Griffith’s reputation is still tarnished by the murder of Donald Mackay, according to mayor John Dal Broi, but the city is trying to move into the future.
The story of a mafia stronghold in rural Australia had inspired several books and even a television series.
“It’s a blot on our history, but nobody is trying to sweep it under the carpet, we live with the memory but we have to move on,” Councillor Dal Broi said.
“I don’t think there’s one local person that will ever forget what happened and even if his body was found I don’t think it would remove the stigma in the community.
“But it happened in a particular generation and they’re getting older and older and as the young ones grow up, they should not be held responsible for something that happened 40 years ago.”
Mr Mackay was actively involved in public life, from service clubs to even standing for the Liberal Party twice. Deputy mayor Dino Zappacosta, who stood as a Country Party candidate against Mr Mackay in 1973 and 1976, got to know him well during those years.
“I always felt he was very honourable and an upstanding member of the community,” Cr Zappacosta said.
“Maybe I should have taken a more forceful stand to carry on his work when he disappeared, but I just hope somewhere along the line we can shake it off and leave it behind us.”
Terry Jones, who was editor of The Area News at the time of Mr Mackay’s disappearance, said the only way for Griffith to move on was to face the truth and own it.
“They need to put it our there for all the world to see,” Mr Jones said.
“The concerned citizens of Griffith led the fight for justice for 20 years, they deserve more credit for it.”
This placed an enormous strain on the parents, some of whom had to give up their jobs to look after their kids. Families would find themselves isolated the rest of the community, but Mr Mackay was determined to change this.
While much of the focus will be on the 40th anniversary of Mr Mackay’s death will be on the mystery, the contributions he made to Griffith have left an everlasting legacy.
Mr Mackay’s friends remember him as generous man who took up a range of causes to defend the most vulnerable in society.
Rick Schwarzer, a former school principal who befriended Mr Mackay through his church, summed up the view of many by saying: “He was highly respected for his life – someone who believed that those who could help should help those in need.”
Family friend Lesley Hicks wrote in a book about Mr Mackay’s murder that he was a man who “had the compassion to recognise needs, the vision to see how they could be met and the gift of leadership to inspire others in hard work to attain these goals”.
His fight for disabled children came when he was in his early 20s. He joined with wife Barbara to form an association concerned with the childrens’ welfare and help plan, fundraise and lobby for Kalinda, Griffith’s first school for children with disabilities, which opened in 1969.
Mr Mackay then joined the Apex organisation, a volunteer community service organisation and toured Sri Lanka to help the developing country.
The late Norm Murphy, himself a charity stalwart, once described Donald Mackay as a “great mate”.
“Don’s brother, Bill, taught me to play cricket at school, that’s how I met Don,” Mr Murphy said on the 30th anniversary of Mr Mackay’s death.
“He was a gentleman beyond reproach, a big man with a big heart … a Liberal candidate who had the respect of everyone who knew him. He was a one off, Don Mackay.
“We used to have a drink together on Friday nights. We were all part of the FNDC, the Friday night drinking club, not that Don drank that much, it was just a chance for us all to catch up.”