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Mackay, Queensland

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Mackay, Queensland

Mackay CBD as seen from the rooftop of Mackay Grande Suites
Mackay is located in Queensland
Population 74,219 (2011)[1]
Elevation 11.0 m (36 ft)
Time zone AEST (UTC+10)
LGA(s) Mackay Regional Council
State electorate(s) Mackay, Mirani, Whitsunday
Federal Division(s) Dawson
Mean max temp Mean min temp Annual rainfall
27.1 °C
81 °F
17.8 °C
64 °F
1,606.9 mm
63.3 in

Mackay is a city on the eastern coast of Queensland, Australia.[2] It is located about 970 kilometres (603 mi) north of Brisbane, on the Pioneer River. Mackay is nicknamed the sugar capital of Australia because its region produces more than a third of Australia's cane sugar.[3]

There is controversy about the location of the region for administrative purposes, with most people referring to it as a part of either Central Queensland or North Queensland, though much confusion still lies within the Queensland Government, with government services being provided through both Townsville (North Queensland) and Rockhampton (Central Queensland). Generally, the area is known as the Mackay–Whitsunday Region.


The city was named after John Mackay. In 1860, he was the leader of an expedition into the Pioneer Valley. Initially the township was to be called Alexandra and river was named after Mackay, but later the river was changed to be the Pioneer River and the township name was changed to be Mackay.[2] There has always been much contention over the pronunciation of the name Mackay. Correspondence received by Mackay City Library in 2007, from descendants of John Mackay, confirms that the correct pronunciation is , from the Gaelic name "MacAoidh" which is pronounced "ɑɪ" not "eɪ".


The City of Mackay was founded on Yuibera traditional lands.

Town Hall, built in 1912, now serves as a tourist information centre
One of the first Europeans to travel through the Mackay region was Captain James Cook, who reached the Mackay coast on 1 June 1770 and named several local landmarks, including Cape Palmerston, Slade Point and Cape Hillsborough. It was during this trip that the Endeavour's botanist, Sir Joseph Banks, briefly recorded seeing Aborigines.

In 1860, John Mackay led an expedition to the Pioneer Valley and was the first European to visit the area now named after him.[2]

In 1918, Mackay was hit by a major Tropical Cyclone causing severe damage and loss of life with hurricane-force winds and a large storm surge. The resulting death toll was further increased by an outbreak of Bubonic plague.

Mackay War Memorial and Post Office, circa 1936

The foundation stone of the Mackay War Memorial was laid on the river bank on 18 November 1928 by the mayor George Albert Milton.[4] It was unveiled on 1 May 1929 by the mayor.[5][6] Due to flooding, the memorial was relocated to Jubilee Park in 1945. Due to the construction of the Civic Centre, it was relocated to another part of the park in March 1973.[7]

The largest loss of life in an Australian aircraft accident was a B17 aircraft, with 40 of 41 people on board perishing, on 14 June 1943, after departing from Mackay Aerodrome, and crashing in the Bakers Creek area.[8]

On 18 February 1958, Mackay was hit with massive flooding caused by heavy rainfall upstream with 878 mm of rain falling at Finch Hatton in 24 hours. The flood peaked at 9.14 metres (29.99 ft).[9] The water flowed down the valley and flooded Mackay within hours. Residents were rescued off rooftops by boats and taken to emergency accommodation. The flood broke Australian records.[10]

On 15 February 2008, almost exactly 50 years from the last major flood, Mackay was devastated by severe flooding caused by over 600 mm of rain in 6 hours with around 2000 homes affected.[11]

Panoramic image from pathway to Rats of Tobruk memorial in Queen's Park, Mackay.

The Rats of Tobruk Memorial commemorates those to died at and since the Battle of Tobruk. The memorial was dedicated on 4 March 2001.[12]

Mackay was battered by Tropical Cyclone Ului, a category three cyclone which crossed the coast at nearby Airlie Beach, around 1:30 am on Sunday 21 March 2010. Over 60000 homes lost power and some phone services also failed during the storm, but no deaths were reported.[13]

Heritage listings

Mackay has a number of heritage-listed sites, including:


Mackay is situated on the 21st parallel south on the banks of the Pioneer River. The Clarke Range lies to the west of the city. The city is expanding to accommodate for growth with most of the expansion happening in the Beachside, Southern, Central and Pioneer Valley suburbs.


