From Belfast to Blackrock

Don MacLeay, founder of Blackrock Angus stud, Busselton, was very passionate about cattle and cricket.
Camera IconDon MacLeay, founder of Blackrock Angus stud, Busselton, was very passionate about cattle and cricket. Credit: Bob Garnant


Don MacLeay , Blackrock Angus stud founder

Born : Belfast, Northern Ireland, 1924

Died: Busselton, aged 92

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As a young lad, Don MacLeay enjoyed hearing the lapping waves over the shores of Belfast Lough.

For the single child of Douglas and Hilda MacLeay, Wavecrest House in County Down was a great place to grow up with the sea only a stone’s throw away.

His early schooling included boarding at Loretto, just south of Edinburgh, Scotland, where he endured cold winters of discontent and with a demanding curriculum and the institution’s strong emphasis on physical education, Don gave away that challenge at age 16.

This was also a time of World War II and the threat of an invasion of Great Britain.

Joining the British Navy as an 18-year-old engineering cadet, he graduated in the spring of 1944 and was posted to the HMS Ajax as a midshipman.

In early June of that year, the Ajax joined a huge armada in the United Kingdom’s River Clyde waiting for the Western Allied D-Day invasion, the largest amphibious undertaking in history, which took place at Normandy on June 6.

The Ajax gun barrels bombarded the coast in artillery support for the army at the Gold Beach, code- named as the centre of the Allied invasion of German-occupied France.

Four years on, in the aftermath of WWII, it was the beginning of the Cold War and the birth of the United Nations.

It was also a time for post-war Victory Matches (cricket) and Don was selected to bowl for the British Combined Services team.

In the 1946 match against the visiting Australian team, he dismissed artful strokemaker Lindsay Hassett (Australia team captain) and years later would do the same to a young rising star — English cricketer Colin Cowdrey, who became a legend in the sport.

As a naval officer, Don had his first Christmas in South Africa in 1948.

It was during that holiday weekend that he met Felicity, of Cape colonist descent, who would become his wife.

After leaving the navy, Don worked in Belfast as an engineer and became a keen fisherman.

Felicity would often row the boat as Don lifted the line containing 150 hooks.

One day, a huge head of a basking shark appeared just behind the boat.

Instinctively, Don shouted “row, I think we are being followed”.

Shortly after, and with political and ethnic troubles brewing throughout the homeland, the couple — through much soul searching — and their three children decided to leave Northern Ireland to look for better opportunities elsewhere.

A rosy picture of WA took hold of their relocation decision in early 1963 and the overseas move was under way.

The passage was on the Dutch ship Orangie, which arrived in Perth on June 5 of that year.

Often asked why he and his family moved to Australia, Don would answer “because cricket is played there”.

With a strong foreign accent, verbal communication was difficult at first.

Don worked for the Public Works Department until 1965, when a decision was made to buy a farm at Busselton.

With no previous experience of farm work or animal husbandry, the MacLeays took a big leap of faith once again for a chance at opportunity.

The old dairy farm had black cattle and with Don’s Scottish background (on his father’s side), Angus became his breed of choice.

That eventuated in the founding of the Blackrock stud, which continues to operate today, still in the hands of the MacLeay family.

Don was also involved in the local cricket association and stood as president.

Over the years, he became very passionate about his Angus cattle and remained very active until he died on July 3.

He leaves behind his wife Felicity, their three children, Peter, 59, Ken, 57, and Liz, 55, eight grandchildren and three great- grandchildren.

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