Kathryn Favelle: Good evening, and welcome to the National Library of Australia. My name is Kathryn Favelle, and I'm Director of Reader Services. Thank you for attending tonight, whether you're here in the theatre with us or watching online. We're coming to you from Ngunnawal and Ngambri country. I'd like to acknowledge Australia's First Nations peoples as the traditional owners and custodians of this beautiful country that we live on and give my respect to Elders past and present, and through them, to all Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
One of the perks of my job is managing the library's fellowship program because our fellows bring the collection to life in new ways, and sometimes, as I wander past their desks, I get the privilege of seeing that research as it happens. This evening's presentation, "Pakie's Club: A Modern Art Salon in Interwar Sydney," is no exception. Our presenter is Dr. Deirdre O'Connell, a 2023 National Library of Australia Fellow. The National Library's fellowships program is made possible by generous philanthropic support, and Deirdre's fellowship is no exception. It has been funded by the Ray Mathew and Eva Kollsman Trust supporting research in Australian literature. Deirdre O'Connell is an early career historian and biographer who specialises in race, popular culture, and modernism in Australia and the United States.
Tonight, Dr. O'Connell is presenting her research on the extraordinary influence of Augusta "Pakie" Macdougall, who brought suffragist activism, Greenwich Village's salon culture, and the Little Theatre Movement to interwar Sydney. It's going to be a bumper ride. Deirdre. Please welcome Deirdre O'Connell.
Deirdre O’Connell: Thank you for that, and I too would like to acknowledge that I'm on the unceded lands of the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people and pay my respects to Elders past and present, and I'd like to acknowledge any First Nations people who are here tonight, and I'd also like to thank the librarians at the NLA, the National Library, for creating and maintaining such a valuable research collection and supporting me throughout this fellowship, and I'd also like to extend my gratitude to Ray Mathew and Eva Kollsman Trust, who sponsored my fellowship, and I'm also delighted to say that Ian Macdougall, the grandson of Augusta "Pakie" Macdougall, and his wife Jennifer Macdougall are here tonight, and the material Ian donated to the library in the 1990s underpins so much of this talk, and Ian and Jenny also made available their own collection of papers and research, and Jenny is the family genealogist and writer, and she most generously shared her research with me, so I thank them for their hospitality and generosity and support. Oh, there. That should have been. That's the one it should have been.
Okay, so for the last few months, I've been researching the life of Augusta "Pakie" Macdougall. Between 1929 and 1945, she ran Pakie's Club in the centre of Sydney. Pakie, by the way, was a nickname conferred on her by her infant son. Pakie's was more than a club. It was an artistic salon, at once a café restaurant, an art gallery, a performance space, a lecture hall, and even a dance hall, although a very small one. She brought together literary, visual, and performance traditions as well as ideas of politics and philosophy, and while her name surfaces in several histories of the period, I don't think she's received the recognition she deserves, and this fellowship at the National Library as well as a honorary scholarship I received at the New South Wales State Library has enabled me to trace her contribution to Sydney modernism and map the interlocking bohemian and intellectual circles centred on her club.
But first, I'd like to present a brief overview of Augusta Macdougall's life, so Augusta Poole, her maiden name, she was born in Waverley in Sydney in 1875 into a middle-class home, and by 1903, she was a nurse at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney, and Ian told me that Henry Lawson was one of her patients, and he gave her a book of his poetry, which is still in his possession, and one she dearly treasured, and around this time, Pakie met her husband, Duncan Macdougall, and he was an actor and an elocution teacher with an abiding passion for literature and theatre, so apparently, he could cite Shakespeare like an evangelist could cite the Bible, and in Sydney, Duncan was very frustrated with the highly dramatic acting style that was taught at drama schools, and in 1905, the couple left for Europe, and there, Duncan studied German, French, and the new Irish theatre, and in the UK, he formed the Socialist Dramatic Society, hoping to marry political activism and art.
In these years, Pakie and Duncan edited several poetry anthologies, one about music, another about love, and Pakie, in this time, also joined the women's social and political movement to fight for the right to vote. At the time, white women in Australia were enfra, pardon me, enfranchised, but not in Britain, and so in December 1906, she led a protest outside the Houses of Parliament and engaged what newspapers described as a wild confrontation with police, although the women insisted the police made the disturbance, so police identified that Pakie's one of the six ringleaders and charged her with disorderly conduct, and she and her suffragist sisters were convicted, but she refused to pay the fine, so she's taken to Holloway Prison in North London where she spent the Christmas of 1906, so Pakie wrote about her imprisonment in one of the labour newspapers, and she and her fellow suffragists eschewed all privileges, opting to wear prison clothes and eat prison food, and as a vegetarian, these options were strictly limited. She scrubbed floors.
Moreover, she refused to accommodate the jailers' categories. You know, "What religion are you?" a guard asked her on her arrival. "A freethinker," she replied. "But what religion are you?" "A freethinker," and on it went, and so Pakie, at this time, was also pregnant with her son Robin, giving birth to him four months later, so in December 1912, the Macdougalls moved to New York and settled in Greenwich Village, a down-at-heel neighbourhood that was a magnet for malcontents, political radicals, writers, theatre people, and artists, and they were seeking to create an American version of Paris's Latin Quarter, and many Greenwich Village bohemians came from upper-middle-class families and attended Ivy League universities, so they worked very hard to, like, free themselves what they saw as their bourgeois chains by testing the bounds of gender and morality and challenging the hierarchies of good and bad taste and ideas of beauty and form, and cafés were very integral to the bohemian expression and exchange of ideas.
