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McKinnon, Archibald Vincent (Archie) (1904–1985)

by Tony Stephens

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Archibald Vincent McKinnon (1904-1985), psychiatric nurse and a founder of Alcoholics Anonymous in New South Wales, was born on 12 June 1904 at Temora, New South Wales, younger son of Hugh Archibald McKinnon, a New South Wales-born farmer, and his wife Teresa Mary, née Brett, from Victoria.  Archie’s father died in 1904; his mother remarried (1910) and the family moved to Sydney.  Educated until 1921 by the Christian Brothers at Waverley College, he began farming in the Camden area.  During the Depression he became a shearer, working in western Queensland and New South Wales.  While visiting his brother, who lived at Morisset, south of Newcastle, he learned to cut railway sleepers for a living.  In 1933 he took employment as an attendant at Morisset Mental Hospital.  On 17 November 1934 at the local Catholic Church he married Agnes Dulcie Wellings.  After transferring in 1935 to the Reception House for the Insane, Darlinghurst, Sydney, he developed an interest in the treatment of alcoholics.

In 1944 Fr R. J. Murphy and others tried, without success, to form a Sydney group of Alcoholics Anonymous.  Independently, McKinnon next year organised at the Darlinghurst reception house what is generally recognised as the first meeting in Australia of AA.  Two alcoholics attended:  Rex, a returned soldier and member of a wealthy banking family, and Jack, a house-painter; meetings soon moved to the Hasty Tasty all-night café at Kings Cross.  Making contact with Dr Sylvester Minogue, the superintendent of Rydalmere Mental Hospital, Frs Tom Dunlea and Murphy, McKinnon co-operated with them to establish the AA organisation in Sydney, in July 1945.  The radio broadcaster Frank Sturge Hardy provided publicity.

Feeling that he could no longer cope with violent patients, McKinnon resigned in 1949 and took up sheep-farming near Morisset.  Before long, however, he returned to nursing, at Morisset, and set up an AA group at the hospital.  Retiring in 1964, he became a house-builder in the Lake Macquarie area.  He and his wife formed a dance band, with Archie on violin and Dulcie on piano.  In 1969 he was appointed MBE.

McKinnon published two histories of AA in New South Wales:  Castle of Shadows (1972) and They Chose Freedom (1985).  In his second book he wrote that, having watched AA’s work for nearly forty years, 'how it works' still eluded him.  Sociologists described it as 'a psycho-social re-educating tool', anthropologists as 'a process of acculturation', theologians as 'a framework for spiritual conversion', and psychiatrists as 'a form of therapy'.  He concluded that 'The inability of medicine, psychiatry or religion to deal with a problem of this magnitude led alcoholics themselves to try and find answers to what they consider an illness'.

In 1975 a unit for people with alcohol-related problems at Rozelle Psychiatric Centre, Callan Park (Rozelle Hospital from 1976) was named after McKinnon.  Survived by his wife, he died on 29 November 1985 at Rathmines and was buried in Cooranbong cemetery.  He had no children.

Select Bibliography

  • Sun-Herald (Sydney), 7 April 1985, p 51
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 2 December 1985, p 27
  • Archie McKinnon papers (State Library of New South Wales)

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Tony Stephens, 'McKinnon, Archibald Vincent (Archie) (1904–1985)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/mckinnon-archibald-vincent-archie-14218/text25234, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 24 September 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

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