Underbelly: articles

Not quite the way it was but Underbelly stirs emotions

BARBARA MACKAY did not work in her husband Don's furniture shop. Robert Trimbole did not live in a "grass castle" in the Griffith hinterland, or grow oranges. And he did not tell Don Mackay - at least in public - that he would kill him.

People of Griffith, the Riverina town where Mackay was killed in 1977, picked up the dramatic licence in this week's Underbelly 2 on Channel Nine. Don Mackay's son, Paul Mackay, was not available when the Herald called, but he was quoted in Griffith's Area News saying the show was riddled with errors.

"My mother never worked one day in the family business, while in the show she was in there answering phones," he said. "And I've never heard of the character of the local police officer they showed.

"I realise the producers qualified it by saying it tells the essential truth of the story, but I don't know how telling a lie helps them tell the truth."

The wife of a former councillor, who asked not to be named, said the inaccuracies worried her. Barbara Mackay was a physiotherapist who gave prenatal classes in Griffith. Bob Trimbole lived in town, she said, but not in a huge estate. He might have owned a property in the district but he was not growing oranges.

Some of the events in the program touch on reality. Trimbole is on record as having gone in an irate state to the Griffith police station in 1974 saying he would "kill" Mackay and his wife and children.

But he did not do it to his face after a public meeting, as depicted in Underbelly.

Some townsfolk found the depiction of police corruption the most disturbing. John Dal Broi, the mayor of Griffith on and off for 16 years between 1980 and 2006, said: "Even if the producers of this show did not get some of it right, it showed there was excessive corruption right to the top. It just makes you feel so angry that Don Mackay and the rest of the community put so much faith in the system.

"It was commonly known that Don did not trust the local police and he went above them to Sydney people. And now it turns out they were not much better."

Mackay, a campaigner against the marijuana trade, had tried to stand in 1973 and 1976 as a state Liberal candidate. He was killed by hitman James Frederick Bazley in the car park of the Griffith Hotel Motel on Friday, November 15, 1977.

It emerged that three local detectives, Jack Ellis, Brian Borthwick and John Robbins, had not pursued information about marijuana in the Griffith district with any vigour. They were convicted of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, dismissed from the police force and jailed. But there were more queries raised about the police investigation run from Sydney.

The series has also brought back dark thoughts about the matter of Patrick Joseph Keenan, a fruitfly inspector who in 1974 reported his discovery of a marijuana packing shed. Two weeks later another man with the same name was found dead. It was ruled an accident, but it sank deep into the local psyche.

By Malcolm Brown
February 14, 2009
Sydney Morning Herald