Mary MacKillop is closely linked to Portland, Victoria’s first permanent settlement. settlement.
Born in the Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy on 15 January 1842, Mary was the eldest of Alexander and Flora MacKillop’s eight children. Although her parents were good people, Mary’s childhood was filled with challenges arising from the families decent into poverty. Her father was an educated man with a social conscience who ensured Mary acquired a good education. The influence of her parents saw Mary become a reflective and spiritual person at an early age.
During the 1850’s the family moved constantly and was often dependent upon relatives for shelter and sustenance. Mary as the eldest child, played a major part in maintaining the well being of the family in these challenging times.
The year 1860 saw Mary in the small South Australian settlement of Penola, where she was governess to the Cameron family. At Penola, Mary met Father Julian Tenison Woods, the Catholic priest who became her spiritual guide and mentor. Mary MacKillop returned to Melbourne and her family in 1862.
In June 1862, Mary, aged 20, made her way to Portland to be governess to the daughters of Mrs.Duncan Cameron, a relative of the MacKillop family. Mary lived with the widowed Mrs. Cameron and her children at their home, Fitzroy Cottage.
Mary gained a teaching position at Common School 510, which became All Saints Primary School in October 1863. This was Nary’s first formal teaching position. She taught at this school for almost two years, developing teaching and organisational skills which were to stand her in good stead in the future.
In Late 1863, Mary and her family rented Bay View House, a fine dwelling in Bentinck Street overlooking the sea and Portland Bay. This allowed Mary to bring together her scattered family. To support her family, Mary established a school at Bay View House, her first school. “Bay View House Seminary for Young Ladies” commenced in 1864 and was run by Mary and her sisters. She also continued teaching at the Common School in order to support her large family.
All did not go well for the venture or the family. The school struggled, tensions grew within the MacKillop family, debts multiplied and Mary lost her teaching position at the Common School. The loss of her job placed even greater financial pressure on the family. Mary’s father, Alexander, is believed to have been responsible for many of the problems that beset the family in Portland.
Prospects were bleak for Mary and her family. Then late in 1865, Father Woods invited Mary to return to Penola to set up a school. In January 1866, Mary and her sister Lexie left Portland for Penala.
Mary MacKillop spent several important and formative years in Portland. She made vital decisions about her future whilst in Portland. At Portland, she developed approaches to teaching and education that were to succeed in the right context and were successfully implemented throughout Australia and overseas.
Mary’s Portland days prepared her well for the challenges and obstacles she was to encounter in establishing the Sisters of Saint Joseph and developing a system of sound, accessible education throughout Australia. She and her order also contributed to general social reform by setting up orphanages, working with the destitute and with societies outcasts generally.
The Josephine Order has continued the work commenced by Mary MacKillop in the 1860’s.
Today, Mary MacKillop, Mother Mary of the Cross, has emerged as an icon for Australia and the values she espoused are relevant to our present day society.
Portland is proud of its strong association with Mary MacKillop. a famous Portlander, a famous woman and a famous Australian.