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Mackay, Barbara Vincent (1935–2001)

by Kerry Forman

from Australian

Barbara Vincent Mackay. Physiotherapist and criminal justice campaigner. Born Sydney, November 8, 1935. Died Canberra, February 24, aged 65.

Known nationally as the widow of murdered anti-drugs campaigner Donald Mackay, to those who knew her Barbara Mackay was greatly admired in her own right for her courage and strength of character. 

Throughout her 65 years, Bar bara Mackay faced many challenges that at times seemed insurmountable, and her husband's death 24 years ago was a pivotal event in her life, changing it forever.         

 "Mum faced years of dealing with media intrusion, developing public-speaking skills and being the family advocate in various court proceedings," her oldest son Paul says. "Mum always persevered with these things because of her great longing that Dad's death would not be in vain." 

It was Donald Mackay's disappearance in July 1977 and the circumstances surrounding it that catapulted Barbara Mackay into the media spotlight. Though his body was never found, Donald Mackay's death was eventually accepted as a murder connected with his attempts to expose the marijuana-growing rackets in the Griffith district of south-western NSW. 

Only one man, James Frederick Bazley, was charged in connection with Mackay's murder, and he was freed from jail three weeks ago after serving 16 years for conspiring to kill him for $10,000 and for two other murders. 

Despite a royal commission that claimed to have curbed drug rackets, two other inquiries, parliamentary hearings and numerous police investigations, Barbara Mackay believed the drug trade in Griffith was stronger than ever. 

Barbara grew up in Killara on Sydney's north shore, the third of four daughters of Reginald Vincent Dearman and Adele Victoria Vincent. 

She met Donald Mackay when she was only 15 and they became engaged four years later. 

After graduating from the University of Sydney, she moved to Griffith where Donald Mackay, with his brother Bill, was running a furniture business, and began a 40-year association with the Griffith hospital, first as its only physiotherapist and later as part of a team. 

Family life was difficult for Barbara Mackay as a lone mother after her husband's death and years of battling illness, but few outside the family would have been aware of her hardship. 

When Donald Mackay disappeared, her youngest son James was only three and her older children – Paul, Ruth and Mary – ranged in age from 18 to 13. In 1977 she was named Mother of the Year for her "serenity and single-minded sense of purpose throughout a time of great stress". 

Barbara Mackay took great interest in the Donald Mackay Churchill Fellowship Award inaugurated in 1987 to fund study into organised crime overseas for police, investigative journalists and other professionals, and met many of its recipients. 

She was also involved in the work of another memorial to her husband, the Griffith Gatehouse, a live-in counselling and crisis ministry for drug and alcohol-addicted young people, operated for years by Teen Challenge Australia. Barbara Mackay was also a member of the Concerned Citizens of Griffith group that in the 1980s worked to expose corruption and obtain justice. 

Her faith and commitment to the church was a central focus of her life. She had many gifts that she shared with enthusiasm. Her love of music and piano-playing skills were much used and enjoyed at church services, social nights and the local nursing homes. 

Barbara Mackay was one of the driving forces behind Griffith's annual Christmas pageants and during the '80s she set to work with a passion to produce Christian musicals for children. Carols by Candlelight was another community event, backed by the combined churches of Griffith, but initiated by her. 

Her one published work was a children's book, The Twins Visit Griffith, wherein she sought to express something of her love of the town. 

Reverend John Davies says of his sister-in-law that her first love was husband Donald, and she supported him through the many community projects and roles he undertook. 

"It was her love for Don that led her to persevere through the years of stress and trauma following his murder, enduring the pain of the media spotlight, the hurtful lies and mistruths that were spread about her family, and that led her to continue to cope with the flow of crazy correspondence – all out of a desire to see the vindication of Don's untimely death and a resolution of the cause for which he died," he says. "She did not seek the media spotlight for her own sake, she did not fight for the cause for the cause's sake but for Don's sake, so that his death would not be in vain." 

Davies says it was a constant grief to Barbara Mackay that, despite the royal commissions and public inquiries, the main players in the tragedy of her husband's death were never brought to justice. 

When her health began to decline rapidly, Barbara Mackay wrote a letter to her grandchildren, called "Before I Forget", so that the memory of Don Mackay and what he stood for would not fade away. 

With the encouragement of friends, that letter was expanded into a book, but it has never been published for fear of litigation. 

Davies says it was Barbara Mackay's enduring hope that one day she would discover what happened to her husband's body and be able to erect a gravestone to his memory. 

"Tragically, she died without that hope fulfilled," he says. 

She is survived by her four children and grandchildren.

by Kerry Forman, editor of The Area News, Griffith.

Original publication

Other Obituaries for Barbara Vincent Mackay

Additional Resources

Citation details

Kerry Forman, 'Mackay, Barbara Vincent (1935–2001)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/mackay-barbara-vincent-27848/text35600, accessed 29 November 2021.

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