8 March 2023

Channel 9 true-crime show to focus on Mackay murder and dark side of Al Grassby

| Oliver Jacques
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Liz Hayes, Terry Jones and Kate McClymont

Liz Hayes, Terry Jones and Kate McClymont go through Terry’s work. Photo: Terry Jones/Facebook.

Channel 9’s true-crime hit TV show Under Investigation will focus on Griffith this Wednesday, examining explosive claims the former local MP Al Grassby hindered police investigations into the 1977 murder of his political opponent Don Mackay.

The weekly program, hosted by 60 Minutes presenter Liz Hayes, casts the spotlight on various mysteries in search of new evidence and revelations. This week’s episode airs at 9 pm on Wednesday (8 March) and features research and interviews by Gold Walkley Award-winning journalist Kate McClymont.

“What we’ve done is looked at the murder of Don Mackay in light of the recent Operation Ironside of the AFP [Australian Federal Police] looking into the ‘Ndrangheta [the most powerful Mafia drug syndicate],” an Under Investigation spokeswoman told Region.

“We spoke to people who were in Griffith at the time, like Terry Jones [former newspaper editor], who has an encyclopedic memory of the events … and former detective Mick Drury, who was part of the raid on the Coleambally drug crop.”

READ ALSO Griffith Wars author donates 50-year life works on mafia crime to Charles Sturt University

The marijuana crop, found by police in 1975 following a tip-off from Mr Mackay, was said to be the biggest ever in Australia at the time.

“The next day, the Whitlam government was sacked so it didn’t get the attention it deserved,” the spokeswoman said.

Mr Mackay was a furniture salesman and vocal critic of illegal drug trading, which appeared to be surging in Griffith during the 1970s. He stood as the Liberal Party candidate for the seat of Riverina in 1974 against incumbent member Al Grassby. He won enough votes to ensure Mr Grassby lost the seat, with his preferences helping to elect his Coalition colleague, National Party candidate John Sullivan.

In 1977, Mr Mackay disappeared, thought to be the victim of Australia’s first political assassination. His body has never been found.

While many Griffith residents roll their eyes upon hearing about yet another media expose into the Mackay murder, producers say people will be surprised by details revealed in Wednesday’s episode.

“It’s absolutely worth watching … we have room now to consider this in a way we couldn’t back then,” the program spokeswoman said. “We do a thorough investigation and look at the role Al Grassby played in hindering [police efforts].”

Al Grassby with two women

Al Grassby in Griffith. Photo: Griffith City Library archives.

Mr Grassby was Immigration Minister for the Labor Whitlam government. He was known as a father of multiculturalism for the role he played in abolishing the White Australia Policy, which had previously restricted migration to Australia from countries outside Europe. While this made him a hero for many, Wednesday’s episode will look at how he allegedly played the race card to protect the Mafia, accusing the police of anti-Italian racism when they tried to investigate drug crime. Under Investigation also chronicles evidence suggesting he helped spread a false rumour that Mr Mackay’s wife was involved in her husband’s murder.

READ ALSO Don Mackay’s ex-campaign manager celebrates 90th birthday, recalls volatile 1974 election

Much of the research for the show was done by Terry Jones, who authored the controversial 2017 book The Griffith Wars: The Powerful True Story of Donald Mackay’s Murder and the Town That Stood Up to the Mafia. That publication was based on information obtained from his 10,000-page collection of notes, court documents, photos, news articles and other papers that make up what he calls the ”Griffith Diaries”, which he plans to donate to Charles Sturt University.

“I spent four hours with [the Under Investigation team] in Sydney … I signed a copy of my book for Liz,” Mr Jones said.

The show’s producers said there was so much fascinating information in Mr Jones’s diaries, they may do more episodes on Griffith in the future.

This Wednesday’s episode can be streamed on the Under Investigation website after it is aired on TV.

Original Article published by Oliver Jacques on Region Riverina.

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