Mackay Sunrise and Sunset Times

Mackay has a humid subtropical climate, bordering on a tropical savanna climate (CWa) under the Köppen climate classification.[33] Average maximum temperatures range from 30 °C in summer to 23 °C in winter, while minimums range from 23 °C to 11 °C.

Winters are sunny and fairly dry, with minimum temperatures usally dropping below 5 °C, but rarely any lower than 0 °C. Days are pleasant and warm; however, occasional cloudy days may keep the temperature below 20 °C all day. Mackay has about 0-2 days a year when the temperature goes below zero, also Mackay experiences light to heavy frosts. Temperatures below 0 are extremely rare in the city center but in outer suburbs the temperature sometimes drops below zero. Mackay gets around 110.0 clear days annually.

Spring is usually dry, but significantly hotter and more humid than winter, with temperatures beginning to top 30 °C on a regular basis. Occasional thunderstorms may cause heavy downpours, but the very heavy rain will not arrive until later in summer.

December is the start of the wet season, which lasts until March or April. High humidity, almost daily rainfall and very warm nights are typical of this time of year. Monsoonal low pressure systems and tropical cyclones occasionally affect Mackay, and cause very heavy, prolonged periods of rain, with totals of up to 200 mm often being recorded in 24 hours during these systems.

Extreme temperatures in Mackay have ranged from 38.5 °C (101.3 °F) to -0.4 °C (31.3 °F). The highest rainfall ever recorded in 1 day was 510.8 mm (20.1 in) on the 12 January 1951, which is among the heaviest 24‑hour fall of any Australian city.

Climate data for Mackay (Mackay Aero 1950-2013)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 35.8
Average high °C (°F) 30.1
Average low °C (°F) 22.9
Record low °C (°F) 16.5
Rainfall mm (inches) 317.1
Avg. rainy days (≥ 0.2mm) 16.6 17.7 16.7 14.6 11.9 10.0 7.7 6.8 5.3 6.2 8.5 10.9 132.9
Source: Bureau of Meteorology[34]


As of the 2007–08, Mackay contributed $15.4 billion to the Australian economy, or 7.1% of Queensland's GSP.[35] This is largely on the back of its export-oriented industries of sugar and mining.

Mackay is famous for its history as one of Australia's largest cane farming regions. However, in recent years, the mining industry has become the mainstay of the local economy.


A panorama of Hay Point Coal Terminal
Mackay is widely recognised as the gateway to the Bowen Basin coal mining reserves of Central Queensland. It is the single largest coal reserve in Australia, with 34 operational coal mines extracting more than 100 million tonnes annually.[36] While much of this is used in Australia, Japan and China are the largest export recipients.

Over the past 10 years, Mackay has become the location of choice for many mining service companies that supply and consult to the mine operators. This is due to its strategic proximity to the mines, major highways and train lines, and the Hay Point coal terminals. Most of these companies are headquartered in the suburb of Paget, to the city's south.


The bulk sugar terminal
Mackay was known as the "sugar capital" of Australia, producing a sizeable portion of Australia’s domestic supplies and exports. However, the industry experienced a decline in the 2000s.[37]

The industry in Mackay has its roots back in the 19th century. Historically, plantations were small and had their own mills to crush the cane during harvest. Over the years as the industry grew and developed, co-operatives were formed to consolidate the harvesting, crushing and distribution of the sugar in selected zones. Throughout the 20th century, the privately owned mills in the Mackay district closed one by one until only three remained – Marian, Racecourse, and Farleigh. Today, Pleystowe is the oldest surviving mill in the district (but closed in 2008).[38]

