Constance Mackness was born on 17 June 1882, in Tuena, New South Wales, the second child of James Mackness, a goldminer, and his wife, Alice, née Brown. Her childhood was later fictionalised in her first novel Gem of the Flat (1915). She was educated at Fort Street Model School, where she became the first female Dux. She matriculated with Honours in French and secured one of the three scholarships to the University of Sydney which were available to women. She graduated with a B.A. in 1902 with first class Honours in English, French and History (ADB 318). She began teaching history at Presbyterian Ladies’ College, Croydon, where she taught for thirteen years before being promoted to Senior Mistress at PLC’s new branch school in Pymble in 1916 (Macfarlane 31-34). Mackness became the founding Headmistress of the Presbyterian Girls’ College, Warwick, in 1919, a position she held until her retirement in 1949. During her time she gave the school its motto and uniform, and started the school magazine, giving the school a distinct Scottish infused identity. In addition to her four school stories, she wrote another six children’s novels and wrote articles and short stories for local papers and the Bulletin, as well as a local history of Clump Point. In 1959 she was awarded an M.B.E. She moved to a Presbyterian nursing home in Brisbane and died on 13 December 1973 in Corinda. Just before her death she had started writing an autobiography.
Australian Dictionary of Biography, Online Edition: Mackness, Constance (1882 - 1973) by Nancy Bonnin.
Australian Children's Literature: 1830-1950: Constance Mackness
Miss Pickle: the Story of an Australian Boarding-School. London: Humphrey Milford Oxford University Press, 1924. 280 pages. Illustrated M. D. Johnston, col. frontis. & 4 b/w illus.
The Glad School. Sydney: Cornstalk Publishing Company, 1927. 244 pages. Illustrated 'Edgar A. Holloway', 3 b/w illus.
The Glad School is set at Mackness’s own school: the Presbyterian Girls’ College (PGC) in Warwick, which was nicknamed The ‘Glad School’. Mackness dedicated the story to her pupils, describing it as a faithful picture of the school’s spirit, traditions and activities. The Glad School centres on the adventures and misadventures of two madcap friends, Frances ‘Wuzzie’ and Dorothy ‘Twinkle’, who are both fond of pranks. The story starts with their midnight feast being interrupted when one of their schoolmates, dressed as a ghost, steals their food. The girls are determined to discover the culprit and seek retribution, though they target two innocent girls before discovering the real culprit. The Glad School contains many chapter-length vignettes of school life and activities. Treasure hunts, netball matches, the annual Scots PGC dance, Good Luck Tea for Exam Sitters, Michaelmas Break, etc, are described with Mackness including poems and stories taken from PGC’s actual magazine Miss Thistle. This makes The Glad School’s portrayal of boarding school life, lessons, amusements and sport very authentic. Mackness based some of the minor characters, such as Alison, the Head Girl, on real PGC pupils. The Glad School is also distinctive in its treatment of the schoolgirl honour code, which typically discourages sneaking. An episode occurs when Dorothy discovers one of her classmates cheating in an exam, and she decides to tell the Head Girl, "a class’s honour lay in its own hands, and no member of a class must tolerate dishonesty in another" (23). The culprit is punished by the School Council; as the Head of PGC gave much of the day to day disciplinary powers to the prefects and school council. Dorothy is initially upset at the apparent leniency of the punishment until the Head Girl reminds her that to encourage reformation one must be merciful to ensure that the school remains a "big happy family".
Di-Double-Di. Sydney: Cornstalk Publishing Company, 1929. 299 pages. Illustrated 'Edgar A. Holloway', b/w frontis. & 2 b/w illus.
Di-Double-Di follows Mackness’ previous school story, The Glad School, in using two madcap friends as the main characters. Di-Double-Di is the story of two friends at Brentwood College, a boarding school with 65 boarders in Hornsby, run by the three Misses Dimsdale. Diana Morton, otherwise known as ‘Buzz’, is a new girl who is befriended by madcap pupil, Diana Brand, otherwise known as ‘Monkey’. Most of the teachers at Brentwood College like Monkey despite her mischievous behaviour, though one teacher, Miss Templeton finds Monkey difficult in class. Di-Double-Di is different to Mackness’ two previous school stories in that she introduces a romantic plot involving the school’s neighbours. Buzz and Monkey make friends with Clive, a crippled author, who lives in the house next door to the school, with his mother in law, two maiden sisters in law, and his niece. Clive encourages the girls to be nicer to Miss Templeton. Despite Monkey’s resolve to do so, she finds herself in trouble when the teacher accuses her of playing a trick in class. When the real culprit acknowledges her guilt, Miss Templeton is ashamed of her actions and Monkey endeavours to end the feud. Because of Mackness’ profession as a Head mistress, many of the teachers in her school stories are a given a human side, and often the school is viewed through the eyes of the teachers, not just the schoolgirls. Miss Templeton is sympathetically portrayed as an ill-suited teacher. Though she is a brilliant scholar she lacks the temperament for teaching, but has to work to support an invalided father. Mackness ends Di-Double-Di with a happy romantic ending, resolving the problems of the girls’ neighbours. Clive is cured, the maiden aunts are freed of their oppressive mother, Clive is to marry one of Brentwood’s teachers and Miss Templeton becomes engaged.
Clown of the School. London: Ward, Lock & Co. Limited, 1935. 254 pages. Illustrated 'Sutcliffe', 3 b/w illus.
The Clown of the school is Mary Trevor, an incorrigible thirteen-year-old Fourth Former at Fairview College, a girls’ school in Hornsby, in the Northern Suburbs of Sydney. Mary plays the fool in her classes and is such a disruptive influence that the Head, Miss Maxwell, enlists the help of prefect Rosalie Melrose, to try to reform Mary. Rosalie decides to take Mary along with her when she visits her Uncle and his family. Like Di-Double-Di, Mackness employs an older male author character who tries to help in the reformation of the madcap. Mary continues to play the clown in class so the Head decides to try to occupy Mary’s time and keep her from mischief, by making her work for a scholarship and appointing her as head of the newly formed Junior Dramatic Club. The Clown of the School illustrates the trend of girls’ schools in Australia to adopt public school elements. Before the end of the first term, Miss Maxwell announces the introduction of houses and house competitions in work and sport, dividing the school into four guilds. Mary finds herself in Rosalie’s guild. Mary’s reformation begins again in earnest when Miss Maxwell encourages her to help her mother during the holidays. In the new term the whole school, including Mary, returns with a new keenness for work and sport. Mary’s efforts for her guild to win the Gardening Prize are more out of spite against a despised Sixth Former in another guild. Mary’s friend, Dell, is accused of thieving from the boarders’ pantry, but is cleared when Mary discovers an old tramp helping himself to food. This ‘falsely accused’ motif is a recurrent theme in Australian girls’ school stories. Mary’s reformation is complete when on the final day of term she is voted by the teachers as the "girl most improved in her conduct for the sake of her guild". This reformation for the sake of her house theme and ideas of British public school honour make this title quite different to Mackness’ other school stories.