Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Donald Bruce (Don) Mackay (1933–1977)

by C. A. Gregory

This article was published:

Donald Mackay, n.d.

Donald Mackay, n.d.

Donald Bruce Mackay (1933-1977), furniture store proprietor and anti-drugs campaigner, was born on 13 September 1933 at Griffith, New South Wales, third and youngest child of Australian-born parents Lennox William Mackay, house furnisher, and his wife Phyllis, née Roberts. The family moved to Sydney in 1943. On leaving Barker College, Hornsby, Don worked for furniture companies, studied accountancy and completed national-service training. In 1955 he returned to Griffith to help his brother run the family business.

At St Martin's Anglican Church, Killara, on 6 April 1957 Mackay married Barbara Vincent Dearman, a physiotherapist. After ten years as an external student of the University of New England (B.A., 1969), he began to study law, attended Italian classes and took flying lessons; 6 ft 3½ ins (192 cm) tall and 15 stone (95 kg) in weight, he was an A-grade squash player and a keen jogger. Mackay was also a devout Christian, involved in Anglican and then in Methodist church activities. Secretary of the Griffith Pioneer Lodge committee, he founded the local branches of the Sub-Normal Children's Welfare Association (later Challenge Foundation) and the Australian Birthright Movement. He was secretary, president and district governor of the Apex Club of Griffith.

Mackay unsuccessfully contested the State seat of Murrumbidgee as a Liberal Party candidate in the elections of 1973 and 1976. At the Federal elections in 1974 he stood for Riverina; his preferences helped to unseat the Labor minister for immigration, A. J. Grassby. While campaigning, Mackay became aware of the drug problem at Griffith. He was concerned about the effect of marijuana on young users, the corrupting influence of illegal profits, and the capacity of laundered money to undermine fair competition in the economy.

As her husband did not want his views on drugs to be seen as an electoral ploy, Barbara Mackay wrote anonymously to the Area News in June 1974, questioning the justice of a decision in May when two local farmers received small fines for growing cannabis. Another letter, next February, carried her signature. Meanwhile, Mackay passed information to the Drug Squad in Sydney, thereby precipitating the raid on 10 November 1975 on a cannabis plantation at Coleambally; the police found the largest single crop yet discovered in Australia. The case did not come to court until 7 March 1977 when Mackay's covert role may have been revealed. Disgusted with the lenient sentence, he launched a public campaign of reform. He wrote to the Area News on 23 March and organized a petition, signed by two thousand people, which was presented to State parliament in May.

About 6.30 p.m. on Friday 15 July 1977 Mackay left the Hotel Griffith and vanished. His bloodstained vehicle was located seven hours later in the hotel car park. Three spent .22 cartridges lay nearby. Public indignation at the failure of the police to find Mackay's body led the premier Neville Wran to appoint Justice Philip Woodward royal commissioner to inquire into drug trafficking. He reported in 1979 that Mackay was murdered by a 'hit man' on behalf of the Griffith cell of N'Dranghita (The Honoured Society). In 1984 the local coroner found that Mackay died of 'wilfully inflicted gunshot wounds'. His wife, two sons and two daughters survived him.

In 1986 James Frederick Bazley, who protested his innocence, was sentenced to life imprisonment for conspiracy to murder Mackay. The report in 1987 of a special commission of inquiry into the police investigation of the death of Donald Bruce Mackay named police officers, politicians and 'Society' members. Few, if any, doubt that Mackay was murdered in 1977, but many questions concerning his disappearance remain unanswered.

Select Bibliography

  • L. Hicks, The Appalling Silence (Syd, 1979)
  • P. M. Woodward, Report of the Royal Commission into Drug Trafficking (Syd, 1979)
  • A. W. McCoy, Drug Traffic (Syd, 1980)
  • J. F. Nagle, Report of the Special Commission of Inquiry into the Police Investigation of the Death of Donald Bruce Mackay (Syd, 1987)
  • B. Bottom, Shadow of Shame (Melb, 1988)
  • Area News, 5 June 1974, 3 Feb 1975
  • private information.

Additional Resources

Citation details

C. A. Gregory, 'Mackay, Donald Bruce (Don) (1933–1977)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 25 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (Melbourne University Press), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Donald Mackay, n.d.

Donald Mackay, n.d.

Life Summary [details]


13 September, 1933
Griffith, New South Wales, Australia


15 July, 1977 (aged 43)
Griffith, New South Wales, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

Key Organisations
Political Activism