The Bush Tucker Mason

The Story of Brother John MacDouall Stuart 1815-1866
Australian Explorer and Mason

W. Brother Bernard Williamson

Strong Man Lodge No. 45.

Brother Stuart was born in Dysart, Fife, Scotland where he trained as a civil engineer after being rejected for military service on account of his not being robust enough for that type of life — rather ironic when you see what fate had in store for him. In 1839, after finding his sweet heart in a compromising position with his best friend, he packed his bags and ran away to seek his fortune, ending up in Adelaide, South Australia.

Following his trade he quickly found employment with the Government's survey department which was endeavouring to extend the grazing lands into the north of the colony. In 1844 he accompanied the Father of Australian Explorers Charles Smith on his last expedition to the Murray and Darling rivers. Stuart made the first of his own expeditions in 1858 where he built up a reputation as a first rate explorer. Contemporary reports reveal that "…he has a hardihood by nature to endure thirst and hunger, a good practical knowledge of Botany, Surveying, Astronomy, Medicine and he can shoe his own horse. He has the pluck of a giant in his puny frame."

In 1859 two things of interest happened to John Stuart: he was initiated into Lodge Truth No. 8 (Adelaide) S.C. and the Government of South Australia offered a £2000 prize to the discoverer of a route across the centre of the continent for the overland telegraph. This was to be an extension of the existing service from Europe and India. In February 1860 Stuart and his team set after the prize hotly pursued in March by a team headed by the legendary Burke and Wills. By the end of April Stuart's expedition had discovered the much sought-after centre of Australia now named Central Mount Stuart where they built a cairn and raised the flag, In the 24 years since the first official white settlers had arrived in South Australia six different exploring parties had endeavoured to find this point. They all failed, a point to note in view of other discoveries made later on. (Modern Satellite mapping has discovered the actual centre to be 400 kms south.)

Stuart was forced to make many attempts to find the route and on the second of these he discovered watering holes for a future repeater station for the telegraph line which he named Ketwick Ponds after his second-in-command. One day, while Brother John was standing at one of these ponds, a group of four Aboriginal tribesmen appeared on the far bank. He gestured to them to come over to take water and to share his food. After a while he was stunned when the eldest of the party proceeded to make Masonic signs. Stuart respond to these signs whereupon the other three tribesmen slowly and deliberately continued to make further Masonic signals, they then crossed the pond and clapped him on the back, shared the water and food. A few days later when the Expedition was at another watering hole, a few miles away, they were confronted by a large band of armed tribesmen who attacked the party, however they threw their spears and boomerangs not to hit the explorers but near enough to warn them away from the precious water hole. When Brother John Stuart reported these incidents upon his return they were generally discounted as wishful thinking on his part. Being a new mason he must have misinterpreted the tribal displays of the tribesmen which are known to be similar to Masonic signs.

However on another attempt to discover the route, the explorers found wheat growing where no white men were ever supposed to have reached and at a place now called Muckaty Station the aboriginals referred to the rifles and guns of the party as 'Muckaty' taken to mean muskets, a term long out of use for these weapons. Could it be that back in the 1700s Masonic explorers or Masonic convict escapees had passed through this region? I doubt that we will ever know and the mystery remains. Brother Stuart finally discovered a way across the continent by reaching the Indian Ocean at Van Diemans Gulf on 25th July 1862. The return journey was a nightmare The sick starving expedition finally made the end of the trip on the 27th November. This last exploration nearly killed Brother Stuart who had scurvy, ulcers and arthritis. Most of the return journey he was carried on a stretcher between two horses because he was so weak.

Brother John Stuart was awarded the Royal Geographical Society Patron's Gold medal for his work. In 1864, sick, almost blind, and extremely lonely he moved to London to be cared for by his sister. Within a year his eyesight and his memory had completely gone and he died at the age of 50. In 1872 the overland telegraph line from Darwin to Adelaide was completed. His birthplace in Rectory Lane, Dysart is now the John MacDouall Stuart Museum.

[For a detailed biography of John MacDouall Stuart, with photographs, see the Wikipedia Article.]