Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Macghey, Mary Veta (1897–1970)

by Margaret Allen

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

Mary Veta Macghey (c.1897-1970), headmistress, was born about 1 January 1897, probably in Adelaide. Rumours subsequently circulated that she was the daughter of a visiting Indian cricketer and a woman prominent in society, or that her mother was an opera star and her father a well-known Adelaide lawyer. It seems, however, that her father was named Filgly and her mother Mary Veta. Unable to support her illegitimate baby, Mary handed her to the South Australian State Children's Department. In February 1897 the department placed the infant with Patrick Macghey, a prison warder at Dry Creek, and his wife Martha Mary, née Winstanley, stipulating that Veta be instructed in the Catholic faith. The Macgheys cared for other state wards, but adopted Veta and raised her from 1903 as their only child. In 1911 she was sent to Adelaide High School; she excelled in academic and sporting activities, and became head prefect.

In 1916 Macghey joined the Education Department as a junior teacher. She attended Teachers' Training College and the University of Adelaide (B.A., 1919; M.A., 1930). A talented hockey player, she competed in intervarsity tournaments and also represented the State eight times. Throughout her career she encouraged girls' sport. In her youth she rode a motorcycle, wearing black leather and a red scarf, and created a sensation; she later owned a series of beautiful motorcars.

While teaching at Adelaide, Norwood and Gawler high schools, Macghey studied part time at university for the diploma of economics and political science (1923). At Kadina High School she was senior mistress (from 1931) and, at Norwood, special senior mistress (from 1943). In 1951 she was appointed founding headmistress of Adelaide Girls' High School. Although resources were limited, Miss Macghey worked energetically to establish a leading academic girls' school. She confounded expectations that her school would amount to little, and 'was tough . . . in a man's administrative world, getting just conditions for girls and teachers'. Following her retirement in 1958, she taught at Henley Beach High School and Presbyterian Girls' College, Adelaide.

Macghey had been active in the South Australian Women Teachers' Guild (president 1949). As editor (from 1942) of the Guild Chronicle, she wrote stirring editorials in favour of equal pay. She sat on the Teachers' Salaries Board (from 1948) and was made a fellow of the Australian College of Education. Having helped to form (1950) the South Australian Institute of Teachers, she was elected first president of its women's branch. In 1959 she was appointed O.B.E.

A generous woman, Macghey gave financial assistance to her friends and colleagues. She was short in stature and swarthy in complexion, with black, crinkly hair, dark brown eyes and a deep voice; she wore mannish suits, topped by a pussy-cat bow. Keen on a bet on the horse-races, she was also interested in art, antiques and gardening. Macghey died on 20 December 1970 at Wattle Park and was cremated; most of her estate (sworn for probate at $56,071) was bequeathed to her live-in companion Maud ('Borbie') Evans McFarlane. S.A.I.T.'s Macghey House commemorates her, as does a house at Adelaide Girls' High School.

Select Bibliography

  • Adelaide University Magazine, vol 1, no 3, vol 2, no 1 (1919), vol 3, no 1 (1920)
  • South Australian Women Teachers Guild, Guild Chronicle, 9, no 17, Sept 1947, p3
  • SAIT Journal, 10, 24 Feb 1971
  • News (Adelaide), 26 Aug, 11 Dec 1958
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 18 Dec 1958, 1 Jan 1959, 23 Dec 1970
  • Children Boarded Out, 1862-1908, Government Record Group 27/5 and 27/6 (State Records of South Australia)
  • Adelaide High School records and magazines
  • St Augustine's Church, Salisbury (Adelaide), records.

Citation details

Margaret Allen, 'Macghey, Mary Veta (1897–1970)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/macghey-mary-veta-10955/text19469, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 26 June 2017.

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

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