Amy Eleanor Mack
1876 - 1939
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'The Bushland path that through the gully strays,
And leads the wanderer into wonderland....'
Amy Eleanor Mack's great love in life was nature. Her books and stories all contained a nature theme, with many being a natural history lesson as well. She began her career as a journalist and was editor of the Women's Page for seven years in The Sydney Morning Herald. During the war, while her husband served in the Middle East, Amy lived and worked in London, but returned to Sydney in 1919. Her husband, Lancelot Harrison, was also a nature lover, and in 1922 became Professor of Zoology at Sydney University.
Amy's first book, published in 1909, A Bush Calender, was produced for adults and consisted of a monthly diary style journal of Amy's own bush walks, with black and white photographs as illustrations. The Preface explains that the book came about due to requests of her readers of the Sydney Morning Herald, where the articles first appeared. Each chapter ends with a detailed list of flowers in bloom and birds to be found in and around the coastal areas of Sydney. The forty-two photographs that appear, were taken by a number of people including; F. McLean, J. Ramsay, A. Read, Kerry & Co., and her husband, Lancelot. The Preface also explains that the book 'was commenced with the idea of sharing with other bush lovers the pleasures of which I myself have found in my walks'. Amy talks in the first person as if in a diary and describes her daily walks through the bush, displaying the love and passion she had about nature and the bush.
from 'Bushland Stories'
Bushland Stories, on the other hand, is quite different. Written for children, Amy attempts to provide nature stories to encourage a love of nature and life. The wind, waves, trees and of course the animals and birds are all given characters and personalities, to impart certain knowledge or lessons to her young readers. The eighteen stories describe many aspects of bush life, with many of the characters, for example, the Little Angler and the Discontented Stream, discovering how important it is to be satisfied and content and not desire for things which are simply cannot be. They set out to discover the big wide world and find that where they began was in fact the best place of all. The cruel nature of humans is displayed of course, but thankfully it is also shown we can be kind even if it is only on Christmas Day!! The Bird's Alphabet allows Mack to introduce the many birds found in the Australian bush, as she makes up a short rhyme and song about each one, for virtually every letter of the alphabet.
Bushland Stories was the first volume in her nature series for young children, followed by Waterside Stories and Birdland Stories, all published in 1910. Scribbling Sue, featuring illustrations by May Gibbs, was also a book of short stories, not only about nature, but about how nature can teach us to be 'good'. Amy's older sister Louise was a great friend and rival of Ethel Turners as the girls all went to the same school.
Amy Mack continued to produce children's stories until 1928, when, after the sudden death of her husband, she seems to have declined in health herself, eventually dying in 1939.
List of Works
1910, Bushland Stories For Children, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, NSW. (Vol. 1), With colour plates by Lionel Lindsay, brother to the famous Norman Lindsay. (Reprinted in 1914).
1910, Birdland Stories, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, NSW. (Vol. 2).
1911, Bush Days, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, NSW.
1910, Waterside Stories, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, NSW. (Vol. 3).
1913, Scribbling Sue and Other Stories, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, NSW. (illus. by May Gibbs).
1914, The Tom-Tit's Nest, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, NSW.
1922, The Wilderness, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, NSW.
1928, The Fantail's House and Other Australian Nature Stories, Cornstalk, Sydney, NSW. (Vol. 1).
1928, The Gum Leaf That Flew and Other Stories of Australian Bushland, Cornstalk, Sydney, NSW. (Vol. 2).
1928, Why the Spinebill's Beak is Long, Cornstalk, Sydney, NSW. (Vol. 3).
Unlike her sister Amy, who focused on nature stories, her sister Louise chose to write about schooldays instead, with her first Australian novel being published in 1897. Teens: A Story of Australian Schoolgirls, was publisher Angus and Robertson's first attempt at children's publishing. Competing with the highly successful Ward Lock Publishers from London, Teens was of a high quality, with George Robertson, not only hoping for a Australian best seller, but also wishing to maintain his reputation back in Britain.
