A remarkable and ornate Masonic lodge in Canterbury built in 1927-8 in the Egyptian revival style, has been reborn after more than two years of painstaking work. It is one of very few remaining in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs that the public can access, with many such buildings converted into residences or demolished.
Until now few people outside the Freemasons would have seen the upstairs rooms of Emulation Hall, which is extravagantly decorated with Freemasonry and Egyptian motifs such as serpents, lotus flowers, astrological symbols and the eye of Horus.
The hall, which came within 24 hours of a demolition order in 2012, was saved at the last minute by its listing by Heritage Victoria. It has been rejuvenated, inside and out, by new owners Terry Fraser and designers Nicole Fraser, Sally Mill and Noel Crombie, under the supervision of Heritage Victoria and heritage architect Nigel Lewis. The hall is now open for public and private events.
Nicole Fraser says it was purely curiosity that led the group to look at the hall when it came up for sale.
“We had no intention of buying. But when we walked in we were going ‘Wow, wow, wow!’ Nicole said, “I was instantly aware that I’d never been in a building like it”.
Sally Mill says the “fantastic Egyptian style” seduced the group into buying the hall then had them racking their brains trying to think of how best to use it.
Nicole says “We wanted a use that allowed for public access and enabled visitors to experience the building as a whole”– also the hope of Heritage Victoria.
Architect Nigel Lewis says the sympathetic nature of the completed works has preserved the building’s unique character, in stark contrast to the residential conversion that is “the common fate for many former masonic halls.”
He describes Emulation Hall as “a rare and distinctive example of the Egyptian Revival style in Victoria. It adopts the style in its strictest sense, recalling the ancient temple of Isis, on Philae [in Egypt].”
Demonstrating the ideological link between freemasonry and ancient Egypt “it reflects both the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922 and the return of Australian soldiers from World War 1 with Egyptian objects displaying such motifs as the scarab and winged disc,” Nigel says.
Extensive works at Emulation Hall include raising the stage to its original height and installing a lift for universal access.
In the main hall on the ground floor, columns on the wall lead the eye up to a soaring ceiling with ornately decorated plaster beams and handmade light fittings.
Upstairs the light-filled Supper Room has original red-pine woodwork detail, a tent-shaped ceiling with decorative plaster strapping and large, round woven vents featuring the masons’ compass and square. There are big chandeliers, new carpet, comfortable lounge furniture and an impressive timber bar.
The Temple Room, also on the first floor, has original Masonic features including stepped floors and beautiful original pendant light fittings in cast metal. Plasterwork on the tent ceiling is decorated with Egyptian motifs such as astrological symbols and the all-seeing eye of Horus. The Temple Room’s new carpet in a checkerboard pattern is a nod to the black-and-white checked pavement common to all masonic temples. Original diffused-glass windowpanes give the room a soft light.
“It is certainly gratifying to step back and see this eccentric old building in what is pretty close to its original state,” Nicole says.