Entering from the brightly sunlit grounds one a warm December evening in Dunedin, Michaela George-Barnes blinked and looked with evident curiosity upon the peculiar artefacts and symbols ornamenting the city’s Masonic Centre.
A contingent of Trustees from the Otago Freemasons’ Charity (OFC), were on-hand to greet their smiling guest, who had arrived with a small entourage of family and friends, to celebrate the exciting fact that she had been chosen as this year’s recipient of the Port Chalmers Marine Lodge bursary and to receive the 5,000 dollar cheque that goes with the honour.
An ex-student of Otago Girls’ School, Michaela has worked hard to obtain a place at Victoria University in Wellington where she intends to take a Bachelor of Arts Degree: a double major in Political Science and Media Studies. When a Trustee asked how she had come to decide on simultaneously studying two such wide-ranging subjects, Michaela explained that she had been interested in politics since starting at Otago Girls’.
She said, “Understanding politics is, simply, important. I intend to study political science and media in order to help others and highlight the wrong-doing that exists, not just in our own political system, but also in many others worldwide; Syria being a prime example. Many New Zealanders blame the Muslim culture for the Syrian civil war, when really it is a consequence of the nepotism of the Assad regime. My long-term goals are to work as a political journalist, covering social and global issues such as the Syrian civil war, and the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement. To report on the political systems of countries like North Korea, Libya and Somalia, and find the facts behind the rape culture of India. It is for this reason that I want to attend the University of Victoria in Wellington. I want to have access to Parliament; to be front and centre in our capital city.”
Michaela, who in her spare time tutors a Syrian refugee in English language, was recently awarded the highest possible Pass with Distinction from Speech New Zealand – a certificate in Professional Speaking. Good grounds then for her friend, Desiree Williams, to inform us that Michaela had worked extremely hard, and saved as much of the little money she earned, so that she could attend university. Desiree considered that, of all people, Michaela really deserved this helping hand.
The bursary is granted annually to a school leaver from the Port Chalmers region; one who intends to go on to tertiary education, but who maybe financially struggling so to do. Oddly, it came about as a result of a Masonic Lodge closing down. As farming in the West Harbour district and the working of the busy port became more mechanised and computerised, there were fewer jobs on offer and, therefore, fewer men available to support the membership of the Port Chalmers Marine Lodge. It was a proud Lodge in the English Constitution – the last in Otago: one that had been consecrated in 1865 by Freemasons who were mainly merchant seamen, but by 2005 it became obvious that it would have to surrender its warrant. The Brethren, however, were not simply going to fade away. They determined that, following 140-years of service to the locality’s needs, this benevolent work should continue, so too should the name of the Lodge be, at the very least, annually remembered in Dunedin.
The Brethren closed the doors, sold their large building and banked the money. It had been decided that the interest would be made available to develop the education of young people from the Port Chalmers region, and to ensure continuity; they relinquished the custody of their income to the financial control of the Otago Masonic Charitable Trust. No kid, but certainly a whizz, Rt.W.Bro. Les Green invested their money, swiftly built on it, and by 2007; the Port Chalmers Lodge was in a position to donate its first ever bursary to a young lady called Jennifer Aitkin, who wished to go on to university.
(The Trust requests that the recipient’s family stay in touch, and recently Jennifer’s mother, Nicky Aitkin, wrote to the OFC’s Secretary, Grant Watson to inform him that to date, Jennifer had obtained an Honours Degree in Theatre Studies, an Honours in History, and a postgraduate diploma in Museum Studies. Currently Jennifer was working with museums in Melbourne, gaining hands-on experience while completing her Masters in Museum Studies via Massey University. Nicky said, “Jennifer sends her heartfelt thoughts to the Trust for the financial assistance provided.” This type of information is of immense use the Trust – not to mention the pleasure it brings to the members to hear that their efforts are worthwhile.)
Michaela explained that she learned she was to be awarded the bursary via an email from Grant Watson; she said, “I instantly thought it would be a ‘good-luck-next-time’ message, so I squealed with delight when I realised that I’d got it.” Apparently so much so noise was made that her stepfather jokingly asked her, “Good grief, what’s your problem?” Then she telephoned her father, her grandparents and her friends with the news. Her grandmother gave the best reaction, “She shrieked with joy when I told her,” said Michaela.
Chairman of the Otago Freemasons’ Charity, V.W.Bro. Ashley Broad JP, presented Michaela with the cheque for $5,000, informing her that the committee’s decision had been unanimous and that he considered her to be a worthy winner.
The event concluded with Michaela suggesting, “Another potential career … for me is to work in the human rights or peace and security sectors of the United Nations. I really would like to make a difference in this world.”
It is fair to say that the Trustees are confident that Michaela George-Barnes will do just that.