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Donald Mackinnon (1892–1965)

by Suzanne L. G. Rickard

This article was published:

Donald Mackinnon (1892-1965), pastoralist and diplomat, was born on 30 April 1892 at Prahran, Melbourne, eldest of six children of Victorian-born parents Donald Mackinnon, barrister, and his wife Hilda Eleanor Marie, née Bunny. His grandfathers were Daniel Mackinnon and Frederick Bunny; Rupert Bunny was his uncle. After attending Melbourne Church of England Grammar School, young Donald boarded at Geelong Church of England Grammar School where he won prizes for Latin and Greek, edited the school magazine and was a prefect. He enrolled in law at the University of Melbourne and entered Ormond College in 1910. From 1911 to 1913 he read classics at New College, Oxford, but did not graduate. 

Having served (from 1911) in the ranks of the King Edward's Horse, Mackinnon was commissioned in March 1914. He was sent to the Western Front in April 1915. Wounded on 29 March 1916, he was evacuated to London. In 1916-17 he commanded reserve units in Ireland. He returned to France as a captain in 1918 and, following the Armistice, again embarked for Ireland. At All Saints Church, Grangegorman, Dublin, on 12 June 1917 he had married Minella Beatrice Seymour with the rites of the Church of Ireland.

By 1919 Mackinnon was back in Australia. He drove cattle on his uncle's property, Marion Downs, near Boulia, Queensland, then moved to Melbourne where he completed (by correspondence) a course in accountancy. Failing to secure management of any of the family properties, and spurred by his wife's unhappiness in Melbourne, he took her to England in 1924. He worked for the Union Cold Storage Co. Ltd in London's Smithfield market. Following his divorce, he married Mary Hindle James, a 27-year-old physiotherapist, on 10 September 1927 at the register office, St Marylebone.

When the meat merchants, Vestey Bros Ltd, offered Mackinnon an opportunity to represent their interests in Argentina, he sailed for Buenos Aires in 1929. Appointed a director (1937) of Anglo Frigorifico, he was widely respected in commercial circles. During World War II he was a member of 'Los Tamberos', a clandestine organization formed to combat the activities of Germans in Argentina. Despite his British connexions, he retained a strong sense of his nationality and wanted to expand trade between Australia and South America. He later claimed that he had 'been selling Australia in one form or another since 1929'.

In 1946 Mackinnon returned home. Settling on the family property, Marida Yallock, near Terang, Victoria, he soon became involved in local politics and was elected president of the Terang branch of the Returned Sailors', Soldiers' and Airmen's Imperial League of Australia. He joined the State executive of the Liberal Party and was its vice-president in 1948. That year cabinet appointed him to the Victorian Inland Meat Authority. In August 1949 he won the presidency of the Liberal and Country Party of Victoria. He was a co-opted member of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization's advisory council in 1952-57.

Mackinnon had gained extensive knowledge of South America's primary and secondary industries, of its politics, and of the international trade in meat. This expertise, and his knowledge of Spanish and Portuguese, proved assets when he was posted (1957) as Australian minister to Brazil. In 1958 he was appointed C.B.E. and promoted ambassador. His 'unusual but completely effective' approach to diplomacy was praised. Returning to Victoria in 1960, he led the Australian trade mission to South America in 1962.

A tall man of military bearing, Mackinnon had a purposeful manner, a quiet sense of humour and an ability to communicate ideas. He was forthright, energetic and gentlemanly. Initially a small 'l' Liberal, he grew suspicious of government subsidies and in 1964-65 opposed the introduction of a reserve-price scheme for wool. At the same time, however, he feared that the Liberal Party would be unduly influenced by big business. Described as a 'driving force' in the party, he worked closely with leading members of the parliamentary wing, including Sir Robert Menzies. Mackinnon advised the Federal treasurer Harold Holt on rural policy and lent his support to the aspiring Andrew Peacock.

A director of Trufood of Australia Pty Ltd, Mackinnon was a member of the Australian Primary Producers' Union and president (1964) of the Melbourne Club. His newspaper articles (1960-62) provided a lively commentary on South American trade, politics and social issues. He died on 2 May 1965 at Terang and was buried in the local cemetery with Presbyterian forms; his wife, daughter and two sons survived him, as did the daughter of his first marriage.

Select Bibliography

  • M. H. Mackinnon, For All that Time has Held (priv print, Yamba, NSW, 1993)
  • Pastoral Review, 17 May 1965, p 469
  • Age (Melbourne), 26 Oct 1948, 1 Jan 1958, 7 Dec 1961, 3 May 1965, 25 May 1966
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 4 Aug 1949, 3 May 1965
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 13 Oct 1949, 3 May 1965
  • D. Mackinnon letters and reports, 1950-65 (National Library of Australia).

Citation details

Suzanne L. G. Rickard, 'Mackinnon, Donald (1892–1965)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 20 June 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

Life Summary [details]


30 April, 1892
Prahran, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


2 May, 1965 (aged 73)
Terang, Victoria, 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.