To paraphrase one villager, "The nervous New Yorker was too busy to read books, "so must ingest philosophy and arts "by means of café culture," so Pakie and Duncan arrived in Greenwich Village at an auspicious time, so feats of engineering had created skyscrapers, like the Woolworth Building, which, in turn, became subjects for a stable of Greenwich Village artists like John Marin, who were exploring subjective states of consciousness, and in March 1913, a group of Greenwich Villagers staged the Armoury Exhibition of Modern Art, and Michel Duchamp's "Nude Descending a Staircase" created a citywide sensation. Now, the public thought it was hilarious, although this lampoon in "The New York Sun" conceded it still captured the energy of the modern city, so in a grand house in Washington Square Park, a well-heeled patron of the arts named Mabel Dodge hosted weekly salons frequented by artists, writers, anarchists, free love practitioners, labour leaders, and suffragists, and Dodge saw this modern turn to abstract and subjective representation as the beginning of a New Age, this radical and hopeless shift in consciousness.
"The old ways must go, and with them, their priests," she wrote in one of Greenwich's many small publications, so I have no hard evidence that Pakie visited Dodge's salon, but I strongly suspect she was influenced by her, so in Greenwich Village, the Little Theatre Movement was also taking root, powered by the same rebellious spirit that shook up the visual arts.
The most famous Little Theatre was the Provincetown Players, which relocated from Provincetown to Greenwich Village in September 16 when one of the founders turned their living room into a theatre, and somehow, Duncan worked with the Provincetown Players on their early productions, working alongside the upcoming playwright Eugene O'Neill and many others.
The details are scant, but this 1927 letter from Eugene O'Neill to Duncan Macdougall, lodged in the New South Wales State Library, gives some insight into their relationship. It reads, "I will not try to hold you up for any royalties "for your production of 'Emperor Jones,'" O'Neill wrote. "You may do it, or any other thing of mine you like, "and more power to you," so suggests a friendship there and a mutual respect, so back in Greenwich Village, Duncan also tried to establish a small theatre of his own, one dedicated to the Scottish language, cast in the mould of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin and the Yiddish theatres of the Lower East Side, and in 1919, he did, opening the Barn Theatre, a Little Theatre on East 14th Street, where he staged several plays with strong folk themes. However, as the headlines suggest, police shut down the theatre because he either violated licence laws or fire regulations, so around this time, Pakie and Duncan returned to Australia, possibly to escape their debtors, and they arrive in a country with a, back to a country with a culture constrained by harsh censorship regime, a narrow immigration policy that privileged British whiteness, and a sense of distance from what was widely perceived to be the cultural centres of the world, so unlike Greenwich Village, there's no Little Theatre Movement in Sydney.
The big theatres stage vaudevilles and drawing-room dramas with a marked preference for English playwrights, and most cultural institutions, from the New South Wales Art Gallery to the Royal Academy of Artists, were deeply hostile to modernism, seeing it as an aberration, and despite this, a small cluster of Sydney artists were exploring subjective abstractions and modernisms. However, for those who had not travelled to the U.S. or to Europe, modernism was more rumour than certainty. Even art school students had not seen examples of modern art, so in this climate, Pakie and Duncan attempted to recreate aspects of their Greenwich Village life, and in 1923, they launched the Playbox Society, a forward-looking company committed to, quote, "Real vital theatre "that expressed and intensified the spirit of us," and they staged their first play in St. James' Hall, and that play was Eugene O'Neill's "Hairy Ape," which was first performed in New York the previous year, so kind of fresh off the ranks, so more than a biting critique of consumerism and capitalism, "The Hairy Ape" was boldly modern.
The sets were minimal abstracted shapes that suggested a streetscape or an office, and the actors wore masks and recited these freeform interior monologues. A "Bulletin" critic wrote, "It was one of the most ambitious productions "Sydney has ever seen, "and audi," pardon me, "audiences packed the halls," and as you can see from the program and the reviews that all glory went to Duncan. He was the chief spirit of the Playbox, and early programs make no mention of Pakie, although she was there every step of the way, although this isn't to diminish Duncan's achievements. Over the following years, he directed and acted in a suite of bold, high modern dramas from "Suppressed Desires," it's a Freudian free love satire by Susan Glaspell and George Cram Cook, both of the Provincetown Players, and then there was the dreamlike existential angst of Ernst Toller's "Man and the Masses," and the Playbox audiences, the people drawn to the theatre, were a mix of academics and lawyers and writers and artists, and what one reporter described as "women hungry for a life beyond clerical office jobs," and one of these women was Anne Martin, who is Ian's mother, and so note the address at the bottom of the page, the Playbox at 11 Rowe Street, so Rowe St, pardon me, Rowe... I'm gonna have a little sip of water. Rowe Street was a narrow laneway between Pitt and Castlereagh Street in the centre of Sydney. It's now been demolished, and it had long been a centre of bohemian Sydney life, and Dattilo Rubbo, the beloved art teacher at East Sydney Tech had a studio in Rowe Street. Equally beloved was Roycroft art and bookstore, to name but a few, and the little Playbox Theatre at 11 Rowe Street was also in the Macdougall's tiny attic home, another idea he borrowed from the Provincetown Players, and so first, it served as a workshop and rehearsal room, but by May 1925, most productions were staged there.
