Bendigo, Victoria on 7 August 1863 the son of Irish born parents David
Mackey and Mary Anne née Moore; his education was limited and largely
self taught having been compelled to earn a living at an early age.
Nonetheless, he overcame this adversity and matriculated in 1883 before
entering Melbourne University (B.A., 1887; M.A., 1889; LL.B.,
1890) where he managed to support himself by student coaching and working at
the printing firm of “Mason, Firth & McCutcheon Pty Ltd”; fellow students
(Sir) John Monash (q.v.), Charles Long (Frankston Cemetery) and Frank Tate (Box Hill Cemetery) were all life long friends.
After graduation, Mackey was admitted to the Bar and became a lecturer at
the Working Men’s College teaching classics and history; and logic, mental
and moral philosophy at Melbourne University in Henry Laurie’s (Boroondara
Cemetery) absence which he won first-class honours during his studies. With
his law career amounting to very little, and having second thoughts of a
career in education, Mackey rekindled the ‘political fire’ of his student
years and stood unsuccessfully as a liberal free trader for Melbourne South
(1894); Ripon and Hampden (1897) and West Gippsland (1900) before finally
succeeding in October with West Gippsland (1902-24); he was said to have
been so popular that he was opposed only once. A key member of
(Sir) Thomas Bent’s (q.v.) ministry
(1904-09), Mackey was described as a “constructive, common-sense
reformer…adept at speedily drafting amendments at the table of the House”
and responsible for some of the most progressive legal and social reforms of
his era including the ‘Flos Greig enabling bill’ (1903) that paved the way
for women to practice law; the Registration of Teachers and Schools Act
(1905) that required the registration of teachers and the regulation of
training courses; the Children’s Court Act (1906) upon the urgings of
Vida Goldstein (1869-1949); establishment of the Indeterminate Sentences
Board (1907); creation of the Court of Criminal Appeal (1914) and
perhaps his most important contribution, the Country Roads Board Act
(1912) to improve the appalling conditions of country roads. On the fall of
the Peacock ministry in November 1917, Sir John Bowser (Wangaratta
Cemetery) had hoped Mackey would succeed as Premier, instead he became
Speaker of the Legislative Assembly (1917-24) a position he held until his
death; contemporaries described him as “strict, fair and courteous…highly
regarded for his clarity of mind, sincerity, forbearance and good humour”.
Knighted in 1921, Mackey died suddenly on 6 April 1924 and was accorded a
state funeral survived by (Lady) Zella née Bates (d 1966) whom he married on
18 December 1908.
(above) Sir John Mackey
(Reproduced with kind permission of the
Victorian Parliament Library)
(above) Monumental Headstone (enlarge
ADB Volume 10 1891-1939 (Lat-Ner).
The Argus 7, 8, 9 & 16 April 1924.
Melbourne Punch 8 June 1905, 13 December 1917
& 23 September 1920.
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