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Mackay, Ronald William Gordon (Kim) (1902–1960)

by John Goldring

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

Ronald William Gordon (Kim) Mackay (1902-1960), lawyer, politician and political theorist, was born on 3 September 1902 at Bathurst, New South Wales, fifth child of Alexander William Gordon Mackay, Irish-born governor of Bathurst gaol, and his wife Mary Knight, Tonga-born daughter of Rev. J. E. Moulton. The Mackays lived at Summer Hill and were a bookish family. Kim was educated at Sydney Grammar School and the University of Sydney (B.A., 1923; LL.B., 1926; M.A., 1929) where he was a founder of the Public Questions Society. Admitted as a solicitor by the Supreme Court on 19 November 1926, he joined the firm of Sly & Russell and by 1929 was a partner specializing in commercial law.

At the chapel of St Paul's College, University of Sydney, Mackay married Mary Barker Hassall on 21 February 1928 with Anglican rites; they were to have two children before being divorced. While waiting for his practice to grow, he tutored (1926-32) part time at the university. He published a 42-page pamphlet, Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act (1928), which examined recent industrial laws, and a book, Some Aspects of Primary and Secondary Education (1929), which attacked the quality of compulsory education in New South Wales. In 1932 he was the leading founder of the Australian Institute of Political Science, a non-party forum for the study of social, political and economic problems.

As one of its first activities, the A.I.P.S. held a summer school in January 1933 on reforming the Australian Constitution. Mackay argued for a redistribution of legislative powers to favour the Commonwealth, an outcome which was largely achieved during and after World War II. The A.I.P.S. summer schools proved popular and the institute published a journal, Australian Quarterly, from 1935.

Mackay was convinced that the Constitution and the power of the States in Australia precluded the socialist programme he advocated. He emigrated to England in 1934 and joined the British Labour Party. Developing a successful commercial law practice in London in partnership with Herbert Oppenheimer, Harry Nathan and Arthur Vandyk, he began to put himself forward as a candidate for the House of Commons. His books, Federal Europe (London, 1940) and Peace Aims and the New Order (1941), claimed that European countries could avoid war by federating and establishing free trade; Coupon or Free? (1943) was a critique of the British electoral system.

Elected as Labour member for Hull North-West in 1945, Mackay joined his party's delegation to the Council of Europe. He remained a socialist, but his interest in Europe became consuming. His speeches urged the surrender of national sovereignty and the establishment of a common market. Further books—Britain in Wonderland (1948), Western Union in Crisis (Oxford, 1949), Heads in the Sand (1950), European Unity (1951) and Towards a United States of Europe (London, 1961)—expanded his arguments for economic and eventual political union. Whither Britain? (1953) regarded it as axiomatic that none of the countries of Western Europe could survive in isolation, let alone achieve socialism, because their markets were too small. Mackay envisaged that 'the old white Commonwealth countries' would be part of a federated Europe.

On 15 August 1946 at the register office, St Pancras, London, Mackay had married 28-year-old Doreen Mary Armstrong. In 1950 he successfully contested the division of Reading North in the House of Commons, but was defeated in the following year. Quick, capable, resourceful and industrious, pleasant in manner and generous by nature, he was widely respected among Australian and British political and economic thinkers, but it was said that he could only appreciate a joke if he were notified in advance by telegram. Although he was frustrated when his views were not immediately accepted, he managed to impress his ideas on the people he cultivated and to exert some influence on the movement towards European unity. Mackay died of coronary vascular disease on 15 January 1960 at his St John's Wood home; his wife survived him, as did their two daughters, and the son and daughter of his first marriage.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Goldring, 'A Prophet Unheeded: Kim Mackay and the development of two federations', Australian Quarterly, 68, no 3, 1996, p 99.

Citation details

John Goldring, 'Mackay, Ronald William Gordon (Kim) (1902–1960)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/mackay-ronald-william-gordon-kim-10981/text19521, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 17 November 2018.

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

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