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Mackay, George Hugh (1872–1961)

by Elaine Brown

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

George Hugh Alexander Mackay (1872-1961), politician and Speaker of the House of Representatives, was born on 20 March 1872 at Copperfield, near Clermont, Queensland, son of Hugh Mackay, carpenter, and his wife Jane, née Baird, both Scottish migrants. He was educated at Clermont and Bundaberg state schools and after a brief apprenticeship as a chemist joined the Peak Downs Telegram as an apprentice printer in 1887. He became foreman printer in 1894, then managing editor. On 23 September 1896 he married Edith Ann Heard at the Wesleyan Church, Clermont. Mackay then conducted a newsagency and bookselling business at Clermont with his sister Barbara. In 1899 he was elected to the Clermont Town Council and in 1900-02 was mayor.

In 1902 Mackay moved his family to New South Wales, where he ran a newsagency briefly at Lismore, then leased a dairy farm at McLean's Ridge. In 1905 the family joined settlers from the Richmond River at Gympie, Queensland, where dairying and fruit-growing were developing around the goldfield. In partnership with Ray King, Mackay opened an auctioneering and real estate business there and in March 1906 was honorary secretary of the committee that established the Wide Bay Dairy Co-operative Association. He was elected to the Gympie City Council in 1911 and became mayor in 1917.

In 1912 Mackay was elected as a Liberal to the Legislative Assembly for Gympie, a seat which he had unsuccessfully contested in 1909. He was defeated in 1915. In 1917, standing as a Nationalist, Mackay won the Federal seat of Lilley, which then stretched from north of Gympie to Breakfast Creek in Brisbane, and held it easily in six subsequent elections. Mackay conscientiously represented the concerns of the farmers and small businessmen who elected him. He was a competent public speaker and a careful speech-writer with a fondness for quoting figures. He served on the Joint Committee on Public Works (1920-28) and as its chairman in 1926-28 was involved in building the Australian War Memorial and in the development of Canberra. Mackay was a moderate man who had 'no time for extremists or muddlers', and was little attracted to the Country Party.

In recognition of his long experience in parliament, his work as temporary chairman of committees in 1929-31 and his service to the National and United Australia parties, he was elected Speaker on 11 February 1932. In March 1934 he announced his intention to retire at the end of the parliamentary session, saying only that 'one may remain in parliament too long'. In retirement Mackay pursued his interest in bowls and was president of the Gympie Bowling Club in 1936-39.

Tall and well-built, Mackay was a good runner and rifle shot in his youth. Described as 'rational and without malice', he had a calm disposition, modesty, a dry wit and cautious but sound judgement in financial matters. He was a devout Presbyterian and wrote 'A summary of the history of the Gympie Presbyterian Church' (1952). A Freemason, in 1955 he was awarded the fifty years long service jewel.

Mackay died on 5 November 1961 at Gympie and after a state funeral from the Presbyterian Church was buried in Gympie cemetery. Predeceased by his wife, he was survived by a son. His portrait by A. E. Newbury is in Parliament House, Canberra.

Select Bibliography

  • Gympie Times, 9 Feb, 17 Mar 1917, 7 Nov 1961
  • Courier Mail (Brisbane), 20 Mar 1934
  • private information.

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Citation details

Elaine Brown, 'Mackay, George Hugh (1872–1961)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 23 April 2021.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

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