Teens, Louise Mack

Australian Women Writers Gen 2 Week 13-19 Jan. 2019


Louise Mack (1870-1935) was the oldest of thirteen children of a Wesleyan minister who, after various positions around South Australia and NSW settled in Sydney in 1882. Louise, who had up to then had been schooled by her mother and a governess, began attending Sydney Girls’ High School, probably from the following year when she would have turned 13.

Ethel Turner, author of Seven Little Australians, was the same age and attended the same school. Ethel and her 3 years older sister Lillian were well known for starting a school newspaper, as did Louise Mack. I mistakenly wrote in an earlier post – which I will now have to go off and find – that it was unlikely the two newspapers were in competition as Mack was 9 years younger. I was wrong. Sorry. I’d recorded Mack’s year of birth as 1879 when it was actually 1870 (ADB).

Teens begins with 13 year old Lennie sitting and passing the entrance exam to the School

A large, brown, two-storey building, with a wide, wooden staircase, a verandah all round, and an asphalted playground, shaded with two huge Moreton Bay fig trees. This was the School.

After a lonely first few days she makes friend with 15 year old Mabel and this is the story of their year in ‘B’. The big girls studying to matriculate and get into university – only possible since 1881 (More Educating Women) – were in ‘A’.

To get things out of order a little, one of the things the two girls do is start a school newspaper. There is great demand for the initial hand-written version so they scrimp and save to get it printed, and the poor old printer will only get paid from the sales the girls make at 6d a copy, only for the girls in ‘A’ to trump them with a much more impressive newspaper printed by one of their fathers. As Lillian Turner was most likely in ‘A’ when Mack was in ‘B’ this is no doubt a little bit of setting-the-record-straight.

As a guy, old, and without sisters, I have no experience to fall back to evaluate this book. It’s a long time since I last read Seven Little Australians and I’ve never read Little Women for instance or the equivalent books that girls read when I was reading ‘Boys Own’ books. Jane Austen’s young women are mostly older and definitely more mature. Picnic at Hanging Rock also has a more mature feel, despite the setting and period being similar, and probably reflects that it was written in the 1960’s (though Ethel Anderson’s At Paramatta (here) written in the 1950s does not). Another that should be similar but is not is The Getting of Wisdom. TGoW is an adult novel about schoolgirls whereas Teens is a novel for schoolgirls, and not very mature ones at that. The writing it most resembles is that of Enid Blyton.

For all that, it was a fun read. The girls, who at 13 and 15 still play with dolls (not that some of my own stuffed animals haven’t survived these past 60-something years) get into the usual school day scrapes, fall in love with their (lady) teacher, sleep over, play tricks on Lennie’s older brother, and contrary to Melanie’s opinion of recent YA fiction (at Grab the Lapels) – and yes this is only middle school in American terms – agonize over their school-work, fail to pay attention in Mathematics and ‘Euclid’, but finally come top in English, French and History.

Would I give Teens to a granddaughter? Maybe, at around age 11 or 12. For an adult, the only real reason to read it would be for its lively account of middle-class life in 1880s Sydney, and on holidays in the Blue Mountains, by someone who was there.

It was on the third storey that Lennie had her new bedroom. There was a little, irregular-shaped room up there, very narrow, but as long as the house was deep, that looked over other people’s yards at one end, and at the other, opened upon a stretch of suburb, ending in the sands of Botany Bay. From that window Lennie had one golden glimpse of the lazy, fair Pacific, and the calm blue waters of Botany Bay and its white sands; and nearer, the fresh, bright green of Chinamen’s gardens…
The younger girls had wonderful games of hookey .. The game was played in this way:—One girl was on one side, and any number on the other. The one girl chased the opposite side about the ground until she had caught one; then she and the caught one joined hands and chased again until they had caught another. Then these three joined hands and rushed to catch a fourth: and so on. And the fun was very high when there were forty girls all holding hands and chasing one about the playground…
“I’ve got the whole History of England to learn in three weeks, Mother, from William the Conqueror to Victoria; and the whole of the French Grammar, and the whole of the English Grammar; and two books of Euclid, and half of Peter the Great, and all the Physical Geography, and all the Arithmetic, and all the Geography of the whole world, to learn in three weeks.”
“But you’ve had six months to learn them in.”
“I know, Mother; but you see——”

I was going to post this at the end of the week, but I’ve returned to work earlier than I originally planned, and am as you read en route to Melbourne and Sydney. So I’m putting it up tonight and will do another end-of-week summary on Tues or Weds.


Louise Mack, Teens: A Story of Australian School Girls, first pub. 1897.  Angus & Robertson (paperback) 2016. I used pdf version (here) from University of Sydney Library.

Thankyou to everyone who participated in Australian Women Writers Gen 2 Week. There are links to all your reviews from the AWW Gen 2 page, as of course will be any reviews that you do in the future.

Posts/Reviews for Australian Women Writers Gen 2 Week

Katharine Susannah Prichard, The Pioneers, ANZLitLovers

Mary Grant Bruce, Billabong series, Michelle Scott Tucker

Monday Musings on Australian Literature: Capel Boake, Whispering Gums

Ethel Turner, In the Mist of the Mountains, Brona’s Books

Louise Mack, A Woman’s Experiences in the Great War, Nancy Elin

Louise Mack, Teens, wadh

Louise Mack, Girls Together, Whispering Gums (coming!)