Mackay Sugar operates three of these remaining mills, including Racecourse, which became site of the region’s first sugar refinery (which is owned by CSR Limited) in the 1990s. Growers in the region have a total cane production area of approximately 86,000 hectares. The growers are capable (in good seasons) of supplying up to 6.5 million tonnes of cane to the factories for processing. On average, Mackay Sugar produces about 850,000 tonnes of raw sugar and 180,000 tonnes of the by-product molasses annually.[39]

The sugar industry in Mackay has faced steep challenges since 2000, since it is largely dependent on high world sugar prices to remain viable. However, efforts are going into diversifying the use of sugar cane for different purposes. These include a planned energy co-generation plant that could deliver up to 30 per cent of Mackays annual electricity supply.[40]


Compared to many of its neighbouring cities and regions in Queensland, Mackays tourism industry is small and still developing. This is despite being close to notable attractions including Eungella National Park, the Great Barrier Reef, and the Whitsunday Islands.

Latest figures indicate about 685,000 domestic and international visitors come to the region annually. More telling, however, is that domestic and international visitor night stays have increased to 2.7 million annually, an increase of nearly 1 million since 2000.[41]

Several new hotels have opened in the region since 2000, further indication of a growing industry. These include The Clarion International and Quest Serviced Apartments.


Mackay Marina viewed from the Premier Suite of the Clarion Hotel at Mackay Marina

Like tourism, the marine industry in Mackay is small but has a lot of potential. Mackay is well situated to become a major service centre for the marine industry, being in immediate proximity to the Whitsundays, and located halfway between Brisbane and Cairns.

Currently the Mackay Marina is the largest base in the district for the maintenance, refit and related services for all marine craft, particularly Super Yachts. The Mackay Whitsunday Super Yacht Cluster, a group of regional companies focusing on providing integrated repair, refit and provisioning for the increasing number of visiting super yachts, was established in 2001 to support and promote the development of this sector.


The new entrance to Caneland Central following expansion
Mackay has three main shopping centres. Caneland Central is the largest of these, with more than 130 speciality stores. Owned by Lend Lease, the centre has had a $220 million redevelopment that saw its footprint grow to more than 66,000 square metres. Myer is among the new anchor tenants. This expansion was opened on 13 October 2011.[42][43]
New entrance to Caneland Central Shopping Centre in Mackay

Mount Pleasant-Greenfields is the second major shopping centre in the Mackay region. It hosts department stores, supermarkets and other speciality outlets. Outside the main centre, a number of bulky-good outlets also operate, along with a six-screen Greater Union/ Birch Carroll and Coyle cinema complex.

Construction has also begun on a new shopping centre "Northern Beaches Central" it will be 45,000 sq meters and include stores such as McDonalds, Woolworths, Bi-Lo.[44]

The Mackay City Heart, located in the older city centre, is also another thriving part of the city. It is the home of many of the region's banks, law, accounting and other professional service firms.

Local attractions

The Bluewater Trail

The Bluewater Trail project, managed by the Mackay Regional Council, covers more than 20 kilometres (12 mi) of dedicated pedestrian paths and bikeways. Now completed the track links several new attractions and tourism infrastructure pieces around the city including the Bluewater Lagoon, the Bluewater Quay and the Mackay Regional Botanic Gardens.[45] It also incorporates the Sandfly Creek walkway through East Mackay, and the Catherine Freeman Walk which connects West Mackay to the city under the Ron Camm Bridge.

Located in the south of Mackay, the Mackay Regional Botanic Gardens are the start of the Bluewater Trail. The gardens opened and replaced Queen's Park as Mackays botanic gardens in 2003[46] containing an array of rare plants native to the Mackay area and Central Queensland. Before 2003, the area was commonly called The Lagoons, and is centred on the shores of a billabong that years ago formed part of the Pioneer River further to the north.

Heading east past the Mackay Base Hospital and along the Catherine Freeman Walk, the Bluewater Lagoon emerges. Comprising three tiered lagoons, the lagoon is a free family-friendly leisure facility overlooking the Pioneer River in the heart of Mackays city centre. A waterfall connects the two main lagoon areas, which vary in depth up to 1.8 metres.[47] Similar to the well-known Streets Beach at the South Bank Parklands in Brisbane, the lagoon is a popular summertime attraction for locals and visitors.