Duncan hoped it would be the beginning of an Australian national theatre, so patrons recall climbing up six flights of stairs into a stuffy room with a stage and four footlights at one end and the seating is made up of sofas and settees and cushions, and despite the informality, one critic wrote, "We Sydneyites had found what we had hungered for: "the very core and spirit of the drama," and another wrote, "The Playbox has done more "to create a theatrical soul for Sydney "than any other place," and so by 19, the '30s, Duncan is heralded as the father of the Little Theatre Movement, but in truth, he's supported by a dedicated collection of people, firstly Pakie, who organised all the front of house and ticketing and dealt with every crisis, and secondly, the son, Robin, who trained as an electrician expressly to further his father's theatrical ambitions, and the actors were mostly volunteers, although some paid Duncan to train them in acting and the theory and practise of stagecraft, and on Sunday nights, Pakie and Duncan ran a reading club, and it was democratic, in the sense that it's open to everybody, but autocratic, in the sense that Duncan undertook all the readings just as he nabbed all the leading roles.
Pakie, however, managed to carve out her own space, hosting a Saturday night social club. "Each Saturday night, "the Playboxers delight to muster for a vagabond play. "We jazz and we act home-writ sketches. "In fact, we sing and we sup and make hay," read her posting. She also organised picnics, these weekly get-togethers, where everyone pooled their food, and one attendee remembers a unique atmosphere that promoted community happiness, so I'd like to draw your attention to Arthur Murch and Frank Weitzel, listed here as scene painters, so Murch and Weitzel were deeply enmeshed in Sydney's modern art circle. Murch was just back from a two-year travelling arts scholarship in Europe where he studied modernism, and Frank Weitzel was one of the many Sydney moderns fascinated with the relationship between abstraction, modernism, and the Harbour Bridge, and these two artists highlight the link between modern art and modern theatre in Sydney, a connection often overlooked in studies focused on specific disciplines and art forms, so it's possible to see this synergy in "Undergrowth," one of the few little magazines in Sydney was produced by Sisters Nancy Hall and Dora Hawthorne, who were both students at Julian Ashton's Art School, and so you see the Playbox rarely advertised, and the "Undergrowth" rarely reviewed theatre productions, but as we can see here, "Undergrowth" ran supportive reviews of the Playbox. This one here featured singling out the contributions of Murch and Weitzel, and in turn, the Playbox advertised in "Undergrowth," so in other words, the two ventures are participating in a cross-disciplinary conversation, recognising their overlapping field of interests.
However, Duncan's autocratic style also alienated people, so note the name Carrie Tennant under the name poet Dorothea Mackellar's. At first, Carrie Tennant's a very active member of the Playbox, but by 1929, she had severed connections with Duncan, although she continued to be friendly with Pakie, and then, Carrie then established her own little, pardon me, she established her own little theatre, which was dedicated to modern Australian drama. It was known as the Community Theatre in William Street, and her theatre newsletter offers a wonderful insight into the daily pressures of running a small theatre and a one-act play competition that she ran annually, and she also wrote plays, including this one here, "Secrecy." Maybe, oh, there it is, and so it's a very modern comedy about eugenics and contraception, so you start to see, both in painting and in theatre, we're seeing practitioners, many of them women, shift their focus away from the bush and the bush legends onto the city and contemporary life, and Carrie Tennant is a most fascinating figure. By the early '30s, she's studying anthropology at the University of Sydney, and she goes on to undertake field work in Aboriginal communities in Queensland and New South Wales, part of a unfolding kind of thread that's connecting the Little Theatre Movement to anthropology.
It's kind of playing out over and again, I've noticed. Okay, so Pakie and Robin would also leave Rowe Street, and shortly after they left, the next production, the Playbox is subject to a police raid and closed, and Duncan relocates to Young Street, but without Pakie's involvement, it struggled to survive. In contrast, Pakie flourished, but relatively speaking, given it was the Depression, so in 1929, she and her business partner, Gladys MacDermott, leased an old clothing factory on the top floor of Hudson House at 219 Elizabeth Street directly opposite the Egyptian needle in Hyde Park, and they opened Pakie's Club, and from the outset, it was designed to be a place for artists, and Gladys and Pakie worked with leading Sydney moderns to refurbish the place. Pakie's friend Walter Burley Griffin scraped paint off one wall to reveal the old handmade bricks, which he left bare, and the modern artist Roy De Maistre turned another wall of modern bricks into a patchwork of colour. He had a very synesthetic approach to colour and explained his choices in terms of music, opting for a major key of warm orange and a dominant and subdominant tones of blue and green, and he also painted the chairs and tables a host of colours from yellow, pink, lettuce leaf, and amethyst, very specific colours he identifies, and on the walls hung futuristic linocuts of Frank Weitzel and an artist only known as George, possibly George Finey, then a cartoonist at Smith's Weekly, and over the next two decades, Pakie staged art exhibitions and one-act plays in this space.
She hosted monthly international nights and weekly lectures that covered all types of topics from Freudian psychology to sexology, theosophy, feminism, politics, the direction of Australian culture, and the history of all kinds of music, and many of the patrons and the events are captured in the visitor's book, known as "The Book of Words," and "Urge," a handmade magazine produced at the club, so one portrait of Friday night at Pakie's Club that was published in "Urge" described a gathering of published and aspiring artists and also the man of law, the manufacturer and the mystic, the dabbler in economics and the man out of work, the scientist and the dreamer and girls from offices, girls from art schools, girls striking out on their own, girls with idle hours, and you have to remember, at this time, women weren't able to go into public bars at the time. There was very few social places for them to gather, so Pakie's becomes a natural magnet for the thinking woman, artistic thinking woman in Sydney, and an Adelaide woman visiting Sydney was struck by the informality.
