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23 January 2010

Margaret Parker (Margaret MacDonald Parker)

Margaret MacDonald Parker was born in Scotland, one of (at least) two daughters of the Reverend Professor Murdoch MacDonald. The family immigrated to Australia in 1875 where her father was employed at Ormond College at the University of Melbourne (Murphy 19). Margaret and her younger sister Isobel were educated at the Presbyterian Ladies’ College, Melbourne. Her sister, Isobel, was the first woman to win First Class Honours in Arts at the University of Melbourne and she returned to the College in 1899, teaching until 1915 when she became Headmistress of St. Cuthbert’s, Auckland. Later she was Headmistress of Fintona and PGC Adelaide (Reid 127). Margaret and Isobel were founding members of the Magpie Club in 1885 at PLC, a club which included amongst its members, Mathilda Monash, sister of future General Monash, and Vida Goldstein. ‘Henry Handel Richardson’ applied for membership but was blackballed as she was not always "invariably truthful" (Reid 221-22). Parker held the distinction of being the first Old Collegian to have a novel published. She wrote two novels, and two girls’ stories. She is said to have been a teacher, but little else is known about her later life.

For the Sake of a Friend: A Story of School Life. Glasgow: Blackie and Son. Limited, 1896. 224 pages. Illustrated G. Demain Hammond, b/w frontis. & 3 b/w illus.

The first Australian girls’ school story published, For the Sake of a Friend, features a plot involving a new girl, a stolen essay and a false accusation motif. For the Sake of a Friend introduces Susannah Snow, a fifteen-year-old orphan, who lives with her maiden aunt in Melbourne. She is sent to Stormont House, "the very grandest and most fashionable school in Melbourne", when her aunt has to travel to America. Stormont House is run by Mrs Lorraine and her daughter Miss Lorraine, and has built up a reputation for academic achievement as well as the traditional accomplishments and deportment favoured by Mrs Lorraine. Susannah has had a very sheltered upbringing, and finds school rather bewildering. She is befriended by pretty, popular and rich Trix, but the pair fall out when Susannah refuses to post a clandestine letter for Trix, and she is sent to Coventry. Susannah is further ostracised when a secret dance, organised by Trix and her friend Nelly, is discovered by one of the teachers, and the girls suspect Susannah sneaked. Susannah is further persecuted when the girls believe she stole Trix’s Essay Prize entry, and plan a trick which causes Susannah to have an accident and become seriously ill. The doctor fears she may develop brain fever. When the real culprit is revealed to be Nelly, all the girls regret their actions and Susannah recovers. This plot involving the heroine being falsely accused was used in early British girls’ school stories.

The trio’s story is continued in Trefoil (1900). Here the girls are in their last days at Stormont House and resolve to form a society, ‘Trefoil’, and meet again in five years’ time.


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