Views from the Bluewater Trail over the Pioneer River to Mount Pleasant

Further east along the trail is Bluewater Quay. As part of Queensland’s 150th anniversary celebrations, $12 million has been invested[48] into the transformation of River Street, to the immediate east of the Nauclea evergreen variety), a common meeting point for new migrants to Mackay who arrived at the old Port district along River Street.

Festival of Arts

The Mackay region is home to the Mackay Festival of Arts held annually throughout July. Now more than 20 years old, it is the largest regional arts festival in Queensland.[49] The festival features wine and cheese tasting sessions, live jazz and other music, stand-up routines, art exhibitions, dance and other performances.

The City Centre

The City Centre is noted for its art-deco inspired architecture, with many buildings throughout the main streets of the central business district featuring distinctive designs from the early 20th century. The precinct was upgraded in the 1990s through a unique community arts project. The overall theme depicts the environmental beauty of the Mackay region and consists of bronzed plaques, sculptures and terrazzo/mosaic tiles.[50] Of particular interest is a sculptured free-form seat in the shape of a bommie, or bombora, and covered in myriad colours depicting the Great Barrier Reef through to the rainforests of Eungella National Park. Many boutique stores, restaurants, bars and nightclubs are established throughout the precinct.

Mackay Marina Village

Mackay Marina Village is a coastal precinct located adjacent to the Mackay Harbour. The marina itself has nearly 500 berths,.[51] It is also home to a sizeable residential village of luxury apartments, in addition to the Clarion Mackay Marina luxury hotel.

Gateway to the Pioneer Valley

View from the Eungella 'Sky Window' looking east down the Pioneer Valley

The scenic Pioneer Valley spreads out to the west of Mackay, with the Pioneer River meandering through it 120 kilometres (75 mi) to the mouth at the port of Mackay. Nearly all of the sugar cane grown in the Mackay region comes from the Pioneer Valley, and it is synonymous with the rich soils and irrigation with which the sugar industry in Mackay has thrived over the past century.

Perhaps most notable are the natural assets of the Pioneer Valley. These include the walking tracks and swimming holes of Finch Hatton Gorge. The Eungella National Park, located at the very top of the range, is the longest and oldest stretch of subtropical rainforest in Australia, covering more than 51,700 hectares. It is one of the few places where platypus can be seen swimming in the wild, while more than 225 species of bird have been recorded in the surrounding forests.[52]

Islands and beaches

Mackay has 31 beaches within driving distance. Closest to the city are Illawong, Far and Town beaches. The patrolled Harbour Beach, adjacent to the Mackay Marina, is the most popular, being suitable for swimming. Lambert's Beach is also close to the city. Further north of the city are popular beaches at Bucasia, Dolphin Heads, Blacks Beach, Shoal Point and Eimeo – collectively these areas are known as the Northern Beaches. The Northern Beaches are popular with visitors, but are increasingly being developed as residential areas for Mackays growing population.

The islands immediately off Mackay are renowned for their azure blue waters, and are popular with fishermen. St Bees Island in particular is a well- known fishing spot. Brampton Island, to the north-east of the city, is a resort destination, with body therapy, water sports and snorkelling on offer.[53] Flights to Brampton are available from Mackay Airport, as are boats from the marina. Carlisle, Scawfell and Keswick are other notable islands. Each is a national park surrounded by coral reefs. During the peak season from June to the end of August, whales can be heard and seen around these islands.

River Sessions Festival

Held annually in June, River Sessions is Mackay and Central Queensland’s premier youth and contemporary music festival. The festival features the best rock, hip-hop, alternative, folk, pop and dance music acts from around Australia.[54]


Two major highways, the A1 (Bruce Highway), and highway 70 (Peak Downs Highway), pass through Mackay. The A1 connects the city to Townsville and Cairns in the north, and Rockhampton and Brisbane in the south. The Peak Downs Highway connects it to Moranbah, Clermont and Emerald in the south-west.