She goes, "You help yourself to plates, cups, and saucers and cutlery from a heavy old dresser and pay for your meal as it is served onto your plate and anyone is liable to come and sit at your table," and Pakie was famed for her macaroni cheese, and she was also famed for her strict ban on alcohol. See, there, the alcohol being thrown down the stairs. Although some memoirists recall stashing their grog on the rooftop garden. In his memoir, Bernard Hesling recalled his first visit to Pakie and meeting the architect Walter Burley Griffin, the anthropology professor Alfred Radcliffe-Brown, and Adela Pankhurst-Walsh, the wife of the trade union leader Tom Walsh, and the daughter of the suffragist Emmeline Pankhurst, and I've been quite intrigued by two of Pakie's regulars, Molly and Kleber Claux. Kleber was also known as Ray, and their papers are lodged here at the National Library, and so I was able to get a really deep dive into their remarkable life, so he ran a fruit stall outside the city court, and she, Molly, kept house very badly, deliberately so, according to her daughter Moira, and their occupations masked the richness of their intellectual life, so in her younger years, Molly and her first husband practised neopaganism, while Kleber was a French-born conscientious objector who fled to England to escape imprisonment, and they met at a life drawing class at Slade College of the Arts. They were both the naked models, and then they lived in an anarchist community.
In 1929, they migrate to Australia to establish a nudist colony in Cooktown, but this nudist colony doesn't last long, mainly because Molly, who's a committed eugenicist as well, is unimpressed by the bodies of her fellow communists, that they lacked classical proportions, and so, too poor to return to England, they're stuck in Sydney, and Pakie is their oasis. You can see in "The Book of Words" what she wrote there: "An oasis in Sydney," so more than a welcoming space for bohemians, Pakie also staged events that made the news, so by the early 1930s, the official distaste for modernism still prevailed, and the career of Roland Wakelin is illustrative, so Grace Cossington Smith considered him the founder of Australian modernism, although it could be argued that she also shared the title, but for most of his life, he held down a day job, finding time to paint on weekends, as well as running an open studio, and in an oral history with one of his students, Enid Cambridge, she recalled how he opened our eyes to colour and the way it can build form, and it was such a contrast to the regimented approach to art she had learned earlier that he would encourage them to be free and be yourself, and this was exhilarating to Enid.
However, the Royal Australian Society of Artists believed that Wakelin couldn't draw, and they snubbed him for years, much to his extreme disappointment and the people who admired him so much, so against this backdrop, Pakie invites J.S. MacDonald, the director of New South Wales Art Gallery, to speak at the club, and so his hostility to modern art was well-known, and true to form, he told the assembled that he couldn't understand how anyone could get inspiration out of modern art, which he found extremely boring, and then MacDonald went further.
He said, "Since the war, there has been a tremendous intrusion of women painters. They always paint badly, but they were grim and determined and meant to secure their place in the painting world," so I can't be sure who was in the audience that night, but I know the artist Elaine Haxton was a Pakie regular, and so perhaps Grace Cossington Smith, and maybe Thea Proctor was there too. Certainly, MacDonald's speech is reported in the press the next day, and it roused considerable indignation in Thea Proctor as Grace Cossington Smith remembered that Thea Proctor was always up in arms about women painters, and MacDonald said something derogatory, pardon me, about them. Thea got up a petition which was signed by all women artists that he'd be removed from the gallery. Uh-huh. The petition didn't succeed, though, so Pakie also used her forum to extend this debate.
The following week, she invited Alleyne Zander to speak on the history of modern art, and at the time, Zander was organising an exhibition of British contemporary art at Redfern Galleries featuring the works of Augustus John, Paul Nash, works that hadn't been shown in Australia, and so Zander openly criticises the gatekeepers of art.
In her exhibition, she wrote, "Australia has had little relation to the most important movement in British art today. Conventional academic work with the pretence of representing classical tradition gives a false and insincere effect," and she said that the works acquired by Australia's collecting institutions were, "travesties of art, with the lack of ability, emotion, or intellectual stimulus," so Pakie's role in the modern art culture war did not end there.
In March 1934, she hosts an exhibition of Australian contemporary art by Sydney painters who, quote, "Have felt the influence of modern European art movements," and these artists included Roland Wakelin, who's the leader of the group, and also works by Grace Cossington Smith, who at some point painted this view from Pakie's window, although I'm not sure when it was exhibited, but it was certainly amongst Pakie's papers held by Ian and Jenny, and also, the work of Frank Weitzel, who tragically died in 1932.
His passing was deeply mourned in Pakie's visitor's book, and then there's Rah Fizelle, Dorrit Black, who ran the Modern Art Centre Grace Crowley, and Enid Cambridge, and two fixtures of Pakie's Club, Eric Saunders and Elaine Haxton, so as was stated at the exhibition opening, when Australian people were shown an exhibition of really contemporary work, they were required to jump 30 or 40 years in one afternoon, so that's a reference to this persistent feeling that Australia lagged behind the rest of the world, this kind of cultural deficit produced by distance and censorship and xenophobia, and so Pakie's Club created opportunities to further the free circulation of the ideas, not just in the visual arts, but in many cultural fields, so one widely attended lecture, one attendee recalls that it was packed to suffocation, so it took place in October 1932 when the English Shakespearean actor Sybil Thorndike and her husband Lewis Casson, who's also an actor, who spoke at Pakie's Club about their impressions of art in Australia.
