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Chamar Pty. Ltd. – The Joint Secretariat of Chapter, Mark and Ark Mariners in Victoria.
Supreme Grand Chapter was founded in 1889 and a decade later Grand Mark was formed in 1899.
From their inception, the administration of the Orders was carried on in a variety of locations in the Melbourne CBD depending on where the Grand Scribe Ezra or the Grand Secretary was employed. Later, when both of these officers became full time paid employees of either Grand Mark or Supreme Grand Chapter, they still never shared office premises.
This state of affairs continued until 1983 when Grand Mark and Supreme Grand Chapter purchased a quarter share each in a Victorian terrace house at 260 Albert Street, East Melbourne. This building was located immediately beside the Masonic Centre/Dallas Brooks Hall; the United Grand Lodge of Victoria owned the other half share.
The somewhat narrow frontage of 260 Albert Street belied a fairly extensive premises; Grand Mark administration occupied the top floor and Supreme Grand Chapter the ground floor. These included a large office for the Grand Secretary and the Grand Scribe Ezra, and a general office for each together with separate toilets.
On the other side of the entrance foyer (black and white tile of course) was, on the ground floor, a kitchen space and a Ballroom. This large space was often used for Receptions and Cocktail Parties as well as for meetings of Supreme Committee and the Board of General Purposes.
Ascending the staircase from the foyer led to another large room, exactly the same size as the downstairs Ballroom, but with a mezzanine floor in the rear of the room. Grand Mark and Grand Chapter ceremonial teams often used both rooms as rehearsal spaces. The downside to the building was the need for constant maintenance.
In 1984 a computer was purchased jointly, and this was fully installed (with terminals on both floors) in 1985.
While the computer may have been jointly owned, access to the systems were closely guarded by password restricted to each Order; it was often remarked that a brother could be recorded as deceased in the Mark but happily live on in the Chapter until by separate entry (often months later) he was recorded as deceased.
For the next several years these arrangements continued until both the Grand Secretary of Grand Mark and Grand Scribe Ezra of Grand Chapter gave notice of their intention to retire. By these intentions, the possibility of merging the administrations of both Orders into single entity was agreed in 1988.
In November 1989 CHAMAR Pty Ltd (CHApterMARk) colloquially known as the ‘Joint Secretariat’ came into being and Brother/Companion Wayne Smith was appointed Executive Officer. Two years later Smith was appointed Grand Secretary of Grand Mark, Grand Scribe of the Ark Mariners and Grand Scribe Ezra of Supreme Grand Chapter; the title Executive Officer ceased except on company documents.
Just prior to the formation of the Joint Secretariat, the decision was made to sell 260 Albert Street; not happily applauded by all parties. In hindsight, Grand Mark and Supreme Grand Chapter (or Chamar Pty Ltd) should have beggared themselves and bought out the UGLV half share; but ongoing maintenance may have influenced the original decision. However, the sale of the premises did realise a modest profit for both Grand Mark and Supreme Grand Chapter.
In December 1990 the Joint Secretariat moved to its new location on the top floor of the Masonic Centre. This was in fact a fully self-contained flat used at one time by the Chef/Manager of the Masonic Centre Catering Service. This location provided total autonomy for the Joint Secretariat and many happy years were spent in the enjoyment of this ‘office’ space. In 2001, after having overseen the successful Grand Mark Centenary and being 12 years in office, Smith retired to pursue other interests and moved to country Victoria.
The following is the list of Executive Officers and likewise GSE/GSec then appointed:
- George Kerr 2001 – 2004
- John Williams 2004 – 2006
- John Glover 2006 – 2009
- Bruce Cowie 2009 – 2011
- Ray King 2011 – 2013
- Wayne Smith 2013 – Current
In late 2012, after various vicissitudes, former GSE/GSec Smith, who was then working as a Tipstaff at the County Court, was prevailed upon to again take charge of the Administration of Grand Mark and Supreme Grand Chapter, and in 2013 he was appointed Grand Scribe Ezra and Grand Secretary.
Smith was 32 years of age when first appointed Executive Officer and 34 years old when first appointed GSE/GSec; as the present incumbent he is the only GSE/GSec in the history of Grand Mark and Supreme Grand Chapter to have had two separate administrations with a 12 year interval between.