Miles Franklin, Joseph Furphy, wadh

Background –

Louisa Lawson v Kaye Schaffer, wadh

Vance Palmer, The Legend of the Nineties, wadh

Frank Moorhouse ed., The Drover’s Wife, wadh

22 thoughts on “Teens, Louise Mack

  1. Yes, it’s coming today. Nearly finished last night. Now I can link it to this. Some of it will repeat what you’ve dpsaud…I’ve referenced several of the same sister books and am making the point that one of the values of reading it is the social history.

    BTW, I wrote about that Tyrner-Mack competitive school magazine issue in, I think, my post on Turner’ juvenlia. I’m on my iPad and it’s too fiddly to check right now.


    • Sorry Sue, you’ll have to live with your typos, though if you really hate them I’ll fix them (those I can work out) when I open my laptop tonight. I look forward to your review, and I’m sorry if I cut across you, I’d been planning to go last and to adjust mine to fit. I’ll do a search later and find that earlier Turner post.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. The year before last I read a book called Australian Women War Reporters by Jeannine Baker, and because I was fascinated by Louise Mack, most of my review is about her: see

    Another book I read a long time ago pertains to this Teens book by Louise Mack. I can’t remember its name (I must have turfed it after I’d finished the post-grad stuff I was doing), but it was about the development of children’s literature as a literature in its own right. Writing for children in the C19th was worthy didacticism, mostly tame stories of good little middle-class girls taking charity baskets to The Deserving Poor. But as education for girls diverged from education at home into schools (which had previously been the domain only of boys) the genre of School Stories emerged, offering a setting where girls (and their virginity) were still secure, but they could have Adventures (though not interesting ones like Boys’ Adventures, of course). So Mack was tapping into a marketable genre with Teens… (like Blyton, as you say).

    I’m interested to see that there is mention of Euclid in Teens. I’d have thought that Euclid and the other forms of advanced maths were not part of the curriculum for girls… Catherine Helen Spence (writing much earlier in 1865) makes the point in Mr Hogarth’s Will that her two female characters had been given a ‘male’ education by their quixotic uncle, which made them unmarriageable but still not able to get employment because of all the other discriminations against women. But gender-based differences in curriculum persisted here in Australia right up to the 1960s in single-sex schools at the least. The Spouse was unable to study biology because that was for girls (though he grew up to be a microbiologist anyway) and the very small cohort of girls at my school who shook off the discouragement and disapproval to study science had to venture to the nearby boys’ school where the classrooms had the necessary equipment. There were no teachers capable of teaching higher maths at my school. I remember in Form IV that my teacher had no clue how to do quadratic equations and I used to ‘demonstrate’ them on the board for her, and she offloaded trigonometry to a hapless student teacher because she couldn’t do that either.

    So I wonder… do you think that was Mack writing an idealised world in Teens or were there really in this period some (or many?) schools where girls studied maths at that level? or is it just a way of saying that this girl was really clever?


    • That’s a great Comment. Thank you, I’ve stopped on the side of the road to answer, though I’ll probably think up more to say as I drive along.

      I remember now that you wrote about Mack as a war correspondent, and I’ll link that post.

      Let us assume Mack is writing about her own school, Sydney Girls High. In the early 1880s NSW opened 4 highs for girls to prepare them for uni, which had begun accepting women for bachelors degrees in 1881. Sydney was one and Goulburn was another and I have often wondered why Miles Franklin didn’t attend it.

      It is clear from the way Mack writes that mathematics was an important part of the curriculum and in fact Lennie, doesnt pay attention and consistently comes bottom. Mack bemoans this as it was probably her own fate.

      Women began to become doctors in the 1880s too. My own theory in relation to your later remarks is that Australian women went backwards in the 1950s and this was then taken as the norm. Certainly the top maths science student at Blackburn South in my year was a girl who went on to a career in medical research.


      • Ah, so the reference is based on her own experience, at what might have been a sort of selective high school for girls. That’s interesting.

        Actually, now you mention it, I have a vague recollection of my older sister saying that the curriculum at Strathmore High (which she briefly attended in 1962 before we moved to the other side of the Yarra) was much better. My father used to help her with maths which I always assumed was because we had moved around so much and maths is such a sequential subject, conceptually speaking. But it might have been the ‘girls’ curriculum’ at the single sex schools we attended, leaving her unprepared for a higher standard at a co-ed government school.


  3. BTW The ABC is running an article about the history of Nazism in Australia which maligns poor Miles as a Nazi supporter. It’s true that she was a supporter of Inky Stephenson and his Australia First movement. But even a cursory look at the index of Jill Roe’s bio of MF shows that she was anti Nazi…


  4. The lives of these girls sounds like what the characters in Anne of Green Gables went through. To my surprise, those challenging (on a sentence level) Anne books are considered children’s classics!


    • They reminded me of Anne too, though unlike you I’ve only read the first couple (and only once). I think children enjoy being challenged by what they read, including the way words are used.


      • I got the set of Anne books when I was a girl. My great-grandmother thought they were perfect for me. I didn’t read them until my 30s because when I tried reading the first Anne book as a girl, I couldn’t even get past the first page. The first paragraph, through complex sentence structures, is one sentence. At 8 or 9, I didn’t understand conjunctions and was so lost.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s