Don Mackay (supporting asylum seeker)

July 14, 2017

Don Mackay has led a creative life in theatre and television but works with his church to give practical support to people seeking asylum, as he explains to Julie Houghton.


What kind of support does your church provide to people seeking asylum?

St John’s Anglican Church in Croydon, Melbourne, supports the Asylum Seekers Centre in Dandenong which provides a whole range of necessities to asylum seekers, most of whom have no way of buying clothing, household goods or computers. 


Doesn’t St John’s stage a rather unusual annual fundraising event?

Every year on a special day the parish buys men’s and women’s underwear—there is a real need for it because many people are rather embarrassed to ask for underwear. Doing this really focuses the congregation’s attention on the needs of other people. We call it ‘Undie Sundie’.


How did this unusual initiative start? 
David Spitteler, who established the centre, was invited to preach at St John’s and explained this very practical need to us. The congregation understood and is very supportive of what he is doing. That service really focused our minds on the needs of asylum seekers.


What role does faith play in your own life?

I’m a member of the St John’s congregation and I do Bible readings and help organise community concerts. In my personal life I respond to the teachings of Jesus and try to use those teachings as a guide for the way I live.


Your life has been in performing arts, so how did that get started? 

I worked as a panel operator at a Sydney radio station and also appeared in little theatre plays in my spare time, and was hired as an actor with the Old Vic Company during one of its Australian tours.

I became a producer of radio serials and plays before a period in Europe and was a producer for the Christian Television Association in Melbourne. The Association represented all the Christian churches—including The Salvation Army—to use the time allocated to religion by commercial channels. After 10 years I returned to 
theatre and became CEO of the Victorian Arts Council (now Regional Arts Victoria), promoting arts in country Victoria.


What inspired you to start Lux Radio Theatre? 
I thought it would be interesting to reproduce the way plays were broadcast live on Sunday nights in the ’40s and ’50s. The Arts Centre Melbourne encouraged me to stage one for Morning Melodies, and we haven’t stopped. 


What reaction do you get? 

There’s a strong response from people who remember the pre-television radio days, but everyone responds to using their imagination while the actors play several different roles and create the sound effects. Audiences love the vintage soap commercials and we get a good response from secondary school media studies students.


How tricky is it to stage the Lux Radio Theatre shows? 

A lot depends on the versatility of the actors and their ability to perform for the microphone. Developing the live sound effects is always a challenge but it’s good fun.


Is Lux Radio Theatre a family affair for you?
Yes, my actress daughter Rosalind has appeared in many shows and helps me with some of the company administration. My wife Pat offers a clear and objective eye on scripts as they are being developed. 


What other arts projects are you involved in?
I’m a freelance theatre director, doing projects ranging from commercial shows to fringe plays.


What does being in the arts mean for your life?

It’s all I ever wanted to do and I’m pleased that I’ve been able to work at it continuously. I love what I do!


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Vol. 139, No. 13 // 4 April 2020

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