Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Denis Peter Mackey (1934–1990)

by Philip Thomson

This article was published:

Denis Peter Mackey (1934-1990), medical practitioner, was born on 8 May 1934 at Richmond, Melbourne, second child of Victorian-born Alphonsus Denis Mackey, commercial traveller, and his New South Wales-born wife Dulcie Edith, née Reid. Taught by the Christian Brothers, he was to maintain his connection with the Catholic church throughout his life. He studied medicine at the University of Melbourne (MB, BS, 1959). On 30 December 1959 at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, Middle Park, he married Noelle Lucy Mooney, a secretary. Early next year they moved to Tasmania; he worked at the Royal Hobart Hospital until 1963, before establishing a general practice at Lindisfarne, on Hobart’s eastern shore. Making himself available after hours, he did his own X-rays, set fractures, gave general anaesthetics and delivered babies. When the Tasman Bridge collapsed in 1975 he bought a small boat so that he could commute, faster than by road, to attend patients in hospital.

In 1973 Mackey had joined the General Practitioners’ Society in Australia (from 1985 Private Doctors of Australia). Soon becoming the Tasmanian ‘official spokesman’, he served as national vice-president (1976-79) and president (1979-81). He was also editor (1974-78) and assistant-editor (1978-80) of the Australian GP. An advocate of private medicine in Australia for over twenty-five years, he opposed the introduction of the national health insurance scheme Medibank and its successor Medicare, as he disagreed with third-party interference in private medical practice. He publicly opposed government-funded community health centres. His tussles with health departments were frequently played out in the press: he expressed his views in many articles, often published in Australian GP, and in letters to newspapers. In 1977 he travelled around the United States of America with two other members of the GPSA, warning of the dangers of socialised medicine.

Refusing to use prescription pads provided free of charge to all Australian doctors under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, Mackey had his own printed. He would not accept money from Medicare or the Department of Veterans’ Affairs; insisting that his patients make their own claims to these government agencies. In 1985 he sparked a row with the Tasmanian Trades and Labour Council and the local branch of the Federated Clerks’ Union of Australia by alleging that workers were using repetitive strain injury as an excuse to take ‘sickies’. However, he treated many people, including members of the clergy, free of charge. Well liked by his patients and medical colleagues, he was respected by his opponents. He was the Tasmanian spokesman for Private Doctors of Australia until his death.

Mackey had a good sense of humour and a zest for life, enjoying horse racing and photography. Survived by his wife and their four sons, he died of cancer on 8 January 1990 in Hobart and, after a service in St Mary’s Cathedral, was buried in Hobart regional lawn cemetery, Kingston. The University of Tasmania awards a scholarship in his name annually to a medical student undertaking an elective in general practice.

Select Bibliography

  • Mercury (Hobart), 16 Mar 1985, p 4, 11 Jan 1990, p 5
  • Australian Private Doctor, Jan/Feb 1990, p 4.

Citation details

Philip Thomson, 'Mackey, Denis Peter (1934–1990)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 5 March 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (Melbourne University Press), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


8 May, 1934
Richmond, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


8 January, 1990 (aged 55)
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

Cause of Death

cancer (not specified)

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.