Stewart Stott – Freemasonry’s latter-day Robin Hood
One Past Master of Lodge St. Patrick who has taken Robin Hood’s concept of charity to a higher plane has to be V.W.Bro. Stewart Stott.
Stewart Stott retired in 2004 and decamped from Dunedin to Geraldine, a lovely village in Canterbury in New Zealand’s South Island. Once ensconced there and while pondering on the facilities available for, especially the younger folk in his new domain, it dawned on him that one facet of his background could make a very positive addition to the area – and quite an uncommon one to boot. After much planning with his friend, fellow Dunedinite, Clive Grundy, on 15th February 2006 they formed the Geraldine Archery Club.
Though few of his Masonic colleagues are aware, Bro. Stott has for years been a registered coach with the Coaching Commission of Archery, New Zealand. Being also an ex-member of Dunedin Archery Club meant that Stewart was well placed to help publicise Geraldine’s new club by helping to organise its first Open Day in 2006. A considerable number of inquisitive individuals braved inclement weather that day to “have a go” and, despite the showers, the event was deemed a success.
One can see how interested persons could get hooked on archery: it is an activity from so far in the past of the human species that it might almost be embedded in our collective genes. As a means of obtaining food, the craft of the hunter armed with a bow and arrows probably predates the Stone Age, perhaps more than 15,000 years. The use of such weapons for hunting and warfare is well documented on 5,000 year old Egyptian artifacts, while the depiction of archers is common on pottery from ancient Greece.
Until the gun became all dominant, the well-practised bowman was an invaluable asset on any battlefield. Concerned that it was vital for the security of his country to have readily available a large quantity of such trained men, in 1252 Henry III made a proclamation that “all yeomen [of England] are required by Law to practise archery and maintain their skill.” (Strangely, more than 750 years on, this old English law has never been repealed.) King Henry’s demand to all Englishmen paid off years later at the Battle of Crécy, when on Friday, 26th August 1346, English archers brought about the defeat of an opposing French army more than twice its size. During a decisive period of the battle it has been estimated that the English army’s archers, approximately 5,500 in number, were launching upwards of 33,000 arrows a minute into the French army’s massed ranks. It was an especially ‘Black Friday’ for the 6,000 mercenary Genoese crossbowmen on whom the French army were heavily reliant, as these men were decimated by the English fire.
The well-practised lethality of the deadly English military archer was to be demonstrated time and again, not least in 1415, at the famous Battle of Agincourt where their martial art was the cause of the same scene of slaughter as at Crécy.
Its use in warfare long ended, in modern times the attempt to gain mastery over the longbow and its often errant arrow, is a hugely popular, multifaceted sport able to be levelly played by male, female, or disabled athletes and, as such, is a much televised event during the Olympic Games.
To achieve ‘perfection’ the ultimate control of this weapon requires one to impose their personal domination over their own eye, hand, muscles, breathing, coordination, mental toughness, and superior senses, to the point where, when all those planets are aligned, for one frozen moment planet Earth stands still. Outside sound drowned by intense focus. Sight picture perfect ... and ... release. Your projectile is in the air. You own that arrow. It is yours. No one’s God or outside influence can be blamed for failure. The world shuts down for the few seconds that the shaft speeds on its feathered wings to the target.
To anyone who has mastered this art well enough to achieve such Zen, and repeat it again and again until the match is won, it must be a virtually spiritual experience.
Geraldine Archery Club is now well established and meets at every Sunday at the nearby Orari Racecourse* starting at 11am with coaching courses. The club’s expert archers have been providing training to a range of schools, organisations and corporates, all of whom have benefited from their services, be it for recreation, training for competition, or right through to strong corporate ‘team building’ programmes. The policy seems to be working, for just a few beneficiaries on their client list are Geraldine High School, Waimate High School, and local primary schools, Lyalldale Young Farmers Association, Fontera tanker drivers, and the Midland District Police Force. A party of children from the Kiwi Family Trust in Christchurch, journey down at least four times a year, while the club regularly hosts groups from the Cubs, Brownies and Scouts.
Club Day commences at 1:00pm each Sunday, when both Junior & Seniors all shoot on the line. The club has its own bows, arrows, and all other paraphernalia a budding archer might require, and this is housed and transported in their own shuttle trailer, appropriately named “Robin”. They are proud to be able to declare that everything they own has been purchased via subscriptions, coaching fees, activity days, fund raising and a few grants.
A compact group by national standards, when it comes to archery competitions the club punches above its weight, fielding teams in the ArcheryNZ Postal Shoot, in Archery NZ and the Ryan Shield. Club member John Luxford, together with Stewart, have won gold, silver and bronze medals in both the NZ Masters Games and the South Island Masters Games competing in Dunedin, Nelson, and Geraldine.
Geraldine Archery Club was presented with an achievement certificate from the “Go Geraldine” committee in October 2011, were runner-up in the Sports & Leisure section of the Trustpower Community Awards in 2011, receiving a very welcome cheque for $250. In July 2012 Stewart was awarded a certificate and medal during the Timaru District Council Community Awards in recognition of his outstanding voluntary service.
Geraldine Archery Club may be relatively small in numbers but they are big in ideas. The club hosted the South Island Masters Games in 2010, 2012, 2014 and, hopefully, will again. This is a two day event that entices archers from all over New Zealand.
Of Anglo-Scottish parentage, Stewart Stott was born in Ballantrae, South Ayrshire (world renown Robbie Burns’ country**), but he was brought up and learned his trade in Hebdenbridge, near Halifax, West Yorkshire, England. In 1961 Stewart left England with his mother and two younger brothers and emigrated to New Zealand, taking up his profession as a painter and decorator. In the Otago province he was employed for much of the time by the esteemed Dunedin-based painting and renovating firm, James Wren & Company. Stewart became self-employed, later returning to James Wren to work under contract on large corporate projects.
In March 1978, having been proposed by his friend and long-time Lodge St. Patrick member John Smaill, Stewart was initiated into Freemasonry; steadily progressing through the ranks to become Master of this Lodge in 1991 and again in 2001. To preserve his Masonic ties, when he retired and left Dunedin, he affiliated with Winchester Lodge No. 1737 E.C. which, coincidentally, was the Lodge that the great-grandfather of his partner helped to found. In spite of being based many miles from, his Mother Lodge, Stewart regularly attends St. Patrick on installation days and other special events.
When he isn’t explaining the nuances of fletches, nocks, finger tabs, bows, butts and quivers, Stewart likes to spend time with his long-time Maid Marion, Del Spencer. Del has been the Secretary of the Geraldine Archery Club for seven years, and is also Treasurer, and all this is possibly just as well as otherwise she might never see him!
Through archery Stewart Stott’s work in the Geraldine community, sometimes with underprivileged kids, is slowly beginning to bear fruit. He hopes that the Geraldine Archery Club will, for many years to come, be a precious community hub where people can come, not just to play, but also to learn the ancient and fascinating skills required to master the age-old art of archery.***
Geraldine Archery Club is based at the Orari Racecourse, Orari Station Road, Orari and meets at 1:00pm every Sunday.
Coaching lessons start at 11:00am with all equipment readily available if required. Booking though is essential. The coaches are fully qualified Archery NZ instructors and four lessons cost just $60 to cover equipment costs.
For further information telephone: (03) 693 9952 or (03) 685 4858
or visit www.geraldinearchery.co.nz