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Hugh Mackay AO

Doctor of Letters (honoris causa)

Citation delivered By Professor Glenn Salkeld Executive Dean of the Faculty Of Social Sciences at the University Of Wollongong on the occasion of the admission of Hugh Clifford Mackay as a Doctor of Letters (honoris causa) on 2 November 2016.


Chancellor, I present Hugh Mackay.

Hugh Mackay holds up a glass to society. It is clearly focussed, not always flattering but typically sympathetic. Hugh is a respected researcher, a writer and an exceptional and generous communicator. His commentaries have chronicled and interpreted social change in this country for over four decades.

The humanities and social sciences are Hugh Mackay’s home ground. They were the subjects of his own university studies and are the centre of his work and interest. He has an abiding curiosity about people, in understanding their motivations and interactions. Hugh has added greatly to the collective understanding of many vexing social questions: from immigration patterns, to the transformation of working life, to changes in gender roles and evolving family structures.

Hugh’s gift for clearly explaining often complex social phenomena (whilst not oversimplifying the issues) has endeared him to a broad and diverse audience. Indeed, his influence stretches from Prime Ministers and Premiers to grass-roots community leaders, and his important social narratives have swayed key policy decisions over many years. Hugh’s special genius though has been his ability to engage with the general community. He has used, to great effect, the powerful combination of the spoken and the written word to provide that wider audience with insights gleaned from a life spent exploring social issues.

The Mackay Report which Hugh established in 1979 is the scholarly base of his prolific body of work. On Hugh’s watch over the past 25 years, 120 quarterly reports on qualitative social research have been published. His first book of social analysis, Reinventing Australia, was published in 1993, and became, to Hugh’s surprise, a No.1 bestseller. It was followed by others, such as Beyond Belief, The Art of Belonging and The Good Life, which are destined to become classics. Together with many of his regular opinion pieces and essays in national newspapers, they have attracted acclaim from around the world as ‘windows into the soul of Australia’. Hugh has even written six novels which are popular and well-received critically; the latest is even a little racy.

Amidst this demanding schedule, Hugh has given time to act as a Patron of the Asylum Seekers Centre, as Deputy Chairman of the Australia Council, Chairman of Trustees of Sydney Grammar School and the inaugural Chairman of the ACT Government’s Community Inclusion Board. He is a Fellow of the Australian Psychological Society, an Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society and a Fellow of the Market and Social Research Society of Australia.

The University of Wollongong has been privileged to benefit from Hugh Mackay’s experience, knowledge and, above all, his generosity in recent years. As an Honorary Professor of Social Sciences since 2011, he has helped to build the Faculty and the public image of the social sciences at UOW. In 2014 he played an instrumental role in the successful launch of the Faculty’s newest generalist degree offering - the Bachelor of Social Science. His pro bono service has been invaluable and he has given his assistance with enthusiasm, grace and selfless service. In late 2014, he launched his most recent book, The Art of Belonging, at a free community event on this campus.

In his book, The Good Life, Hugh Mackay observes: “the measure of a good life …will depend primarily upon how well we treat others, regardless of how that makes us feel''. By those criteria, his own life is certainly shaping to be a very “good” one. Hugh’s achievements have been recognised by his country. He was made an Officer of the Order of Australia in 2015, for ‘distinguished service to the community in the areas of social research and psychology, as an author and commentator, and through roles with visual and performing arts and educational organisations’. He has also been honoured by the university sector. Today, this University adds its own personal acknowledgement of a mentor and friend, as well as a leading scholar and exemplary communicator of national and international regard.

Chancellor, for his outstanding contribution to social research, and his valued contribution to this University, it is a pleasure and a privilege to present Hugh Mackay for the award of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa.

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