THE year is 1925 and Pomona greengrocer William Hodge has closed his store in Reserve St for the day. He walks along the gravel road to the recently built Cooroora Masonic Temple not far away in Station St. It’s dark inside and, because electricity isn’t going to come to Pomona until 1941, he lights a kerosene lamp and gazes at the bare timber walls.
He studies once again the crumpled pages of his four-year-old issue of the English magazine The Masonic Record and its photographs of the glorious murals in the Masonic Temple at the Criterion Restaurant in London. The photos are no bigger than the palm of his hand but for him they depict much of the symbolism and belief of Freemasonry and he wants to bring them to life on the walls of his beloved lodge.
Mixing his own lead-based paints of beige, grey, black and white and working under difficult light, William makes his first brush strokes on the eastern wall of the lodge building. It will be eight years and he will be 72 before he has finished the four walls.
This year is the 90th anniversary of the start on the Pomona murals, which are believed to be unique. It is understood the Criterion Restaurant was destroyed during the bombing of London in the Second World War and thus the Australian depiction is the only record. Not many non-Masons have seen them. The Cooroora Lodge was established in 2013 and, according to former Master Keith Muir, of Pomona, to safeguard their Masonic secrets only members were allowed inside the building.
The annual ladies’ night dances were the exception and 97-year-old Sylvia Lennox, now living in Brisbane, has fond memories of them. “I came from Imbil to Pomona with my family when I was nearly three. I remember my father and mother taking me to a ladies’ night when I was little and later, as a teenager, seeing the paintings for the first time,” she said.
“I just thought they were beautiful and like everyone there I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It was such beautiful work and everyone thought he was very clever.
“My father owned the butcher’s shop and when he died my husband and I ran it for 30 years. “Bill Hodge lived in Pine St and I remember him being a quiet sort. He was a marvellous man and everyone looked up to him for what he did.”
In 2003 dwindling membership and the struggle to maintain the property forced the lodge to consider selling it. John Woodlock was chairman of the Arts and Heritage Board then and he recalled his committee “doing a lot of work to prevent this irreplaceable icon falling into private hands. We had it heritage listed and to encourage community support we arranged a walking tour of about 50 people as part of the Noosa Long Weekend.”
John, who now lives on the Gold Coast, says approaches were also made to Noosa Council to provide funding to retain the building for the Pomona community but were unsuccessful.
In February 2005 the building was sold to a local firm and a few months later in October was purchased by the present owner, Noosa occupational therapist Deborah Kelly. In March 2006 she opened it as a Pilates studio and health clinic. “We worked with the Heritage Council and the Noosa Museum as we had to do a lot of renovations on the building. It had been vandalised and all the windows were smashed and boarded up. When we let light into the hall, it was absolutely beautiful.” Deborah says she showed the building to clients before she bought it and “they loved it. It was such a stunning space. They also liked the idea that Pomona had something like this.”
Two years ago Deborah leased the building to the Pomona Healing Centre where the owner, Ishtarlia, offers meditation, massage, spiritual counselling, crystal and sound healing, which she says gives an energy lift and peace.
“I work it as a sacred space where people can come and just be all that they are,” she said.
“It’s an ideal place for me and what I do.”
FOOTNOTE: William Hodge was 87 when he died in 1949 and he is buried with his wife, Eliza, at Pomona Cemetery. He came to Pomona in 1920 and was Master of the Cooroora Lodge in 1925. The lodge was formally disbanded in 2008 and some of its memorabilia may be seen at Noosa Museum, whose curator, Jeanette Alfredson, was of great assistance in preparing this article. Noosa News asked the Freemasons parent body, The United Grand Lodge of Queensland, if there were plans to recognise this 90th anniversary year. The answer was no as it was now privately owned.