Road projects under construction in the region include the Forgan Bridge duplication, the Hospital Bridge replacement, the Joint Levee Road and the Mackay-Bucasia Road duplication. In addition, the planned Mackay Ring Road will provide a bypass of the city for the Bruce Highway as well as provide a link to the Peak Downs Highway and Mackay Harbour.

The north coast railway line, operated by Queensland Rail, meets the western line in the city's south. Trains from Brisbane pass through Mackay railway station and continue through to Townsville and Cairns, including the regular Tilt Train service between Brisbane and Cairns. Minerals from the western line (Moranbah and other coal mining centres) are transported to Hay Point and Dalrymple Bay Coal Terminals for trans-shipment to other destinations. Mackay Harbour deals mainly with sugar exports and visiting cruise ships.

The city is served by Mackay Airport, from which QantasLink, Virgin Australia, and Jetstar Airways offer flights to Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne, as well as to regional destinations such as Geelong, Cairns, Townsville, Rockhampton and Gladstone. MacAir Airlines previously provided a limited service into and out of Mackay for mining companies before it went into receivership in 2009.

Mackay Transit Coaches operates from North Mackay to South Mackay. The area with the best service coverage is Mackay's central business district.

Health and education

The Mackay Base Hospital in West Mackay, about 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) from the city centre, is the main hospital for Central Queensland and has recently undergone extensive upgrades. The Mater Hospital, and the Mackay Specialist Day Hospital are in the city's north. The Pioneer Valley Hospital, which had initially ceased operating, has been converted into an injury rehabilitation center.

The Queensland Department of Education has 11 primary schools and four high schools in Mackay. High schools include Pioneer State High School, Mackay State High School, Mackay North State High School and Mirani State High School.

The private system encompasses five primary schools, one secondary college, two P-12 colleges, one P-10 college, one 8–10 college and St Patricks College [55] - the state's only 11–12 college.

The Mackay campus of Central Queensland University is in the rural suburb of Ooralea, while the local campus of James Cook University is in South Mackay. The city is also home to a TAFE (technical/vocational) college, which is in the south of the inner city.


Mackay Regional Council Building, Gordon Street, Mackay.

Mackay is governed locally by the Dawson.


The Mackay Cutters rugby league team played their first season in 2008 in the Queensland Cup and act as a feeder team to the North Queensland Cowboys (NRL). In soccer, Whitsunday Miners Football Club represents the Mackay region in the Queensland State League (QSL). The Mackay Meteorettes (women) and Mackay Meteors (men) represent the region in the Queensland Basketball League (QBL) and are feeder clubs to the Townsville Fire (WNBL) and Townsville Crocodiles (NBL) respectively. Mackay also has a local roller derby league: Mackay City Roller Maidens.


Mackay is served by several radio stations including the Hot FM & Sea FM networks, MY105 FM Hot Country & Legends, 4MK AM, Zinc FM and the ABC's local Tropical North station.

The city receives broadcasts from five television networks - Seven Queensland, WIN (an affiliate of the Nine Network), Southern Cross Ten, ABC TV and SBS One. All networks also provide additional digital only television stations.

Of the three main commercial networks, Seven Queensland and WIN produce 30-minute local news bulletins each weeknight (both produced from local newsrooms, but broadcast from studios elsewhere in the state - Maroochydore and Toowoomba respectively) with WIN also producing a state-wide late news bulletin for regional Queensland. Southern Cross Ten also provides short local news updates throughout the day.

The only daily local newspaper in the city is the The Daily Mercury.

People from Mackay

In popular culture

Mackay is mentioned in "Gladstone Pier", the song by Redgum from the 1984 album Frontline.

