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Macdougall, Augusta (Pakie) (1875–1945)

by Peter Kirkpatrick

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

This is a shared entry with Duncan Macdougall

Augusta (Pakie) Macdougall (1875-1945), café owner, and Duncan Macdougall (1878-1953), actor-manager, were husband and wife. Augusta was born on Christmas Day 1875 at Waverley, Sydney, fifth child of English-born parents Benjamin Quiddington Poole, quarryman, and his wife Clara Ann, née Wonnocott. Educated at Leichhardt Superior Public School, Augusta trained (1902-03) as a nurse at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Camperdown, where Henry Lawson was one of her patients. While nursing, she became interested in politics and feminism.

Duncan was born on 15 February 1878 at Glasgow, Scotland, son of John Macdougall, draper's assistant, and his wife Isabella, née Mitchell. Emigrating with his family to Sydney in 1886, he was educated at Cleveland Street Superior Public School. He then worked at Angus & Robertson's bookshop. By the age of 22 he had set up as an elocution teacher. His first student was Augusta Poole. He also taught public speaking to candidates for the Presbyterian ministry at St Andrew's College, University of Sydney.

Duncan later wrote that he studied 'drama and prepared for stage work as an Art, not as mere industrialism'. To further his studies, he travelled to England in 1903, where he became interested in the repertory movement. Augusta followed shortly after. They were married with Congregational forms on 3 November 1904 at the City Temple, Holborn Viaduct, London. The young couple moved in socialist circles. Augusta joined the Women's Social and Political Union. She spent a fortnight in the City of London Prison, Holloway, over Christmas 1906 for refusing to leave a suffragette who had been injured by mounted police. Four months later, at the home of Ramsay MacDonald, she gave birth to a son Robin; in his early attempts at speech he gave her the name 'Pakie'.

Duncan claimed to have conducted the London Repertory Society at the New Royalty Theatre, and to have been a tutor to members of the aristocracy. Augusta obtained a diploma from the London College of Music. Together they edited two anthologies, The Quaint Comedy of Love, Wooing & Mating (1907) and The Bond of Music (1907). They visited Central Europe and by early 1913 had moved to the United States of America. Duncan became involved with the Provincetown Players: working at the Playwrights' Theatre in New York stimulated his interest in 'folk' drama—plays in the heightened demotic style of writers like Eugene O'Neill and John Millington Synge. He failed to get financial backing for a Scottish-American theatre in New York, but managed to establish (May 1919) Macdougall's Barn Theatre, though it was short-lived.

The Macdougalls returned to Sydney in November 1920. By 1922 Duncan had formed a professional company which unsuccessfully toured northern New South Wales and southern Queensland. In 1923 he established the Playbox Society in Sydney to create 'a vital Australian Theatre for the encouragement of Australian dramatists and the production of the best international drama'. His staging of Ernst Toller's Masses and Man in 1924 was criticized in State parliament when some of the closing-night audience sang The Red Flag, but the publicity increased the Playbox's fame.

In 1925 production moved from St James' Hall to the top floor of 11 Rowe Street, a tiny space seating eighty subscribers, which became the Playbox Theatre. Operating on a shoestring, Duncan produced plays by writers such as Karel Capek, Sean O'Casey, O'Neill, and Frank Wedekind, and held regular lectures and readings. Although he deplored 'stagey' acting, his own talents were debatable, especially when exposed in the leading roles he was apt to take; yet he was a gifted teacher who drew strong performances from his amateur casts. Believing that great dramatic writing needed a secure professional context in order to emerge, Duncan saw the Playbox as the nucleus of his dream of a state-sponsored national theatre and school for actors. 'Little, lean, high-strung', was how Dulcie Deamer described him, with 'untidy grey hair and furrowed face'. Duncan made up for his shortness by a flamboyance that sometimes led him to exaggerate his achievements.

Pakie contributed much to the Playbox's success. She served as the society's secretary and ran its social evenings. Called 'the guiding spirit' of the theatre's most famous productions, she possessed a calm and tolerant optimism which balanced her husband's volatility. The couple's separation in December 1928 was one factor in the Playbox's demise. In mid-1929 the theatre was forced to move to larger premises in Crown Street, an unfavourable location where its following declined. Another move to Young Street in July 1931 saw the Playbox's disintegration within five months. Duncan's last performances were a series of public playreadings in 1933. Three years later he produced a prospectus for a 'Garrick Theatre', which came to nothing. Undaunted, he continued to lobby for a national theatre.

To support herself, Pakie opened (on 8 June 1929) the bohemian Pakie's Club in two large rooms on the second floor of 219 Elizabeth Street. The café, a 'little bit of Paris', was fashionable for its colourful modernist decor—designed with the assistance of Walter Burley Griffin and Roy de Maistre—and for monthly 'international' nights featuring aspects of the culture and cuisine of a particular country. Because it came to cater for struggling artists and writers, the standard fare was less exotic. Pakie's most famous dishes were salads and macaroni cheese (she was a vegetarian). Unlike other bohemian cafés, it sold no sly grog. Over the years Pakie's generosity, both material and emotional, became legendary. She was described as 'gentle, frail, almost to wispiness', yet 'quietly firm [and] dignified', with a face 'wrinkled by life and liveliness'.

On 8 May 1945 Pakie Macdougall died in Sydney Hospital from injuries received when hit by a military truck in Elizabeth Street the previous day; she was cremated with Presbyterian forms. Robin managed the club on more commercial lines until 1966, when a 'last reunion for old timers' took place on 2 February. A portrait of Pakie by Eric Saunders hung at the café for many years and is now held by the family.

At the Methodist Church, Chatswood South, on 27 April 1946 Duncan had married 52-year-old Vera Kathleen Montgomery. He spent his later years teaching 'voice and speech culture'. His main hobby was gardening. Survived by his wife and the son of his first marriage, he died on 19 March 1953 at Royal North Shore Hospital and was cremated with Methodist forms. The American artist Emile Derre modelled a bust of him, also held by the family.

Select Bibliography

  • N. Keesing, Riding the Elephant (Syd, 1988)
  • Theatre Magazine, vol 18, no 9, Sept 1920, no 12, Dec 1920
  • Pertinent, 13, no 3, Apr-May 1945, p 628
  • New York Tribune, 4 Apr 1915
  • Sun (Sydney), 17 Nov 1929
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 5 Jan 1966
  • E. Wright, Duncan Macdougall—A Man of Theatre: A Study of an Important Attempt to Establish an Art Theatre in Sydney During the 1920s (B.A. Hons thesis, University of New South Wales, 1981)
  • Macdougall papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Playbox Theatre, newsclippings and programmes (State Library of New South Wales)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Peter Kirkpatrick, 'Macdougall, Augusta (Pakie) (1875–1945)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/macdougall-augusta-pakie-10941/text19441, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 24 September 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2018

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Poole, Augusta
Birth

25 December 1875
Waverley, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Death

8 May 1945
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence
Occupation