Louise Mack grew up in a family with twelve brothers and sisters, so was no doubt qualified to write on all manner of relationships between children, their parents and teachers. Louise attended Sydney Girls High School, with her days there forming the basis of Teens and it's sequel, Girls Together. She was classmate and friend to the famous Ethel Turner, so when Mack began a school magazine entitled The Gazette, Turner set up the rival Iris! The same situation appears in Teens when Lennie and her friends set up their magazine The Chronicle and must compete with Leah's far more professional publication, The Bluebell. Ethel and Louise's friendship unlike the book however, continued for many years, with Ethel being bridesmaid for Louise when she later married Irishman, John Creed, in 1897.
Throughout the early 1890's Mack was a regular contributor to The Bulletin, and under the pseudonym, Gouli Gouli, wrote the Sydney Women's Letter. In 1896, her first adult novel, The World is Round was published, although The Bulletin had published many of her poems prior to that. Turner's success in 1894 with Seven Little Australians, prompted other publishers to publish works of Australian writers and stories of Australia, with the result that in 1897, Teens was produced. This was illustrated by the exceptionally talented, Frank Mahony, who would later gain fame with the 1899 publication - Dot and the Kangaroo. Teens was a great success and of course, extremely popular with girls. It became the first of the Australian 'school stories' and the first of Mack's three part series involving the protagonist - Lennie Leighton. Teens was closely followed by Girls Together in 1898, but the conclusion did not appear until 1933 and was entitled - Teens Triumphant, where we find Lennie now fully grown and living in London. Mack was obviously very sensitive to the emotions and problems of teenage girls which she based on her own teenage years. Her books presented a realistic portrayal of school girls and their lives at that time.
Teens explored Lennie's life both at home and at school, with her best friend Mabel James. The two girls share all the highs and lows of life, with some amusing results. Girls together continues the story with Mabel falling in love with Lennie's brother Bert, with all the emotions of jealousy, anger, hatred and love cleverly explored. Saxby (1969, p. 92), considers her first two books as 'probably the best school stories ever written about Australian children', with'no attempt to intrduce English attitudes or to describe a way of life that is foreign to Australian readers.'. Along with the Turner sisters and Mary Grant Bruce, Louise Mack was considered one of the most popular writers for young Australians in the early 1900's. Their teenage heroines, were just what was needed - some were conforming, some outrageous, some feminine, some tomboys, but all of them realistic and therefore highly successful.
In 1901, Mack moved to England where An Australian Girl in London was produced, as well as a number of other adult novels. Her time in London and her experiences there, later provided the inspiration for Lennie's London sojourn in Teens Triumphant. Here Lennie leaves school behind and moves to London, to live the life of a struggling artist.
Louise Mack was a most adventurous young woman, with an extremely interesting life, as one no doubt would have, in a family of fifteen! McVitty (1989, p. 125), reports - that she travelled a great deal and spent time living in England and Europe, as well as Australia. After living in England she moved to Florence and remained there for six years, as editor of The Italian Gazette. In 1914, at the outbreak of war, under the instructions of Lord Northcliffe, Mack was sent to Belgium, as a reporter for the Daily Mail and the Evening News, as the world's first woman war correspondent. Incredibly, as the Germans advanced and all the other journalists returned to England, Louise stayed on alone, disguised as a maid! Thus she was able to send first hand accounts of the invasion and occupation of the Belgium town of Antwerp. She was eventually smuggled out to the safety of the Netherlands, having been in hiding for some time in Belgium. She returned to England and in 1916, to Australia. All of these adventures are described in A Woman's Experiences in the Great War.Louise Mack continued to travel and write for various newspapers and magazines, until finally settling in Sydney. She married for the second time in 1932 and spent her remaining years, writing and lecturing in New Zealand and Australia.
List of Works for Children
1897, Teens; A Story of Australian Schoolgirls, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, NSW. (illus. by Frank Mahony).
1898, Girls Together, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, NSW. (illus. by George W. Lambert).
1902, An Australian Girl in London,
1904, Children of the Sun,
1933, Teens Triumphant, Stephenson, Sydney, NSW.
1915, A Woman's Experiences in the Great War, T. Fisher Unwin, London.
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