The following information is taken from a booklet titled “The Theosophical Society in Australia: Seventy-fifth Anniversary Commemoration” compiled and published by The Theosophical Society in Australia, 1970.
Born in 1922 during a period of difficulty in the Theosophical Society, Blavatsky Lodge has been a healthy and vigorous entity for over 90 years.
Sydney Lodge, which was formed in 1891, with a fine building, an excellent public hall, a members’ hall, a wonderful library, committee rooms and secretarial office as well as an office for the General Secretary of the Section, with over 900 members, was rent by irreconcilable differences. So a meeting was called by the International President, Dr. Annie Besant, then visiting this country. This was held on 18th May, 1922, at the home of Mr. and Mrs. John Mackay (both active members of Sydney Lodge), with a view to forming another Lodge to be called Blavatsky Lodge. Dr. Besant gave an address outlining the reasons for forming the new Lodge and an application for a Charter was made out there and then and handed to the President.
Four days later a meeting was called and attended by some 200 members, with Mr. John Mackay in the Chair. He regretted that all those who wanted to join the new Lodge could not be signatories to the new Lodge Charter, but it was resolved that the list of 189 members who wished to join the Lodge be considered charter members. Officers and an executive committee were elected to act pro tem until by-laws were drawn up and accepted.
The new Lodge got off to a wonderful start. Mr. C. Jinarajadasa, who was the International Vice-President, gave a series of six lectures and these were followed by a series from Miss Clara Codd. There was great activity. Speakers’ training classes commenced under the leadership of Miss Codd and Mr. Calnan. Mrs. Isabelle Bean took a beginners’ class and Miss Needham a students’ class. A Secret Doctrine class was taken by Mr. Karel van Gelder. Dr. van der Leeuw conducted a psychology class with forty to fifty participants and there was a sewing guild for the children and a Lotus Circle with three classes and a Round Table under the leadership of Dr. Mary Rocke were formed. The next age group, the Young Theosophical Workers – now the Young Theosophists – helped the Lodge in many ways, worked in the Lotus Circle, the Round Table, acted as ushers at public lectures and held their own group meetings as well. By the end of 1922, at the age of seven months, Blavatsky Lodge had 373 members. In October 1922 the first issue of Blavatsky Lodge News was published. It continued at irregular intervals until 1929, the last numbers being just the Annual Reports.
During this time the Lodge was in rented premises which were expensive and inconvenient. In November 1922 the T.S. Building Company was formed to provide a permanent home for the Lodge. A property was purchased in Bligh Street for £18,000 and soon afterwards the Company was offered £25,000 for the site but this was refused.
The following year new activities were begun. These included an astrology class, an art class, a Bhagavad Gita class and a new lecturers’ group, all under the leadership of members qualified in these subjects and the Young Theosophists really applied themselves to helping the Save the Children Fund. Their age limit then was 30 and there are wonderful reports of 10 day camps for about 30 members at Stanwell Park, which seems to have worked out at around 2/- (20 cents) a day per person, inclusive of food, equipment and everything else!! Then there were open air lectures in the Domain, Sydney’s equivalent to London’s Hyde Park, every Sunday, with different speakers. The Young Theosophists assisted by giving out pamphlets and taking addresses for the mailing lists. Also in 1923 the very first hint of a Broadcasting Station began when Mr. van Gelder installed a powerful transmitter at The Manor, Mosman and started broadcasting music and eventually theosophical talks. However, the real highlight of 1923 was the fact that building operations for the new premises were begun at 7.30 a.m. on 5th November.
1924 was a year of serious financial difficulty for the Lodge. Increased rent sent it from 140 Phillip Street to 60 Castlereagh Street and the year started with a debt of £600. However, the debt was halved by the generosity of the Treasurer who wrote off a debt of £300 owing to him. The sewing guild had a sale of work which raised £115 and the Young Theosophists had a bazaar which raised £70. The Adyar Hall (now the Savoy Theatre), had a level floor then and the Bazaar was held there.
