Woman Mackinnon, Alison Gay

Shepparton, Victoria, Australia
Alternative Names
  • Madin, Alison Gay (Maiden)

Written by Sharon M. Harrison, The University of Melbourne

Alison Mackinnon is a leader in the history profession who has contributed to Australian history and women's history, especially the history of education, women's social history, the history and politics of population change, population aging, women's demographic history and the changing culture of work and responsibility in globalising societies.

Born in Shepparton, Victoria, Mackinnon was the eldest of eight children born to country parson Keith George Madin and qualified pharmacist Vera Stockdale Madin. Mackinnon's father served as a Lieutenant in the 4 Anti Tank Regiment in Malaya during the Second World War and was interned by the Japanese in a prisoner of war camp in Borneo. Mackinnon spent the war years living with her mother and grandmother. Her secondary education took place at the Church of England Girls' Grammar School, The Hermitage, in Geelong, Victoria. Her parents supported tertiary education for their children and Mackinnon was offered a prestigious Commonwealth scholarship to study at the University of Melbourne, but turned it in favour of an Education Department Studentship because it paid a necessary living allowance enabling her to complete a BA and Diploma of Education.

Like many of her generation, Mackinnon spent several years working as a secondary school teacher. She married Alistair (Malcolm) Mackinnon, a medical academic and researcher and later Professor of Telemedicine at Flinders University on 21 December 1964; they have three sons. In the late 1970s Mackinnon returned to study completing her MEd in 1981, submitting a thesis on the history of women's education, examining the Advanced School for Girls, 1879-1908. She was awarded her PhD by the University of Adelaide in 1989. Her thesis Awakening women: women, higher education and family formation in South Australia c1880-1920 was awarded an Australian Association of Education outstanding thesis award in 1990.

While completing her Master of Education, she was appointed Tutor in the History of Education and spent six years working as a full-time Tutor, juggling teaching with postgraduate study and family commitments. Mackinnon recalls that it was a demanding period with young children, a full-time position, study and a doctor academic husband busy building his career. She emphasizes the importance of the women's movement of the 1970s which opened her eyes to women's history and the importance of women's education. She became involved in moves to teach new courses on women and open up positions for women. After completing her contract as a Tutor, Mackinnon took up a position at the School of Library and Information Studies at the then South Australian Institute of Technology (now the University of South Australia), where she taught general arts subjects to budding librarians.

From 1993-1994 Mackinnon was a Research Fellow at the Research School for Social Sciences, ANU, Canberra, where she coordinated the gender strand of the 'Reshaping Australian Institutions project: towards and beyond 2001'. Returning to the University of South Australia, she was appointed Director of the Institute for Social Research (1994-1999), Director, University Research Development (1996-1998), Professor of History and Gender Studies in 1997 and Foundation Director of the Hawke Research Institute at the University of South Australia (1997 to December 2005). Following her retirement, Mackinnon was appointed Emeritus Professor.

In November 2000 Mackinnon was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Umeå, Sweden. From February to July 2002 she was the Kerstin Hesselgren Guest Professorship at the Centre for Population Studies at the University of Umeå, Sweden, an appointment of the Swedish Research Council. Her work at the Demographic Database at Umeå University, Sweden, led to an interest in demographic history and the way it marginalised women's agency. She is currently an Advisory Board Member of the Ageing and Living Conditions project at the Centre for Population Studies at Umeå University.

Mackinnon's publications include: Women, Love and Learning: The Double Bind (2010); Hope: The Everyday and Imaginary Life of Young People on the Margins, with Simon Robb, Patrick O'Leary and Peter Bishop (2010); Love and Freedom (1997) (which won a New South Wales Premier's Literary Award); and The New Women: Adelaide's Early Women Graduates (1986). She is the co-editor of several publications including: The Hawke Legacy: Towards a Sustainable Society, with Gerry Bloustien and Barbara Comber (2009); Fresh Water: New Perspectives on Water in Australia, with Stephen McKenzie and Jennifer McKay (2007); Gender and the Restructured University, with Ann Brooks (2001); Gender and Institutions: Welfare, Work and Citizenship, Moira Gatens (1998); and Education into the 21st Century, with Alison MacKinnon, Inga Elgqvist-Saltzman and Alison Prentice (1998).

From 2004 until 2007 Mackinnon served as President of the History Council of South Australia. She has been a board member of the History SA since 2004. She is a past president of the Australian and New Zealand History of Education Society, a Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia and the convener of its South Australian branch. On 26 January 2009 she was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM).

Additional sources: Personal communication between Alison Mackinnon and Sharon Harrison, April 2013.

Published Resources


  • Mackinnon, Alison, The New Women: Adelaide's Early Women Graduates, Wakefield Press, Netley, South Australia, 1986. Details
  • MacKinnon, Alison, Love and Freedom: Professional Women and the Reshaping of Personal Life, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, England, 1997. Details

Edited Books

  • Who's Who in Australia, Crown Content, Melbourne, Victoria, 1927 - 2013. Details

Journal Articles

  • MacKinnon, Alison, '"Bringing the Unclothed Immigrant into the World": Population Policies and Gender in Twentieth-Century Australia', Journal of Population Research, vol. 17, no. 2, 2000. Details

Online Resources

See also

Digital Resources

Royalty - Vice regal - Investiture at Government House, Canberra, 26 October 1961 - Mrs Gracemary Mackinnon and the Governor General Visconut De L'Isle
26 October 1981
National Archives of Australia
National Archives of Australia