later date. However, most unexpectedly, the government also resumed this property as a water catchment area at no financial loss to the Lodge.
This ends a very brief summary of the life and work of Perth Lodge over 75 years. It represents 75 years of self sacrifice and dedication from many hundreds of members. Some, like comets, flashed across the Theosophical sky. Others, like the everlasting stars twinkled less brightly but in their long service and faithful application to the work, gave a quiet and steadfast beauty to the Theosophic Heavens. They have built the foundations, to use another simile, on which our present structure rests. It is for us and those who come into our ranks in the future to create a building of beauty and radiance which will inspire the world and give it light into the future.
To those of our present workers who may be a little discouraged over the apparent failure of some of our present enterprises, I would suggest that over the years many hundreds of schemes have been tried and often abandoned when their usefulness faded but there is always new life coming into the work as long as we keep our doors open. It would appear that the Lodge has an identity of its own apart from its workers. Although it has its ups and downs, as we do personally, that life still goes on as long as it is rejuvenated by the life blood of dedicated workers. May we ever be aware of our great privileges and opportunities and of the trust that has been given to us.
A paper presented to the Australian National convention of the T.S. at Melbourne 1988 by Noel Duzevich Perth Lodge President 1987-1989
A brief description of community and welfare service rendered by W.A. members of the T.S.
The history of Perth Lodge shows evidence that from the very founding of the Lodge, there were many vital, enthusiastic members who contributed greatly to the society of their day, and in fact many of them were responsible for setting in motion social causes and movements, which are still having a beneficial effect on society today.
Perth Lodge was founded in 1897, and before long began to make its presence felt. Apart from all the normal Lodge activities which were pursued with great vigor, members began to involve themselves in community work and social issues.
From 1907 to 1917 some remarkable people became members of Perth Lodge. In 1907, Mrs. Muriel Chase joined; she helped to found the Silver Chain Movement and wrote for the "West Australian" newspaper. She was the mother of Mrs. Sandra Hodson who was wife to Geoffrey Hodson the well known Theosophical Society author, lecturer, clairvoyant and seer.
Also at that time, another new member was Mr. Stanway Tapp a man of great culture and an outstanding lecturer. He served as President of the Lodge many times and was an active worker for Theosophy until his death. He was a talented artist, who was for many years Illustrations Manager of the "West Australian". A present senior member of Perth Lodge, Keith Thompson, donated one of Stanway Tapp's exquisite water colours to Perth Lodge.
A Mrs. Joyner, a lady of culture and wealth, started the "Little Citizen's League"; Edith Cowan J.P., who became the first woman Member of Parliament in Australia and possibly in the British Empire, helped to found the Women's, Service Guild. In appreciation of her community work, the clock tower near the entrance to King's Park was dedicated to her memory. On it is an excellent portrait of her in bronze and an inscription which reads; "Erected in Honor of Edith Dircksey Cowan, J.P., O.B.E., by those who admired her many good works for Humanity 1861-1932 - First Woman Member of Parliament in Australia - A Life of Service".
Florence Fuller, a talented and noted portrait artist who became a member. At Perth Lodge may be seen her excellent portraits of H.P. Blavatsky, Henry Steel Olcott and Annie Besant. She attracted many influential people to the Theosophical movement, and just recently (1987) I was fortunate to see two of her paintings at the Phillips "Old Masters' Exhibition" at the Perth Art Gallery, hanging in such company as Renoir, Manet, El Greco, Goya and many other famous artists.
In 1908 Annie Besant visited Perth and gave many dynamic and inspiring lectures to the members and to the public. One of her lectures was to a small group of outstanding Perth women. She motivated them to form a non-party organization, in which women could play their part in working for equal opportunity for women. Following this meeting, Bessie Rischbeith a Perth Lodge member, formed the "Women's Service Guild of Western Australia” (or the League of Women Voters) in 1909.
Many of the women who were the founding members of this Guild and who were also Theosophists became notable people who are still remembered for their services to society.