As Thorndike told it, young Australian art workers were telling her the same story over and again: They needed to leave the country to find work because Australia had, quote, "no use for the arts." It didn't value art, but she encouraged them to stay. She pointed to developments in modern painting, which she found enthralling, and she believed that theatre in Australia could develop along the same lines. Specifically, she saw the nucleus of people at Pakie's Club and the wider Little Theatre Movement as a platform to canvass bold ideas in dramatic form and to build a national theatre, and Lewis Casson, too, saw Pakie's Club as this harbinger of the future, a forum for the arts that existed outside commercial interests. A place where people could actively participate in the artistic process and build more enduring cultural institutions.
And in the audience was a young Melbourne playwright named Doris Hayball, who was trying to stage her one-act play "The Grotesque." It's about a hunchback street beggar whose backstory is relayed in a series of impressionistic flashbacks, so Doris had never been to Pakie's before, but she seizes the moment and introduces herself to Casson, and Casson, in turn, recommends her play to the head of Pakie's dramatic group, and two months later, the dramatic group premiere "The Grotesque," and it's then taken up by the Sydney Players Club led by Montgomery Stewart, another Pakie irregular. It's reviewed in the press, and in 1934, it's published in an anthology of Australian one-act plays, so other playwrights tell similar stories, so when Lionel Shave publishes his five one-act plays in 1948, he dedicated the book to Pakie, crediting her for providing him with the space to learn his trade in the hard, practical way, and as Pakie saw it, drama nights were experiments where something valuable could grow and take root.
Okay, so one writer who flourished was Dymphna Cusack, who wrote and performed in two plays at Pakie's, "Broken Symphony" and "Shallow Cups," and I think "Shallow Cups" is the stronger of the two. It's a drama about power, death, and inheritance that swings between melodrama and comedy, so the play opens with a corpse, only known as She, surrounded by her grief-stricken husband, sister, friend, and father, but is their grief sincere? And did she even love her husband? And why is her best friend the main beneficiary of the will? And has someone murdered her? And so the play is peppered with barbed references for the husband's, quote, "right to express his feelings" irrespective what hers may have been or the way, quote, "a woman's independent income tends to threaten, tends to destroy the sense of protectiveness that every man should enjoy," so by 1936, Cusack would emerge as an important literary talent with the publication of her groundbreaking book, "Jungfrau," about a modern Sydney woman's sexuality, ambitions, and desires, themes that she explored in "Shallow Cups" at Pakie’s.
So Pakie's was also a meeting place for literary groups such as the Fellowship of Australian Writers, the Sydney Short Story Club and the Writers League. The poet Mary Gilmore was routinely honoured there. The image on the left-hand side is a celebration of her birthday. The middle image here features the names Miles Franklin, Eleanor Dark, G.W.R. Southern, Will Lawson, and Catherine Lindsay, who all seemed to have rolled up to Pakie's on an evening of April 1938 after Eleanor Dark won the Australian Literature Society's Gold Medal for her novel "Return to Coolami," and the third image is a beautiful handmade poster advertising Frank Dalby Davison's talk at Pakie, and he was a, Pakie's, sorry, and he was a leading light at the Fellowship of Writers, and she also, Pakie hosted annual Henry Lawson nights, and it was attended by extended members.
It was attended by the extended Lawson family, his widow Bertha, his children and in-laws, and the 1938 get-together on the right-hand side of the page included Xavier Herbert, who was still riding high on the success of his novel "Capricornia" and John Goffage, better known as the actor Chips Rafferty, and so, with the onset of Depression in the 1930s, there's this marked proletariat turn in artistic circles, the focus shifting to working-class struggle in hard economic times, and writers like Kylie Tennant and Jean Devanny, two figures closely linked with Pakie's. They're part of this new literary realism, and concern about the rise of fascism in Spain, Italy, and Germany could be tracked in the pages of "Urge," and a cluster of writers associated with Pakie's are members of the Communist Party and the International Defence League.
Some, like Katharine Susannah Prichard, had travelled to Russia and returned with glowing reports of their respect for artists, and this struggle was ideological and personal. For instance, on Saturday, March 10th, 1934, Jean Devanny spent the evening at Pakie's, and the next day, she took to the soapbox at Speaker's Corner in the Domain to denounce the Disloyal Organisations Bill and to sell International Defence League literature, and the police move in with batons and handcuffs and arrest her, and the supporters sing "The Internationale" as she's taken away, and Pakie's Club also becomes a line in this battle.
So the story of Egon Kisch's lecture tour of Australia is a fabled chapter in the history of the left, and for those who've never heard of him, he was a Jewish Czech journalist brought to Australia by the International Defence League to warn of the dangers of Nazism and fascism, and Australian immigration authorities didn't want him in the country, so they subjected him to the famous dictation tests, but the trouble was that Kisch spoke a range of European languages, but they finally stumped him, very famously, on Scottish Gaelic.
However, Kisch literally jumps ship, and he comes ashore, the beginning of a protracted legal battle over his immigration status, and supporters stage huge rallies in the Domain, and in this time, Kisch and many of his key supporters, Jean Devanny and Katharine Susannah Prichard, decompressed at Pakie's, and as you can see here, Kisch signs his name as Prohibited Immigrant in the visitors' book. Kisch's presence also caused a split in the Fellowship of Australian Writers and the formation of the more radical Writers League of Australia, a chapter of Writers International, which was headquarters in Moscow and affiliated with the John Reed Clubs of the United States, and the first meeting of this literary circle takes place on January 27th, 1935 at Pakie's Club, and for the next eight months, they meet there every Sunday night, and as the minutes read, "Pakie maintained an interest in," and as I quote, "in the welfare of this organisation, granting the use of her club "and always assisting the League," and in April 1934, the Writers League organised their first national conference at Pakie's, and so 42 delegates attended, representing a range of cultural organisations, and I know Leon Batt was there, he's the editor of "Urge," and likely Kylie Tennant, and so one of the outcomes, the delegates pledged to discard this idea of art for art's sake and commit to mobilising literature as a weapon to inform minds, cultivate honesty, and oppose injustice and oppression, and furthermore, they'd set up a mentorship program where established writers would share their technical knowledge with aspiring and working-class writers.
