The Griffith Wars by Tom Gilling and Terry Jones

I don’t think anyone who was around in 1970’s Australia would be unaware of the  things covered by this book. Based on the diaries of Terry Jones, a newspaper editor in Griffith NSW who personally knew all of the major players, The Griffith Wars joins a lot of the half-remembered dots lingering in 40 year old memories.

Small business owner and aspiring politician, Donald Mackay disappeared from Griffith, a small inland city almost half way between Sydney and Adelaide. His furniture shop van was found in a pub car park alongside a pool of blood and spent firearm cartridges. His body has never been found.

Leading up to his murder he had been campaigning aggressively against a profitable drug trade centred in Griffith, where families of close-knit Calabrian farmers had been acquiring income far greater than would be expected from the growing of fruit and vegetables. Raids on a number of properties linked to those families had found large acreages of marijuana.

Prior to reports of Mackay’s disappearance, my  first wareness of Griffith related to two school friends were eventually found there after they’d gone missing from home. They’d been trying their hand at fruit picking using false names.

A few years later I met a friend’s sister, a nurse at Griffith base hospital, visiting her family who had recently moved to my home city on the coast. That was two or three years before Mackay’s murder, but those friends made it clear that Griffith’s reputation regarding the drug trade was already well known among locals there.

A closer personal connection to this story came when I met Gloria. She came from a small country town that relied on services available from Griffith. Her family had been customers of Donald Mackay’s furniture shop, and they had links with several places that arise in the account told in The Griffith Wars.  There was no secret about the identity of the people behind the illegalities within Griffith.

The names of those families and their activities have been well-known for decades. Many them passed through the legal system on numerous occasions but with little effect, often receiving minimal sentences (if any) receiving far lighter punishments for growing and distributing marijuana than those caught using it. Some even became recipients of local and national honours, such as “Citizen of the Year” and the “Order of Australia”.

The Griffith Wars is a very readable account of drugs, insurance fraud, murder, corrupt police and dodgy politicians. By one of those interesting coincidences, I finished reading this book one day after the 41st anniversary of Donald Mackay’s murder.


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