I have already mentioned Edith Cowan J.P., O.B.E. first Australian Woman M.P., others were:
Amelia McDonald, renowned for her work for disadvantaged women. With other women, she worked to cause to be established in 1907, a Court for Children. She was one of the first women Justices of the Peace; founded the Women's Justices Association, and worked in legal reform, prison welfare and the appointment of women to the Courts and to Government agencies. She was a foundation member of the Women's Immigration and Auxiliary Council in 1922, was involved in the work of the Kindergarten Union and Girl Guides both established by the Women's Service Guild of which she was the first Treasurer and the second President. She was honored by Baden-Powell for her fostering of the Boy Scout movement in Perth. She was a member of the first committee formed to establish a Hospital for Women in 1909. It took seven years before the twenty bed hospital was opened, as the Government broke many promises and the official Government view of the day, was that "no decent woman would have her baby in a hospital!". Against such opposition, our formidable Women’s Service Guild kept the pressure on and finally the hospital was established now the enormous and highly esteemed King Edward Memorial Hospital for Women. She was also active in the R.S.P.C.A. and the Women's Christian Temperance Union. Her niece Isabella Johnston was also a member of the Women's Service Guild. She became Secretary to the Under Secretary of Public Works and was one of the leading figures in the momentous meeting which led to the establishment of King Edward Memorial Hospital. She was also deeply involved in the Girl Guides movement.
She married and withdrew from public life temporarily to rear her children. Then returned to full participation in the Women's Service Guild and later became State President. She worked in education for disadvantaged groups, aboriginal missions etc. In 1946 she founded the Western Australian Women's Parliament, an immediate success, which lasted for several years. It's most valuable aim was the training of women in parliamentary procedure. She became a Justice of the Peace in 1947 and became the first woman appointed to a State Royal Commission, the Commission on Betting. She became President of the Women Justices Association and was involved in the Married Women's Court. She was involved in many other causes the Swan River Conservation Committee and post-war migration to name just a few.
Another lady famous in Western Australia was Katherine Clutterbuck, who became known as "Sister Kate". Against formidable difficulties, she established "Sister Kate's Home for Children" at Parkerville, and later, homes for aboriginal children at Queen's Park. These are now administered by the Anglican Church, with State Government assistance. It is not generally known that Sister Kate was a Theosophical member and in fact a member of the Esoteric School of Theosophy.
Others prominent during that period were;
Stanley Fisher, who helped found the Liberal Catholic Church and was a staunch worker for Co-Masonry.
A Mr. Allum, who was the Master of the Royal Mint.
A Mr. Sibenpaar, who became Registrar-General of W.A.
The most outstanding Theosophical personality of that time and perhaps I could say up to the present time, was Bessie M. Rischbieth J.P., O.B.E. She was known to most people as Bessie M. and came to Perth from Adelaide in 1900 with her husband Henry Wills Rischbieth. She was one of the first women appointed a Justice of the Peace in W.A. and the first to sit on the Children's Court, where she acted for many years.
Author, editor, traveler, and a champion of women's interests for more than fifty years, she remained active all her life a few weeks before she died at the age of 92, she gave a stimulating interview to the press.
It all began, when, after her marriage in 1899, she accompanied her husband on many overseas trips including one to London, where she attended a suffrage meeting in 1908. On her return to Perth and after attending lectures given by Annie Besant, she founded the Women's Service Guilds in 1909. In 1921 she founded the Australian Federation of Women Voters and was its President until 1939. She led several Australian delegations to International Women's Conferences abroad.
Bessie M. received the O.B.E. from King George V at Buckingham Palace in 1935. During that year she attended a conference in Turkey and was one of the Australian delegates to the League of Nations Assembly. She was in London shortly after the start of the 1939-45 World War and remained there to work for the "Boomerang Club" and the "Aid to China Fund". After the war she returned to Australia and continued the fight for the advancement of women's social, political and economic status. She was associated with voluntary work for pre-school children, nursery schools, infant health clinics, free kindergartens and playground movements.
Early in 1965, she published a book: "The March of Australian Women" telling the story of women's struggles for equality with men for more than 50 years.
Dorothea Squires, who is still a member of Perth Lodge, was a personal friend of, and has a very strong link with Bessie M. Dorothea was State President of the Women's Service Guilds in 1951 and was at that time offered a job which made her the first woman appointed as a Senior Welfare Officer For Native Affairs. She worked in this capacity until 1954. A lot of the work was public speaking explaining the changes that administrator S.G. Middleton was endeavoring to make for the benefit of the aboriginal people. Bessie M. had told Dorothea of Annie Besant's visit to Perth in 1908 and of the tremendous interest in her lectures.
Dorothea still has a Christmas card she received from Bessie M. in 1965, with a note inside which includes the words: "I would like to relate to you, how the Women's Service Guilds were first conceived, mainly by a small Theosophical group". Dorothea also says that Bessie M's book "March of Australian Women" indicates up to 1965, what had been achieved in the work, motivated by Annie Besant's visit in 1908.
There are many others I could have mentioned, who have contributed to the community in diverse ways, in welfare work, in the medical field and through the arts.
To dwell just briefly on the achievements and perseverance of these people, who freely admitted that their service to their community and to the nation grew out of the Theosophical commitment, should be an unending source of inspiration and encouragement to us all.