And so to Jean Devanny's mind, a major social evolution is underway. As she told the conference, "The Depression "has stirred something deep among intellectuals, "a new thought "that reached beyond the idealistic and liberal literature "to realise and express proletarian content," and as a bit of a sidebar, Jean Devanny later deemed that Kylie Tennant's novels about working-class life in Surry Hills were not true proletariat art, and this irked Tennant, and she struck back in 1946 with a novel called "Ride on Stranger," a satire based on her years in Sydney with the Writers League, and many observers noticed that her depiction of the Proletariat Club bore an uncanny resemblance to Pakie's Club.
She didn't lampoon Pakie, whom she hugely admired, only the gurus of the "New Dawn," and Leon Batt, the onetime editor of "Urge," he reviewed the book and wrote, "Tennant's latest book "is a thinly disguised satire, "holding up a scathing mirror "to many people well-known in literary "hoboheian," I knew I'd this word, "well-known in literary "hobohemian, hobohemian, "well-known in literary hobohemian "and quasi-religious circles and triangles in Sydney," and I must say it is quite a hilarious satire, but back to the Writers League conference in Sydney, so while Kisch was in Australia, he promoted this new style of journalism that's taken up by the Writers League.
It's called Modern Reportage, so it's this new modern literary form that combines the artistic with the social, so Julian Smith, who delivered the lecture at the conference, he describes it as a report plus, a standard factual report plus atmosphere, plus historical context, description, comment, and deduction, so the goal is to present a more truthful account of events that acknowledged the power dynamics of class and gender, and in their formulation, race is a subcategory of class, and while in Australia, Egon Kisch identified the censorship of literature as a sign of rising fascism, and within Australia, one banned book was written by a longstanding patron or member of Pakie's Club and the Writers League. It was George Southern's "Making Modern Morality."
It was banned on obscenity grounds, and, as you can see here, that Southern went to enormous lengths to protest and circumvent the ban, securing testimonials from leading sexologists and anthropologists and distributing the book free of charge, but, you know, beyond the censorship issue, Southern and the Writers League do make for very strange bedfellows, so Southern's a nudist, which isn't particularly unusual in left circles, but he sees it as a pathway to physical, sexual, and psychic liberation, and he sees any form to prevent it as the primary source of tyranny, so he, in his book, he tries to kind of overlay or shoehorn these kind of progressive ideas into a dialectic Marxist framework and professing to be an ally of the proletariat. Yet in this book, it's quite clear that he's a eugenicist, and his book also grapples with the way science and the law might prevent eugenically unfit people from marrying or reproducing, and for eugenicists, the most eugenically unfit people were the poor.
Yet somehow, these contradictions are brushed over. It's quite possible for a Sydney bohemian to be both a communist and a eugenicist, so another recurring thread in the tapestry of Pakie's Club was primitive modernism, so at best, these expressions of primitivism were sincere, yet rooted in unstated assumptions of white superiority that never fully acknowledge black agency and other instances are racist and cringe-worthy, but I'll focus on a more complex and ambiguous example that played out in November 11th, 1929, so it's one of the first international night stage at Pakie's with Mexican decor, Mexican food, Mexican ballet, inspired ballet, choreographed by Louise Lightfoot, and patrons are encouraged to wear costumes, and as this news clipping reports, Walter and Marion Griffin took this request very seriously, so here is a photo of them in their full costume taken by their neighbour in Castlecrag, Rowland Herbert, so Marion Griffin came as Ah Puch, the Mayan lord of death, and Walter Burley Griffin came as Itzamna, the creator deity and father of all, and their other neighbours, Hal Henshaw, he's a furniture designer, he also made the costumes, he came as Kukulkan, the Mayan serpent sun god, while Irma Felstead represented the moon goddess, so this is much more than fancy dress for the Griffins.
Indeed, it's much more than exotic primitivist appropriation, but it's a ritual performance grounded in a sincere interest in ancient knowledge, and this knowledge informs their conception of high modern architecture, so the Griffins had been on an esoteric modern primitivist journey for many years.
They were anthrotheosophists, they're disciples of Rudolf Steiner, and they incorporated their ancient knowledge of geomancy into their plans for Canberra, and when conflict with government authorities forced the Griffins to leave the project, they channelled their energies into Castlecrag, a bushland community on the shores of Middle Harbour in Sydney, and working to create conditions that would usher in what they believed would be the next stage of evolution, and you can see here the harmonious relationship between the sandstone pillars of this high modern home and their costumes. There's a sense of continuity between the ancient and the modern, the sacred and the secular, so Pakie had known the Griffins since the Playbox days. Walter had made the sign that hung outside the Rowe Street Theatre. The Griffins were frequently seen at Pakie's, and Pakie spent a lot of time at Castlecrag.
Her name surfaces many, many times in Marion's autobiography, and when Walter died in India in 1937, Pakie travelled to Melbourne to support Marion on her voyage back to Sydney, and for a time, Pakie lived with Marion in Mower House in Castlecrag, and so among Pakie's papers is a letter from Marion. She writes it from Chicago, dated in January 1939. It reads, "Pakie, Darling, "I shall never forget the picture of you on the dock "with the love in your heart streaming out of your eyes "as we had to face that really sudden parting," so you can see they're very close friends, so then, if there's anything unique about this iteration of modern Sydney bohemia, Pakie's Club seemed to embodiment.
