– Donald Mackay knew he was marked down as an enemy of the drug-growing families of the irrigated farmlands around Griffith, New South Wales, and the secret syndicate that ran them.
He had been exposed as the covert informant of Drug Squad detectives who used his furniture store in 1975 to plan secretly what was then Australia’s biggest drug bust – marijuana valued at $60 million growing on a property at Coleambally, 65 kilometres from Griffith.
In July 1977, two days before he was assassinated, his body spirited into a 36-year mystery, Mr Mackay sat in that same furniture store and told me his blood had “run cold” when he found his involvement in the huts had been exposed.
One of the Drug Squad members had been forced to hand over his notebook at the trial of four men alleged to have been involved in the crop. Mr Mackay’s name and the Drug Squad’s use of his furniture store as their Griffith headquarters were documented within its pages.
Mr Mackay did not, of course, contemplate being murdered – he was a former political candidate and a pillar of Griffith’s community.
But he knew that Griffith in the mid-1970s was not a good place to make enemies.
He also knew strange things happened when citizens tried to tip off police. In 1974 an agriculture inspector named Joseph Patrick Keenan had stumbled across a group of men and women, including a fellow named Antonio Sergi from a district winery, packing marijuana into green plastic bags in a farm shed.
In rural Australia in 1974 it was an astonishing sight. When Mr Keenan reported what he had witnessed to Griffith police, Detective Sergeant John Kenneth Ellis didn’t seem interested and took no statement. Within a day, Mr Keenan got a call from one of Mr Sergi’s relatives informing him the family knew he had spoken to police.
Several weeks later, the body of a man named Joseph Patrick Keenan was found floating in a canal near Griffith. He was no relation of the agricultural inspector.
Ellis, who was in charge of the investigation of the unfortunate man’s death, reported at his inquest that Mr Keenan was an alcoholic and there were no suspicious circumstances. Just an amazing coincidence, apparently.
Mr Mackay and others in Griffith detected things were crook. They proved to be right.
Ellis and two other detectives from Griffith at the time, Senior Constable John Francis Robbins and Detective Sergeant Brian James Borthwick, were later jailed for perverting the course of justice in relation to two drug crops.
Thus, when Mr Mackay got wind of a big crop at Coleambally in 1975, he went undercover – and very likely sealed his fate.
To know that marijuana-growing was flourishing and to condemn it was one thing. But to provide information and accommodation to the quiet men from the NSW Drug Squad, with spectacular damage to the growers and the syndicate, was quite another.
Yet Mr Mackay, a conservative man, disliked being called an anti-drugs campaigner.
His mission was also political, against former Whitlam minister Al Grassby. In 1974, Mr Mackay stood as a Liberal candidate against Mr Grassby for the federal seat of Riverina. He lost, but his preferences helped the National Party unseat Mr Grassby.
Mr Mackay said Mr Grassby was unusually close to the main drug-growing families and that he received political patronage from the man he described as the “real” old-time Godfather of Griffith, a shoe-shop owner named Peter Calipari.
He dismissed Robert Trimbole as a half-smart thug, but dangerous. Speaking with me and Michael Cahill from Albury’s “The Border Mail”, Mr Mackay scorned Trimbole for having his old panel-beating business and his tax records burnt by a character known as “The Torch” before muscling in to the drugs business. His judgement of Trimbole proved right.
It was, police have long alleged, Trimbole who employed the triggerman who ended Mr Mackay’s life. Six other local men were fingered by the Woodward Royal Commission. All had handy alibis. Two were having dinner with three policemen.
No one has ever been charged with Mr Mackay’s murder, although the now 87-year-old Melbourne hitman, James Frederick Bazley, served 15 years for having conspired to murder Mr Mackay and murdering two drug couriers.
And Mr Grassby? In 1980, he hawked around a document claiming it was not the mafia who killed Mr Mackay. It implied Mr Mackay’s wife, Barbara, son Paul and solicitor Paul Salmon were the conspirators. Mr Grassby was charged with criminal libel; 12 years later he was acquitted on appeal – Tony Wright

About Jumpin' Jack Cash

Deep connections are the most important aspect of my existence. I don’t care if people don’t know what they want. I love books. I’m cynical of love stories, although I’m romantic. I adore gardens. I like women who challenge me. I love the rain as an excuse to stay inside and dream. I'm furiously impatient. If I ask you a question best to tell me the truth as I'm likely to already know the answer. I'm a carnivore. I continuously underestimate the magic of fresh flowers in my home. I love warm rain in the summer. My mood elevates to epic proportions when the sun shines. Tell me not to do something and I'll do it twice and take photos. Running is my antidepressant. I loathe lies. I rarely forgive a lie. Loyalty and honesty are my most noble virtues, and I value them more than anything in other people. I love to love, and am able to fall in love very quickly, although it's only ever happened once. I understood myself and fixed myself only after destroying myself. My greatest excitement comes from deliberately getting lost in foreign cities. I can be extremely loud and frighteningly silent. I hate insinuations. I love storms. Justice for all. I'm a proud man, but welcome the influence of the feminine soul. I have two sisters. I’m a dreamer. I’m a deep thinker. Don’t deal with guilt trips or drama that well. I'm extremely stubborn and persistent. I'm brilliant at keeping secrets. I love driving. I become absolutely and completely lost while watching a burning fire. When the toast pops from the toaster I’m never ready and shit myself. I play the guitar, but require much improvement. Solitude and warmth of the sun are perfect together. I’ve been married once and now divorced. I’m a music junkie. Chocolate mousse is the shit. I curse too much. I find it difficult to make friends. I spent four years as a firefighter. I’ve run my own company since 1991. Bright lights, big cities. I’ve been an executive producer of a feature film. Some people don’t care, and that’s the biggest let-down of the human race. There are cures and solutions for many evils, but no remedy for the worst of them all - the apathy of human beings. The sound of the Italian language being spoken is as good as my favourite music. I hate corrupt cops. I relentlessly and passionately pursue anybody and anything that sets my soul on fire. I'm a dog lover, and all my dogs are considered family members. I have an obsession with photography. I have some close friends who are household names, but shall always remain anonymous. I’m crazy but not lazy. Losing a soulmate has hurt me badly. My two young sons are the nucleus of my universe. I love airports. I love freedom. If you are dishonest or disloyal, I can erase you from my life and memory immediately and permanently. I yearn to explore, dream about and discover as many friendships, deep connections and places, one possibly can in a lifetime.
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