Mr. Fritz Kunz conducted an enthusiastic workers’ training class and also gave lectures. Support was given by members to the formation of a Cremation Society and to the cause of prohibition, which was then an issue in Sydney. Noon day lectures, which were very well attended, were given in the vestibule of the Sydney Town Hall. An offer of help was sent by the Lodge to about 40 organizations working for human betterment.
Public lectures in Adyar Hall commenced on 10th January, 1925 and the audience increased to more than 500. Lecturers included Fritz Kunz, Irving Cooper, Captain Sidney and Mrs. Josephine Ransom, Professor Ernest Wood and Dr. van der Leeuw. The latter gave a series of thirteen lectures on ‘The Cyclic Law in History’ which packed the hall and chairs had to be placed in the aisles, even then people stood at the back.
On Adyar Day, 17th February, 1925, the Foundation Stone of Blavatsky Lodge was well and truly laid by C.W. Leadbeater. During that year public lectures were held every Sunday without fail. Speakers included Mr. Jinarajadasa, Mr. J. Krishnamurti, Lady Emily Lutyens and Miss Mary Neff. A new activity was organized by Mr. C. V. Boult of the Conservatorium of Music, in the form of mid-day concerts in the hall which attracted capacity audiences and at which collections were taken to provide a scholarship for some promising music pupil. These continued for forty weeks.
This year (1925) saw a cafe started in the Lodge premises, under a manageress. Being one of the few vegetarian cafes in Sydney, it had a good clientele. The Lodge now had a membership of 535.
Seventy members went from Sydney to the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Society which was held at Adyar. On their return they brought many visitors with them. 1926 has been described as a year in which members went out to help smaller lodges, daughter movements and outside kindred organizations. New activities included an Esperanto class, meditation groups and the Adyar Ladies’ Choir under the direction of Mr. Edward Branscombe (of Westminster Boys’ Choir fame). In 1927 Broadcasting Station 2GB was firmly established. The Theosophical Order of Service was strong and active, working with the League of Nations Union, Animal Welfare Group, Braille work for the Blind Institution, Racial Hygiene Society, Cremation Society and many women’s and children’s organizations.
Lecturers included Dr. Arundale, Mr. Jinarajadasa and Dr. Piet Roest. Public lecture recitals were given by composer Alfred Hill and singer Clement Hosking and nearly all lectures were broadcast. In 1929 Dr. Arundale was President of the Lodge. The bookshop moved to the (then new) Her Majesty’s Arcade and was called ‘The Philosophers’ Bookshop’, where it was more in the public eye and the sales increased, although it was temporarily discontinued the following year owing to the Depression.
There were few organizations not affected by the economic depression of the 1930s and the prevailing conditions were reflected in Lodge figures. Members were still capable of rising to the occasion, however, and at a meeting held at the end of the year, an outstanding debt of two years amounting to £248 was subscribed on the spot. A Tuesday night inquirers’ group was started with ten members and the next year increased to eighteen.
Lecturers in 1931 included Major-General Gordon Bennett and Professor Tasman Lovell of Sydney University’s Department of Psychology. Mr. L.W. Burt’s speakers’ class flourished and, in spite of the Depression, the usual activities were carried on. The Order of Service distributed 150 handmade garments to hospitals and needy people. Subscriptions were reduced to help members in financial difficulties, but in spite of this receipts rose, due mainly to increased lettings of the hall. Lecturers included Mr. L.W. Rogers of the U.S.A., who attracted capacity audiences. The seating in Adyar Hall was for 500 people. Two great leaders of the Theosophical Society, Dr. Annie Besant and Mr. C.W. Leadbeater, passed away in 1933 and 1934 respectively. Times were extremely difficult for many people and the membership fell to 268, 73 of whom were unfinancial in spite of lower fees but the work went on. The Order of Service distributed 300 garments. Radio publicity brought in 250 library subscribers. The cafe, which had become a liability, was taken over by the Misses Pope who did a wonderful job for a number of years. After the commencement of the Second World War in 1939, the effects of the conflict were keenly felt by the Lodge as a whole and by individual members.
