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Pat Mackie
, 2004

by Nancy Borlase

oil on canvas (frame: 104.7 cm x 78.7 cm)

Pat Mackie (b. 1914), union leader, led the Mount Isa strike of 1964/5 that polarised the town and almost bankrupted Mount Isa Mining. Mackie's life of activism began when as a young stowaway on a boat from New Zealand, he challenged the captain as to the lawfulness of his uncomfortable accommodation. Working in blue collar jobs around the globe, he became a member of the Industrial Workers of the World and the United States Seafarers Unions before ending up central Queensland. The dispute of 1964/5, one of Australia's major rank and file uprisings, arose over management's failure to provide showers for miners. As it escalated, Queensland Premier Frank Nicklin described Mackie as a 'vicious gangster' and the strike as a 'communist strategy to retard and even prevent major developmental projects in this state'; the government vainly explored all possible avenues to have him deported. The strike and the rest of the unionist's tumultuous life are described in Mount Isa: The Story of a Dispute (1989) and Many Ships to Mount Isa (c. 2002).

Nancy Borlase AM, painter and writer, was 23 when she came to Sydney from New Zealand, where she had studied art and written a book. She continued her art studies at the East Sydney Technical College, and with Rah Fizelle and Grace Crowley. She was a member of the Contemporary Art Society from 1952 to 1970; in 1960 her first solo exhibition was held at Sydney's Macquarie Galleries. Between 1973 and 1981 she was art critic for the Bulletin and the Sydney Morning Herald. Borlase won the Portia Geach Prize for portraiture in 2000. Her husband since 1941, union official Laurie Short AO OBE (b. 1915), joined the Ironworkers' Union in 1937 and the Labor Party five years later. In 1951, he became the National Secretary of the Federated Ironworkers' Association, a position he was to hold for more than 30 years. Although she did not know Mackie well until he sat for her, Nancy Borlase's close personal connections within the trade union movement afford a further dimension of interest to this portrait, depicting a type of man now rare in Australian public life.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased 2004
Accession number: 2004.170