This is hard to pinpoint mix of kind of old-school Marxism that elevated the proletariat combined with these progressive era ideas of racial efficiency, these eugenically tinged beliefs that bodily liberation is a pathway to psychological liberation. I mean, I've studied Greenwich Village to some extent, and compared to them, in Australia, there's much less emphasis on Freud and psychoanalysis and much more emphasis on the body, and this is leavened with this esoteric mysticism about spiritual evolution and an audacious New Age, so the sense that even in the depth of the Depression, the country, and indeed the world, are on the cusp of a hopeful and magnificent future, and the place of Aboriginal people in this future never fully commanded the attention of Sydney's bohemia, although some patrons of the club engaged with indigeneity through their interest in politics, anthropology, art, literature, and dance, and I placed these pictures in here because I somehow wanted to slip in a reference to modern dance, and basically, through Pakie's, Moira Claux, the daughter of Molly and Kleber, was introduced to the Austrian choreographer Gertrud Bodenwieser, and for many years is a member of her troupe.
So Pakie died tragically in 1945, hit by an ambulance when she was crossing the road the day of the victory celebrations, although at Pakie's Club, they were marking Peace Night, and following her death, her son Robin assumed control of the club until its closure in 1966 when the building was demolished, so obituaries noted the extraordinary influence of this gentle, soft-spoken woman who encouraged so many artists to persist with their vision, and the sum of these encouragements and the space that she created to incubate talent.
It enabled under-recognized artists to test their abilities and connect with the public and ultimately, build a more robust art psychology, that by the time of her death, a new confidence infused Australian literature and the arts, and the government began backing a policy innovation called arts funding, and in so many ways, Pakie and her art salon are about the future, the future of theatre, the future of art, the future of the film industry, the future health of the nation, and I hope this project will go some way to recognising Pakie's contribution to the story of Sydney's modernism. Thank you.
Kathryn Favelle: Wow, I don't know what I want to do more: read the book or watch the TV series, but what a journey we've been on, and what an extraordinary woman Pakie was. We have time now for some questions, so we are streaming tonight ourselves. If you would like to raise your hand, we can get a microphone to you, and there's a gentleman just over here ready to kick us off.
Audience member 1: Hello, I'd like to, well, second that. Wow. That is some research. That is fantastically delivered as well.
Deirdre O’Connell: Thank you.
Audience member 1: It was so entertaining. Is there any evidence of all of Pakie's Club leading to the Sydney Push?
Deirdre O’Connell: What was that?
Audience member 1: s there any evidence of Pakie's Club and what they did leading to the arts and intellectual group of the '40s and '70s called the Sydney Push?
- Oh, the Sydney Push. Well, Ian Macdougall, the grandson, was part of Sydney's Push, so yes, and Jenny, his wife, is actually writing Ian's biography, and they have a special chapter connected. There's a very clear link between the Sydney Push, and then, even the old, the Bulletin Bohemians of the previous generation, so yeah.
Audience member 1: Okay, cool.
Kathryn Favelle: We’ve got a gentleman up in the back.
Audience member 2: Thank you. Thank you very much for that excellent delivery. During the war, was Pakie's also a rendezvous point for visiting American arts people, intellectuals and so on, as the places in Melbourne and Brisbane were?
Deirdre O’Connell: There's a... Yes, American servicemen go through Pakie's Club and more journalists is what I've identified, as opposed to any other group. If there was any kind of area where Pakie's Club was quite weak, it was music, but very strong on the literary front. There's a U.S. journalist who meets his wife at Pakie's, and it kind of builds it from there, and there's, yeah, there's various names that come through, but yes, it's kind of hard to, I mean, I have their names, but it's hard to contextualise them. When I put them into newspaper databases, they didn't jump out at me. Whereas somebody like Molly Claux and Kleber Claux, kinda hit pay dirt with them.
Audience member 3: Hi there. Thank you for that. My name's P.J. Pronouns, she/her. Lovely to hear you speak tonight and just, you know, thank you very much for the representation of women. What I'm really aware of and what's happening within the art scene currently with Nick Mitzevich across the National Gallery is the "Know My Name" exhibition, and within that, I was very happy to actually see some of Grace Cossington Smith's work in the earlier part of that staging, and I wanted to know, within your research, were you also connecting to the "Know My Name" ideas and movements that are happening in recognising women in Australian arts?
Deirdre O’Connell: At the time?
Audience member 3: Right now, with your research.
Deirdre O’Connell: No, I actually haven't connected with it, no, but she, it just kind of haven't quite... I mean, Pakie never obviously courted women, but there was just a magnet that was drawn to the place and various art schools and things, like Anne Martin, who's Ian's mother, is a really fine example that she kind of grew up working-class like art, isn't it? And she kind of a very modest background, and she is kinda primary school education. She's quite hungry for knowledge, and it's through Pakie's that she's able to plug into this world of women writers and women artists, and, you know, she works with Dame Mary Gilmore and other writers and becomes a writer herself, so in kind of in a, just in kind of very practical way, it created a forum where connections could take place, even though there was very little theorising about it and little kind of, it was just taken kind of naturally that it was a place for women without it being commented upon in any wider sense, so yeah, I don't know if that answers your question. Sorry.
