Several telegrams were sent to George Mackaness in 1938 on the occasion of King George VI bestowing the Order of the British Empire on him for his services to Australia in so many aspects of his teachings of the English language, his many literary and historical publications and his zeal in promoting Australiana. I have chosen 2 examples, the first from the Prime Minister of Australia at that time, Joseph Aloysius Lyons in a colourful Congratulatory Telegram, “Cordial Congratulations on bestowal by His Majesty of well merited honour, Lyons, Prime Minister” (Figure 1).
The second was from Lord Wakefield who was the Governor of New South Wales at that time: “Cordial congratulations from my wife and from me upon the recognition by His Majesty of your services and upon the honour conferred on you, Wakehurst, Governor”. Both were sent to his home in Drummoyne (as shown by the postmarking), a suburb of Sydney (Figure 2).
Captain the Honourable John de Vere Loder, Lord Wakehurst’s appointment as Governor was recorded in the Canberra Times on 7 January 1937, and the appointment came as somewhat of a surprise as shown in the short article in that newspaper (Figure 3).
George Mackaness educationist, author and bibliophile, was born on 9 May 1882 at Blue’s Point, Sydney, eldest of eight children of parents George Mackaness, printer and lithographer, and his wife Annie Ellen. He was educated at Drummoyne Public School, where he began as a probationary pupil-teacher in July 1897. Next January he was transferred to Balmain Superior Public School, where he completed the four years training in December 1901. He spent 1902 at Fort Street Training School on a half-scholarship and began teaching at Fort Street Public School in January 1903 at £96 a year. At St Thomas’s Anglican Church, Balmain, he married Alice Matilda Symons on 19 December 1906.
Meanwhile he had studied part time at the University of Sydney, graduating B.A. with first-class honours in English and half the James Coutts scholarship in 1907, and M.A. with first-class honours in English in 1911. From 1912 he was master of English and deputy headmaster of Fort Street Boys’ High School. To the boys he was known as ‘Creeping Jesus’, because his rubber-heeled shoes enabled him to surprise wrongdoers.
At Fort Street Mackaness was encouraged by the headmaster Alexander Kilgour to develop a new approach to teaching English. Although he expected the boys to read the classics, he deplored the lack of appreciation of Australian literature. With Bertram Stevens he edited Selections from the Australian Poets (1913) and after many editions, it was revised with his daughter Joan as The Wide Brown Land (1934).
To develop self-expression he introduced ‘magimaps’ of imaginary islands drawn by the boys, who wove stories about the people and places associated with their individual islands. He pioneered the ‘Play day movement’ in New South Wales: Fort Street became noted for its annual days in which every class acted scenes from Shakespeare or other writers. His book embodying his methods, Inspirational Teaching (London, 1928), won international recognition.
In 1924-46 Mackaness was lecturer-in-charge of the department of English at Teachers’ College, Sydney, where Bernard Smith found his conductor-like gestures, while demonstrating how to teach primary schoolchildren the significance of poetic metre, ‘wholly ludicrous’. He was also examiner in English for the intermediate certificate, a university extension lecturer and acting lecturer in English at the university in 1909, 1915-18 and 1927-30. He published several textbooks, an anthology, Australian Short Stories (London, 1928), and a selection of Henry Lawson’s prose works (1928).
By the 1930s Mackaness was a major figure in Sydney literary circles: he was an active foundation member of the Sydney branch of the English Association from 1923, an early member of the Sydney P.E.N. Club and president of the Fellowship of Australian Writers in 1933-34. From 1937 he served on the advisory board of the Commonwealth Literary Fund and in 1942-65 was a trustee of the Public Library of New South Wales. In 1946 he published an anthology, Poets of Australia. A prolific contributor to newspapers and journals, Mackaness edited and had privately printed in limited editions a series of thirty-nine Australian historical monographs. He also published lighter sketches such as Lags and Legirons (1944) and bibliographies of the works of Henry Lawson.
A Freemason, he wrote with Karl Cramp A History of the United Grand Lodge (1938). He was a council-member, fellow from 1940 and president in 1948-49 of the Royal Australian Historical Society. Appointed O.B.E. in 1938, he was awarded an honorary D.Sc. by the University of Sydney in 1961.
His interest in historical research led Mackaness and his wife into the by-ways of book-collecting. With limited money (he was earning £960 a year when he retired in May 1946), he built up probably the largest private collection of Australiana by the 1960s. In seventeen articles in the Amateur Book Collector (Chicago) in 1951-52 he described some of his finds including a leatherbound copy of the pirated edition of Charles Dickens The Pickwick Papers published in Launceston by Henry Dowling in 1839.
In 1966 Mackaness asked Angus & Robertson Ltd to dispose of his huge library at his Drummoyne home on a share basis. He died at Five Dock on 3 December 1968, and was cremated with Anglican rites. His wife and daughter survived him and inherited his estate, valued for probate at $46,119. A large man, balding in his later years, Mackaness was tireless but inclined to be pernickety. He made notable contributions in three fields—as a teacher of English, as a historian who made available quantities of documentary material, and as a bibliophile who made the collecting of Australiana popular.
A picture of Dr. George Mackaness and his wife taken at Christmas 1963 is seen in Figure 4.
This paper was extracted from the Australian Dictionary of Biography, and there are 2 papers concerning Prime Minister Lyons at this website in the Category: Political.