The History of Mackay – not just Cane and Coal

The history of Mackay

The history of Mackay is very interesting.

In 1860, an enterprising Irishman John McCrossin selected 20 year old Scot, John Mackay, to lead an expedition to seek pastoral opportunities and they came across the coastal ranges, now known as the Pioneer Valley.

John Mackay adopted the name Mackay River in honour of John Mackay’s father, George, an Uralla publican.

They returned in January 1862, but in September of that year Commodore Burnett in HMS Pioneer noted that a Mackay River existed further north (now the Tully River) and renamed the river here the Pioneer River.


web Customs House Building River St Mackay ca1909 - The History of Mackay - not just Cane and Coal
Customs House Building in Mackay

Agitated by this name change, John Mackay petitioned Governor Bowen, who ordered the Surveyor General to rename the township Mackay, in honour of John Mackay.

Within a few years however, sugar became the dominant industry from the enterprising efforts of pioneers John Spiller, T. Henry FitzGerald, and John Ewen Davidson. The recent history of Mackay has focussed on the hinterland coal mining developments and the tourist industry. They have added to Mackay’s solid economic base.

The prosperity and confidence of the city is reflected in the fine older buildings. Many of the city’s historic buildings were lost to devastating fires, to the notorious cyclone on January 1918 and to progress.

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Sydney Street - Mackay, post 1918 cyclone

Present Day History of Mackay

The region’s 66,484 square kilometres encompass a diverse natural environment which includes a picturesque blue-water river, secluded beaches, a seaside marina and pristine rainforest hinterland.


One of Australia’s fastest growing regions that offers affordable “big city standard” services and housing in a relaxed and idyllic destination.
Central location with ease of access by air, road and rail makes Mackay ideally located in an accessible central coast Queensland location.
The fifth busiest airport in Queensland, Mackay is serviced by more than 110 flights weekly, with more than 70 of those providing the 1.5 hour flight between Brisbane and Mackay.
An impressive array of affordable quality accommodation, a purpose-built convention centre, hotel conference and meeting facilities and unique off-site dining venues.
With 31 beaches, pristine rainforests and easy access to nearby islands, Mackay region offers an idyllic work/life balance.

Climate in Mackay

The Mackay region’s hot summers and mild, sunny winters make its climate one of the best in the world. Average daily temperatures range from just over 22C in the winter months of June to August and up to 30C during the summer months from December to February. Mackay experiences on average 261 days on sunshine a year.

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Mackay Cemetery History

The Mackay Cemetery, known to be in operation as early as 1868 was not Mackay’s original burial ground, however the exact location of the city’s burial ground is not precisely known.

One area that appears on early surveys of the city is in the vicinity of Byron Street North, however being in a flood prone area much of the cemetery reserve would have been inundated in the 1864 flood and eventually fallen victim to the Pioneer River.  

The decision was made to move the cemetery to higher ground along what was then known as the “Nebo Track”.

Soon after the inception of the Mackay Municipal Council on 1st December 1869, preliminary steps were mooted to fence and to organise a system of management for the local cemetery.

Mackay Regional Council have produced a 15 page booklet in collaboration with the Mackay Family History Society providing details of 29 graves of early pioneers of historical interest and their locations.

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