Somewhere between 2005 and 2009 the Joint Secretariat vacated their office on the top floor of the Masonic Centre and occupied two offices on the ground floor co-located with UGLV. An even bigger upheaval occurred in August 2015, when the Joint Secretariat (and of course the UGLV administration too), owing to the re-development of the Albert Street site, was re- located to the W A Tope Building at the Royal Freemasons Homes in Prahran. The office space allocated to the Joint Secretariat on the first floor of the Tope building was quite generous and some might even argue, spacious.
It was at this time that staffing was rationalised to its present level of the GSE/GSec and one Administration Officer (currently Craig Spendlove).
The new office location was not without its difficulties, and what was expected to be an occupation of about three years duration turned out to be six years! There was considerable discussion as to whether or not the Joint Secretariat would even return to East Melbourne or make arrangements to find alternative office accommodation and no longer share with UGLV.
In the intervening period, a Memorandum of Understand was signed by the leaders of the Craft, Mark and Chapter to work together in closer co-operation to our mutual advantage; this was given to mean that the Joint Secretariat would co-habit (albeit with separate offices) with the UGLV administration.
This was co-habitation for administrative purposes only, not integration. In early 2019 it was obvious that the office arrangements available on the first floor of the new Freemasons Melbourne (288 Victoria Parade) were not suitable to house both UGLV administration and the Joint Secretariat and preparation were put in train to develop a new office area on the second floor. While UGLV moved out of the W A Tope Building (in late 2019) and into the first floor office at 288 Victoria, the Joint Secretariat had nowhere to go and so remained at Royal Freemasons.
In March 2020 there occurred one of the greatest calamities of modern history – the Covid- 19 pestilence.
This deadly virus entered into Victoria and the State went into extended lockdown; all Masonic activity ceased.
In the coming months the entire office at the Tope building was boxed and removed to the basement at Freemasons Melbourne; new laptops were purchased and while the physical office of the Joint Secretariat was closed, work did not cease; it was merely carried on from the private residences of GSE/GSec Smith and Admin Officer Spendlove.
This arrangement continued for 12 months. After several stops and starts due to continuing lockdowns, in June 2021 the new offices at Freemasons Melbourne were completed and the Joint Secretariat moved in. It was short lived however, and after less than a month, Victoria again went into a series of lockdowns; the offices of Smith and Spendlove were again opened from their homes and so it currently remains.
One of the most significant events in the history of Chamar Pty Ltd occurred on 5 September 1994 with the launch of the (first) ‘We Care’ Appeal.
By chance, on that day the Board of Directors held their quarterly meeting; and that same morning newspapers carried the story of a successful operation to rebuild the face of an overseas child who had been born with severe deformities.
The sponsored operation had been carried out at the Royal Children’s Hospital with expenses covered by donation; the hospital intimated that further children could be helped if donations became available. The Board immediately agreed to fund the medical expenses for another child; it was a good day for Freemasonry! It would be fair to say that the six members of the Board hoped, rather than expected, that sufficient funds could be raised.
In less than three months the Mark and Ark Mariner Lodges and Royal Arch Chapters (and many of the Other Rites too) responded with such alacrity and generosity that two children were fully funded to receive the attention of the brilliant craniofacial surgeons at the Royal Children’s Hospital.
The ‘We Care’ Charitable Trust was established and by a continuing schedule of ‘We Care’ Appeals has raised and dispensed hundreds of thousands of dollars in charitable benevolence. The work of the ‘We Care’ Charitable Trust remains on going. After more than 30 years, the Joint Secretariat continues to conduct the administration of the Mark, Ark Mariner and Royal Arch degrees in Victoria.
It has been financially beneficial to both Grand Mark and Supreme Grand Chapter and meets all demands upon it with honesty, integrity and efficiency. While the Covid-19 pestilence has caused severe strain, the Secretariat continues to discharge its duties to meet the needs and demands of the Brethren and Companions whom it is charged to serve.
The only cloud on the horizon, and it is possibly a dark one, is the continuing decline in membership across the whole of Freemasonry in Victoria, indeed across the entire Commonwealth of Australia. But, with a continuing hope for brighter prospects the Joint Secretariat will continue to provide the Brethren and Companions, the Grand Mark, and the Grand Chapter, with that level of service they have grown to expect.
Short history written by WLS – 3rd October 2021