From The English Department

Main Image: Miss Constance Mackness, pictured in the gardens of PGC.

Last week, marking the 100th anniversary of the official opening of The Presbyterian Girls’ College on its Locke Street campus, gave me the opportunity to reflect upon the enormous contribution of Miss Constance Mackness, PGC’s founding principal and also the College’s first English teacher. Miss Mackness’ influence was enormously significant at the time and her legacy stands strong today. This is particularly evident in two ways: firstly, her dedication to rigorous academic scholarship; and secondly, through her determination to ensure that this kind of rich educational experience was available to all students at the College.

At the first assembly on the school’s first day of operation on February 5, 1918, Miss Mackness’s initial address to the 45 enrolled girls included thoughts on the potential attributes that could be covered by the letters P, G and C. Of particular note was her hope that, amongst other qualities, the P would represent ‘painstaking’ as an attitude towards work and study. As Miss Mackness had completed her Arts degree, graduating with honours, in her studies of English, French, History and Geology she certainly would have understood the importance of a painstaking approach to academic endeavours. Students at the College had set times for study and leisure and were encouraged to use their time effectively in completing the task at hand. In this regard, we see many parallels with our expectations for students today, and the high standard of work that has already been submitted to the English Department this term stands as a testament to the dedication of many of our students.

It was quite unusual for a girls’ school in 1918 to have such highly qualified and experienced teaching staff, but Miss Mackness was determined to ensure that the girls in her care were afforded the same educational opportunities as their brothers. Although the early PGC curriculum offered some courses, such as shorthand, typing and bookkeeping, which were designed as potential career pathways for young women, students at the College were also encouraged to develop confidence in their own abilities (one of the attributes of the letter ‘C’) and undertake studies in any field of interest. Miss Mackness was determined that PGC should be a leader in the education of girls in Queensland – an opinion which was rather bold and controversial for its time. In our English lessons today, our staff strive to encourage students to be critical and creative thinkers who engage with texts and ideas; in doing this, we hope to capture a little of Miss Mackness’ pioneering spirit.

Miss Constance Mackness remained as principal of the College for thirty-two years and saw it grow immeasurably. Her commitment to the academic life of the College was recognised in the naming of the Mackness Library at PGC in 1970. We can only wonder at what she would make of our facilities today!

Anyone who is interested in learning about the early life of our College is encouraged to borrow Basil Shaw’s book, The Lion and the Thistle: A History of The Scots PGC College, Warwick, 1918-1992 from our Senior Library.

Mr Fraser Bolton – Head of English Department