Don Mackay.
Don Mackay. Contributed ROK281216donmackay3

Farewell to war hero and community man

Don Mackay - born October 20, 1923, died December 19, 2016.

Former long-term The Morning Bulletin employee, Distinguished Flying Medal recipient and long standing Rockhampton community member Donald Jule Mackay died on Monday, December 19. He was 93.

The son of Angus Mackay and Lorna Mackay (nee Cohn), Don was born in Geelong in 1923. He grew up in Echuca and spent his early years playing on the banks of the Murray among the paddle steamers and the wharves.

He began his working life in an insurance office in Melbourne in 1941 but later that year, with Japan on Australia's doorstep, was called up into the Army, where he spent most of 1942 in training in various places including Queensland. In 1943 he transferred to the RAAF and, after training, was kitted out to head to Europe.

Those orders were changed and instead Don was sent to 18 Squadron, a RAAF/Netherland East Indies Air Force squadron based in the Northern Territory, apparently still with his cold weather flying gear!

Don Mackay with a group of RAAF airgunners in 1944.
Don Mackay with a group of RAAF airgunners in 1944. Contributed ROK281216donmackay5

Because of his small stature, Don was ideally suited to the role of tail gunner in what he later described as "the noisiest plane in the air force”, the Mitchell B-25 bomber.

Don Mackay B52 bombers
Don Mackay B52 bombers Contributed ROK281216donmackay1

He flew a variety of missions including reconnaissance, shipping raids, bombing raids, searching for missing aircraft and crew and pathfinder missions over what is now Timor and Indonesia.

Don was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal for "courage and determination in operational sorties”.

Don Mackay with his bomber crew
Don Mackay with his bomber crew Contributed ROK281216donmackay4

After the war, Don was trained as a printer. His time in Queensland during the war gave him a taste for the Sunshine State and in 1949 he headed to Mount Morgan for a job on the newspaper there.

When he arrived he was told that the paper was closing down and so he drove down the range in his Jowett Javelin to Rockhampton and The Morning Bulletin, where he spent most of his working life, working as a compositor, camera operator and proof reader. He retired in 1988.

Don Mackay retirement 21 Oct 1988.
Don Mackay retirement 21 Oct 1988. Contributed ROK281216donmackay2

Don's antecedents in Victoria had chalked up three generations in the newspaper business. Don continued this with a career that spanned massive changes in the technology of newspaper production from hot metal to early computerised systems.

In 1950, he met Betty Leath, from Sydney, who was visiting relatives in Rockhampton.

In what he later described as one of his 'better impulse decisions' he asked her to marry him after having known each other for just a few weeks.

The marriage lasted until Betty's death in 2009, and produced four children Ian, Helen, Alison and Peter; six grandchildren (Arkin Mackay, Tilly Hinton, Lauren Isaak, Ashleigh Isaak, Sarah Mackay and Alexander Mackay and one great grandchild, Tanis Fulcher).

Don and Betty Mackay 50th wedding anniversary.
Don and Betty Mackay 50th wedding anniversary. Contributed ROK281216donmackay7

Don and Betty loved to travel and in what was a major expedition for the time, drove the family Holden (along with a home made caravan and three children all under 11 years of age) from Rockhampton to Darwin in the early 1960s. In subsequent years the couple travelled to the Europe, the UK, Brunei and most states of Australia.

In 1988, a chance meeting on the steps outside the venue for an RAAF reunion on the Gold Coast reunited Don with his pilot, Hermann Arens, who he hadn't seen since Christmas Eve 1944.

An article covering Don Mackay's WWII medal.
An article covering Don Mackay's WWII medal. Contributed ROK281216donmackay6

With addresses of his air crew in hand, Don and Betty headed off at the earliest opportunity, to the USA where most of the crew had settled after the war.

Don was very active in the local Rockhampton community. He was a founding member of the RAAF Association in 1957, served as secretary for many years and was awarded Life Membership in 2007. He also served as treasurer for Warripari Scout Group in Eton Street, West Rockhampton for 25 years.

He and Betty were regular parishioners of St Luke's Anglican Church in Wandal and were very involved in parish affairs.

After Betty's death in 2009, Don continued to satisfy his appetite for travel with a number of coach tours around Victoria.

When at last he left his home of many years and moved into Bethesda Aged Care Centre, he did so with considerable trepidation, but before long he had made it his new home.

Don loved nothing better than having his extended family around him, particularly as they celebrated each of his advancing birthdays.

It seemed totally appropriate, then, that after a short spell in Hillcrest Hospital, Don should pass from this life in the company of his children.

He will always remembered warmly as "a nice man who liked to liked to tell stories and a wonderful model of service to both family and community”

Don's funeral will be held at St Luke's Wandal on Thursday January 12 at 9.30am.

Peter and Ian Mackay



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