Kathryn Favelle: Deirdre, that picture you put up of Pakie at the very beginning, can you put that up again ?
Deirdre O’Connell: It's slow. Yeah.
Kathryn Favelle: On your opening, right as you're opening.
Deirdre O’Connell: Sorry, . Oh, we showed that one there, yes.
Kathryn Favelle: By Eric Saunders, who was very much a part of Pakie's and did, painted quite a few-
Deirdre O’Connell: Yeah, that was one of the Archibald. That was Eric Saunders.
Audience member 3: Eric Saunders painted quite a few of Pakie's patrons and submitted them to the Archibald Exhibition, at least 12 of them, and this was one that was exhibited in 1935 at the Archibald, and we've got that painting, and Ian offered it to the National Portrait Gallery, but they didn't want it, so we paid about $2 1/2 thousand to have it restored, and it's now hanging in Ian's home, but maybe now, 26 years on from when we did offer it to them, it may now have a little bit more significance as a result of your research.
Deirdre O’Connell: When they recognise her value, yeah.
Audience member 3: Well, that's right. I think, you know, at the time there was not a lot of recognition of her, but from what you've been doing there, probably now that portrait is quite a lot more historically important than perhaps it was.
Deirdre O’Connell: Yeah, I think she's up there with the Macquarie Galleries and other institutions and centres that are associated with Sydney moderns, yeah.
Kathryn Favelle: Now we've got time for, I think, one more question, and then we'll-
Audience member 4: Hi. Just one quick question. The Little Theatres of the South, or sorry, the Little Theatres, can you tell us a little bit, was that an international organisation or-
Deirdre O’Connell: Oh, the Little Theatre Movement? Yeah, there was an international Little Theatre Movement. It's there in London or the UK, and it's definitely in Greenwich Village. It's kind of part of this kind of bohemian world. If you think... When you, you know, bohemia is this word associated with Pakie's, and it kind of suggests this Sydney bohemia, this connection to a city, but it's also a connection to this global network of corners of cities and other places, and in each of those corners, there's, you know, little publications, Little Theatre Movements, this kind of idea of kind of grassroots innovations that can operate outside commercial constraints and turn , you know, mainstream theatre upside down, so yes, it's very... There's a long... You see it in Carrie Tennant's community newsletter. She's constantly engaging and following developments of other theatre movement, Little Theatre Movements in other parts of the world.
Audience member 4: Thank you-
Deirdre O’Connell: Mm-hmm.
Kathryn Favelle: Thank you for your questions. Thank you, Deirdre, for a wonderfully enriching presentation this evening. So many links and names to explore and think about. I'd also like to thank Ian and Jennifer for the contribution you've made to the National Library's collection. Without your gift to the Library, this research would not have been possible, so thank you very much.
Audience member: There are a lot more papers of Pakie's that we subsequently-
Kathryn Favelle: Oh, don't tempt us. Don't tempt us.
Audience member: She has them in South Australia that they must finish up in the National Library eventually.
Kathryn Favelle: Thank you very much. More to come. More to come.
Audience member: Oh yeah.
Kathryn Favelle: We have a little break in our fellowship presentations, but if you are available on the 19th of October, put that one in your diary because our National Folk Fellow Martie Lowenstein will be here to speak about her research project, and if you are able to see a little sneak preview of it at the National Folk Festival, you'll know that we're in for a real treat, and you can also catch up on previous fellowship talks online on our website, but also the library's Facebook and YouTube channels, so keep exploring the work of our fellows. Thank you so much, Deirdre, for your work and for your presentation tonight and have a lovely evening. Thank you.
Deirdre O’Connell: Thank you.
Hear from Dr Deirdre O’Connell as she presents a lecture on her 2023 National Library Fellowship research about the extraordinary influence of Augusta 'Pakie' Macdougall who brought suffragist activism, Greenwich Village’s salon culture, and the Little Theatre movement to interwar Sydney.
Dr Deirdre O’Connell is a 2023 National Library of Australia Fellow, supported by the Ray Mathew and Eva Kollsman Trust for Research in Australian Literature.
About Dr Deirdre O'Connell's Fellowship research
Augusta 'Pakie' Macdougall brought suffragist activism, Greenwich Village’s salon culture, and the Little Theatre movement to interwar Sydney, a city constrained by heavy-handed censorship and a fragile art ecology. Drawing on the wealth of documents in the National Library's collections, Dr O'Connell's research will chart the two phases of Pakie's Sydney years.
Firstly, the Playbox. Between 1923 and 1929, Pakie and her husband, Duncan, ran an 'art theatre' styled on Eugene O’Neil’s Provincetown Players. They staged bold high-modern dramas, fostered local writing and hosted a social club.
Secondly, the Pakie's Club years. Between 1929 and 1945, Pakie ran a beloved late-night café. Fashioning herself on Washington Square’s salon queens, she hosted weekly lectures, debuted experimental plays and showcased the work of modernist writers and artists.
From Castlecrag’s esoteric Theosophists to the Communist Party’s Writer’s League, Pakie sat at what one admirer called the 'nucleus of a fast-flourishing and very sincere movement'.
About Dr Deirdre O'Connell
Dr Deirdre O’Connell is an early career historian and biographer who specialises in race, popular culture and modernism in Australia and the United States in the late 19th and early 20th century.
About National Library of Australia Fellowships
The National Library of Australia Fellowships program offers researchers an opportunity to undertake a 12-week residency at the Library. This program is supported by generous donors and bequests.
Image credit: Pakies Club, Pakie's Club Interior from Records, 1928-1994 MS9071, nla.cat-vn1420498