MacDougall, Augusta & Robin

Augusta was born on Christmas Day 1875 in Waverley Sydney to Benjamin Quiddington Poole and Clara Ann (nee Wonnocott). Her father was a quarryman and her parents had married in Queensland in 1864. The family lived at 23 Emma Street Leichhardt from at least 1888. She went to Leichhardt Public School and then trained (1902-1903) as a nurse at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Camperdown. While nursing one of her patients was Henry Lawson. When aged 24, Augusta also took elocution lessons from 22 year old Duncan MacDougall. She was his first student.

To further his studies Duncan travelled to England in 1903 and Augusta soon followed. They were married in a Congregational Church, City Temple Holborn Viaduct, London 3 November 1904. She joined the Women’s Social and Political Union and they moved in socialist circles. At Christmas 1906 she was convicted of refusing to pay a fine for helping a fellow suffragette and so spent a fortnight in City of London Prison, Holloway [1]. Four months later she gave birth to her son Robin Ramsay MacDougall while she and Duncan were living with (the later British Prime Minister) Ramsey MacDonald in Chesham Bois Buckinghamshire. At this same time Augusta obtained a diploma from the London College of Music. They edited two published anthologies The Quaint Comedy of Love, Wooing & Mating and The Bond of Music (both published in 1907).

In 1912 Augusta and Duncan travelled on the Lusitania to New York. Duncan worked with the Provincetown Players until establishing the Barn Theatre there in May 1919. They became friends with Eugene O’Neill [2]. When this theatre failed they returned to Sydney in 1920.

Back in Sydney Duncan established a travelling professional company and then in 1923 the Playbox Theatre originally in St James Hall and then from 1923 in Rowe Street, Sydney. This theatre held only 80 patrons but he introduced Sydney audiences to a number of new playwrights including O’Neill, Karel Capek, Sean O’Casey and Frank Wedekind. He also held regular readings. Dulcie Deamer described him as ‘little, lean, high-strung …. [with] untidy grey hair and furrowed face.’ Augusta was the company’s secretary and ran social events. These included midnight parties, once the theatre closed for the night, from larger new premises in Crown Street [3].

Augusta and Duncan separated in mid 1929 and divorced in 1936 upon Duncan’s application for a failure of conjugal rights. He described himself in the divorce papers as a teacher of elocution [4].

On 8 June 1929 Augusta opened Pakie’s Club on the second floor, 219 Elizabeth Street Sydney [5]. The design of the club was contributed by Walter and Marion Burley Griffin and painting was contributed by Roy de Maistre. Its targeted clientele were struggling artists and writers and so its dishes were appropriate to their limited budgets. The club published a broadsheet Urge (edited by Leon Batt, who was unfashionably anti-facsist at the time) to promote the work of Australia authors between 1933 and 1935 and to discuss causes such as the abolition of censorship which had banned works coming into Australia like Huxley’s Brave New World and Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. Authors who patronised the club included Mary Gilmore, Frank Dalby Davison, Katharine Susannah Prichard, Miles Franklin, Xavier Herbert and Nancy Keesing. Other intellectuals to frequent this bohemian centre of cultural life included the geologist Oliver Chalmers.  Her generosity and support was legendary. Her portrait by Eric Saunders was hung in the Archibald Prize. She was tragically killed in Elizabeth Street when hit by a military vehicle on 7 May 1945.

Her son Robin married Anne (or Annie) Martin in 1935 and is recorded in electoral rolls as an electrician living in 11 Rowe Street. By 1936 he and his wife were living in Green Gables, Wylde Street Potts Point. Upon the birth of a son, Ian, in 1940 Robin and Anne were living in Darling Point. Following the death of his mother he assumed management of Pakie’s Club which he ran until it closed on 2 February 1966. In 1954 Robin and Anne are on the electoral roll as living in 198 Copeland Road East Beecroft where they remained until their respective deaths. Robin was a member of the Civic Trust from 1985 to 1991. Robin died 21 December 1991 aged 89 years [6].

Following his divorce, Duncan established a short lived drama centre, sought to establish other drama companies and talked of producing a ‘talkie’. None of these endeavours were long lived and he largely survived teaching elocution. Like Augusta he campaigned against censorship [7]. He married the 52 year old Vera Kathleen Montgomery on 27 April 1946. She survived him when he died on 19 March 1953 [8].

[1]    Muswellbrook Chronicle, 23 March 1903; Goulburn Evening Post, 15 December 1906 p

[2]    They lived at 20 East 14th Street New York and Duncan described himself as a literary agent. Sunday Times, 11 November 1923 p 8; Daily Telegraph, 14 August 1927 p 22

[3]    P Kirkpatrick “MacDougall, Augusta (Pakie) (1875-1945) and Duncan (1878-1953) in Australian Dictionary of Biography (Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 2000) vol 15 pp 198-200; E Wright, Duncan MacDougall – a man of theatre, a study of an important attempt to establish an art theatre in Sydney during the 1920s (BA Hons Thesis University of NSW, 1981; Evening News, 6 January 1930 p 8.

[4]    Sydney Morning Herald, 25 November 1936 p 10; The Sun, 5 May 1936 p 10. Duncan gave his occupation as teacher of elocution.

[5]    ‘Pakie’ was the name that Robin called his mother from when he could first talk. Augusta described herself in 1935 as a club proprietor who lived at 9 Francis Street Surry Hills. S Moline “1935: Pakie’s Club” in RED the Book.[5]   

[6]    Sydney Morning Herald, 20 May 1940 p 8

[7]    Daily Telegraph, 20 July 1935 p 5; The Sun, 29 April 1934 p 11.

[8]    At the time of his death he described himself as a retired theatrical producer and he left an estate valued for probate at 2416 pounds.