NeuRA celebrates the life of Donald Patrick McDonald, AM

A Lifetime of Organising

15 Feb 19385 Jan 2018

NeuRA was proud to stand alongside Don in his quest to raise awareness about mental health, particularly in the area of Schizophrenia. Don was a very principled person driven by determination and purpose. He was born to organise and lead change, and he did it well and will be remembered for his drive, passion and conviction to bring awareness and support for mental health research here at NeuRA.

He had a special quality that enabled him to inspire and mobilise others in his efforts to make the world a better place. Don was a brilliant organiser who with the force of ideas and convictions was able to galvanise support for mental health, workers’ rights and social justice, recognised in 2010 when he was awarded an AM (Member of the Order of Australia).

Family was very important to Don. His wife Marilyn and children Warwick, Craig and Lara were his greatest loves, and he was immensely proud of them and their achievements. He treasured his children and their partners Karen and Mark, and he adored his grandchildren Max, Mayah and Asher.

As a young teenager, he along with his big brother and best mate Tom, took on the responsibility of building a home for his widowed Mother and younger siblings, following the sudden death of their father.

Don was a passionate, always outspoken and left no one guessing his position. He wasn’t always the diplomat but he was certainly the master of driving change and securing beneficial outcomes where others had failed.

Don believed in collective action to achieve progress. At 14 he left school and was apprenticed as a carpenter and immediately became active in the building union campaigns for daylight technical training, better wages and safer workplaces. He was elected as a union job delegate and then Building Workers Industrial Union (BWIU) organiser in the 1960s and at that time also became a member of the Eureka Youth League (socialist youth organisation).

During the Vietnam War Don led debates between the EYL and Young Liberals, including a young John Howard, opposing Australia’s involvement in the war, arguing (and usually winning the argument) on the basis that the war was a struggle for national liberation in which Australia should not be involved. Convinced by the argument, some young liberals joined the EYL so the Liberal Party banned Young Liberals from any involvement in debates with the EYL.

As a BWIU (which later amalgamated into the CFMEU) official Don was instrumental in spearheading campaigns for improved safety, wages, working conditions (including full pay compensation for workplace injuries), long service leave and superannuation for building workers, improving safety standards for overhead work and increasing unionisation and activism around industrial issues in the building industry to record levels.

As a foundation board member of the mental health organisation NISAD, Don was responsible for raising more than $2million in sponsorships and donations as well as lobbying for government support for and improving public awareness of schizophrenia.

He developed a national alliance of parents, doctors, union and business leaders that led to initial and ongoing government funding for mental health research.

Don was described in a speech honouring his work as ‘… the most effective, focused, and results-oriented activist and advocate who has ever come to the aid of psychiatric research in Australia’ (Senior Australian of the Year Finalist, 2008).

Don was a great champion of mental health, always promoting awareness and raising much-needed funds for research. He was Life Governor of the Schizophrenia Research Institute, always advocating on its behalf, knowing first-hand the great impact schizophrenia can have on individuals and their families.

Don built an extensive network of friends through his activism in his beloved union, the CFMEU, the mental health sector, PROBUS and his community.

Don was widely respected and much loved. His accomplishments leave a great legacy to the community. But his greatest achievement was his contribution to family. He was a wonderful husband, dad, grandfather, son and brother.

He was our beloved Don and although we will greatly miss his dynamic presence, we will cherish his memory as he lives on in our heart.

NeuRA on behalf of The McDonald Family

You can also donate to his Trust Appeal

15 January 2018

Media contacts

Michelle Smith

Senior Communications & PR Officer


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Beatrix Kates

Director of Communications


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