Sister cities

Mackay has the following sister cities:[59]


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  3. ^ Mackay. Travel guide for Mackay: eGuide. Retrieved on 18 August 2011.
  5. ^ "MACKAY NOTES.".  
  6. ^ "MACKAY NOTES.".  
  7. ^ "Mackay Cenotaph". Monument Australia. Retrieved 5 April 2014. 
  8. ^ K.H. Kennedy (1 December 2002). "Mackay Revisited".  
  9. ^ Flood Warning System for the Pioneer River. Retrieved on 18 August 2011.
  10. ^
  11. ^ AMSAaboard Summer Edition 2008. Retrieved on 18 August 2011.
  12. ^ "Rats of Tobruk Memorial". Monument Australia. Retrieved 5 April 2014. 
  13. ^ North Queensland assesses cyclone damage – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation). (21 March 2010). Retrieved on 18 August 2011.
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  15. ^ "World War I Cenotaph and Jubilee Park (entry 15442)".  
  16. ^ "Mackay Central State School (entry 16647)".  
  17. ^ "Mackay General Cemetery (entry 4397)".  
  18. ^ "Selwyn House (entry 15853)".  
  19. ^ "East Gordon Street Sewerage Works (entry 29134)".  
  20. ^ "Holy Trinity Church Complex (entry 15884)".  
  21. ^ "Richmond Mill Ruins (entry 16044)".  
  22. ^ "Habana Tramline Causeway and Wharf Site (entry 29199)".  
  23. ^ "St Pauls Uniting Church (entry 15443)".  
  24. ^ "WH Paxton & Co. Offices and Warehouse (former) (entry 349)".  
  25. ^ "Mackay Customs House (entry 15444)".  
  26. ^ "Sugar Research Institute & Residence (entry 4507)".  
  27. ^ "Mackay Town Hall (former) (entry 15880)".  
  28. ^ "Mackay Court House and Police Station (entry 15448)".  
  29. ^ "Commonwealth Bank of Australia (entry 15446)".  
  30. ^ "Queensland National Bank and bank residence (former) (entry 15447)".  
  31. ^ "Pioneer Shire Council Building (former) (entry 351)".  
  32. ^ "Mackay Masonic Temple (entry 29200)".  
  33. ^ Linacre, Edward; Geerts, Bart (1997). Climates and Weather Explained. London: Routledge. p. 379.  
  34. ^ "Mackay Aero". Climate statistics for Australian locations.  
  35. ^ – Mackay Regional SD profile 2008
  36. ^ Bowen Basin Research Exchange (Central Queensland University)
  37. ^ Frost, Pamela (18 January 2014). "Are we still the sugar capital of Australia?".  
  38. ^ "Sugar". A short history of Mackay. Mackay Historical Society and Museum Incorporated. Retrieved 25 January 2014. 
  39. ^ "SALE OF REFINERY INTEREST". Archived from the original on 13 February 2010. Retrieved 5 September 2013. 
  40. ^  
  41. ^ Tourism Research Australia, National and International visitor survey year ended December 2010
  42. ^
  43. ^ "Myer Project Hits Hurdle".  
  44. ^ "Northern Beaches Central expansion approved". Mackay Regional Council. Retrieved 2 May 2010. 
  45. ^  
  46. ^ "Botanic Gardens Conservation International". 
  47. ^ "Bluewater Lagoon". Mackay City Council. Retrieved 6 December 2011. 
  48. ^ Mackay Regional Council – Major Projects description
  49. ^ Mackay Festival of Arts,
  50. ^ About Mackay City – Queensland Australia – The Natural Centre,
  51. ^ Mackay Marina website. Retrieved on 18 August 2011.
  52. ^ Eungella National Park. (10 June 2007). Retrieved on 18 August 2011.
  53. ^ Brampton Island. (10 June 2007). Retrieved on 18 August 2011.
  54. ^ "Mackay's River Sessions announced Bliss n Eso, Boy and Bear, Karnivool & more". The Music. Street Press Australia Pty Ltd. Retrieved 25 January 2014. 
  55. ^ [1] Retrieved on 5 October 2012.
  56. ^ Internet Movie Database:Delvene Delaney
  57. ^ Mackay woman is one of the contestants on The Mole, Mackay Daily Mercury, 11 June 2013
  58. ^ Jillian Whiting out in TV shake-up at Nine, The Courier Mail, 5 December 2008
  59. ^ Mackay Regional Council- Sister cities. Retrieved on 18 August 2011.

External links

  • University of Queensland: Queensland Places: Mackay
  • Mackay Region website
  • Mackay Regional Council
  • Mackay Port Authority

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