The story of Donald Mackay and his untimely death still captures the imagination as much today as it did 40 years ago: A dedicated family man and tireless charity supporter who was gunned down because he dared to speak out where others would not.
The attention – both national and even international – brought intense scrutiny upon the previously unknown town of Griffith. Of course, Griffith’s reputation precedes it outside of the Riverina. Telling people you’re going to Griffith is akin, in some circles, to going to Nimbin. And even recently we’ve seen massive marijuana seizures across the region, dredging up memories of the “bad old days” of Griffith’s grass castles.
For many outside our region, Griffith’s that town from the Underbelly series, which the show portrayed as being only a few hours from Sydney in a Holden Kingswood. But those of us that live in the Riverina know Griffith for its wonderful food and wine, the festivals and most importantly the people.
That’s why we made a special effort to focus on the lasting legacy of Donald Mackay in Griffith and not just on the grizzly murder itself. There’s a lovely little city just a couple of hours west that deserves a little love, full of people like Don who work to improve their corner of the earth. It’s telling that they still have a Can-Assist branch, while the much larger Wagga has lost its own.
One of the requests of the Mackay family has been not to call Don an “anti-drugs campaigner” and that’s fair; to them, he was a father and friend and to the wider community he was so much more than a bloke who railed against marijuana. However, it’s hard to remove any references to the fight against drugs from the story of Donald Mackay; it is, after all, the reason he was murdered.
The circumstances surrounding that murder have also been the subject of much conjecture in the past four decades. There are claims of crooked cops and foreign spies, corruption in politics and local mobsters. Whether or not any of these have some truth to them is now the domain of the police, the judiciary and the true-crime authors, who no doubt will continue to write about the case for years to come.
For what it’s worth, former Area News editor Terry Jones, who met Donald Mackay back in 1971 and was at the helm of the paper 40 years ago today, believes the “official” version of events. As for the final resting place? Mr Jones believes he was likely dumped in the Murray River near Tocumwal, never to be seen again.