The Golden Jubilee of the Theosophical Society in New South Wales was celebrated in 1941, the Society having been established May 1891 in this State. In 1942, in spite of travel restrictions, there were visits by Mr. Jinarajadasa and Miss Mary Neff. Major Piet Roest, who was stationed here with the United States Army, was also a guest of the Lodge.
In 1945 when interstate travel was again possible, Convention was presided over by Mr. Jinarajadasa. The Young Theosophists instituted a food parcel scheme and during the year sent thirty-six parcels to T.S. members in England and Holland. The following year they sent fifty-nine. This meant collecting the food, packing the parcels and providing the money for postage.
Impact of Theosophy
It is considered that the impact of Theosophy is measured by the work which individual members, inspired by the teachings, do in the community. Over the past 75 years of the existence of lodges of the Society in Sydney, members have interested themselves in many trends and movements for the service of the world. For instance in the early days of Blavatsky Lodge a number of members became associated with the promotion of the Cremation movement, as also did members in the United States. In the first issue of ‘Blavatsky Lodge News’ (October, 1922) attention is drawn to an organization calling for support to build a Crematorium and which features the alluring undertaking, ‘We’ll burn you for £5!’
Members of Blavatsky Lodge have for many years been associated with various public movements such as anti-vivisection, vegetarianism, kindness to animals, new education and many others.
A small group of members of the Theosophical Order of Service in Sydney, under the leadership of Mr. Len Wade, worked for several years to establish a home for elderly people. As a result a block of 12 units, named the McIntyre Centre for Senior Citizens, was completed in 1968. The Centre, named after the late Mr. A. McIntyre who initiated the scheme by giving a block of land for the purpose, has its own constitution and is registered as a charitable organization.
A bookshop was established on a full-time trading basis in 1956. As mentioned before, earlier attempts had been made in this regard and a book depot supplying theosophical literature had functioned continuously as part of the Lodge’s activity but this work had been greatly increased in recent years. It is interesting to observe the great impact which books and publicity material have had and are still exerting on the public. Although the bookshop was situated in the basement of the building and was somewhat limited in space, the turnover rose tremendously, making it perhaps one of the busiest of the specialized bookshops in the city. Together with the library, it became the Lodge’s main contact with the public as both offer what is probably Sydney’s broadest range of metaphysical, occult and religio-philosophical books. The sympathetic attention given to all visitors by a dedicated staff of members, must have encouraged many a casual inquirer to take a deeper interest. Unfortunately the Adyar Bookshop closed for business in 2012.
Those who, with wonder and gratitude, become aware of the transformation Theosophy has worked in their own attitude and understanding, surely hope and believe that in varying degrees this may happen to all who come within the Society’s influence.
Blavatsky Lodge is the Sydney branch of The Theosophical Society in Australia. The Society attracts members from many cultures and religious backgrounds and with varied interests. It emphasises freedom of thought which allows for individual differences in approach.
Those who choose to join The Theosophical Society are not asked to accept any particular belief or to surrender existing beliefs – they are asked only to be in sympathy with the Society’s Three Objects.
Membership provides access to various events, publications and facilities, such as:
- lending and research libraries
- meetings, talks, discussions, seminars and workshops
- opportunities to attend national and international conventions, seminars, retreat and educational centres
- national and international journals
- contact with theosophical organisations, groups and members throughout Australia and around the world
It is suggested that anyone wishing to join the Society should first become familiar with its aims and activities. They could perhaps join a theosophical library, attend meetings and get to know members. Blavatsky Lodge requires two sponsors, who must be members, for membership applications.
A membership application form and information about the membership fee may be obtained from Blavatsky Lodge of The Theosophical Society, 3rd floor, 484 Kent St Sydney NSW.