Pubdate: Sun, 03 Feb 2002
Source: Sun-Herald (Australia)
Copyright: 2002 John Fairfax Holdings Ltd
Author: Frank Walker


A determined mother who raised $1 million to set up a drug rehabilitation 
centre has been forced out after she was seen as too outspoken against drugs.

Swedish anti-drug campaigners have nominated Margaret McKay for a United 
Nations award, but the Swedes have also taken over the unique drug centre 
Mrs McKay founded near Port Macquarie.

Mrs McKay has spent the past four years raising money to start up a rural 
drug retreat based on a Swedish program she saw as the most successful way 
to get young people off drugs.

The former kindergarten teacher battled for 17 years to save her 
drug-addicted son David, whose body was found in a dilapidated hotel room 
in 1997. He had died four days earlier after taking methadone.

She searched the world for an anti-drug program that could save youngsters 
by getting them off drugs. She founded the zero-tolerance group Keep Our 
Kids Alive and made an impassioned plea at Premier Bob Carr's Drug Summit.

She studied a Swedish model called Hassela which took kids to isolated, 
drug-free communities for up to a year and decided to try to bring it to 

After she told her tragic story in The Sun-Herald she received a phone call 
from a Sydney man who asked how much she needed. She told him $1 million. 
He said she could have it.

"It was the answer to all my dreams and prayers," Mrs McKay said. She found 
a 60ha farm with a huge, five-bedroomed homestead near Port Macquarie and 
it became the David McKay Hassela Centre, named in honour of her son.

"I felt David would be helping save other kids," she said. "Somehow his 
death would not have been in vain."

Experts from Sweden came over to train local people. Four young Australians 
entered the program. All seemed to be going well.

But suddenly Mrs McKay found herself forced off the board which had been 
set up to run the centre.

"It's the old story of power and control," she said. "They saw me as a 
loose cannon and I admit I am not a board person. I kept on speaking out in 
favour of zero tolerance even though the Government and all the bureaucrats 
wanted harm minimisation like the Kings Cross injecting room.

"Once the money came in there were petty rivalries and power struggles, but 
they wouldn't have had a centre without my efforts."

She was told she would have to quit as the donor was about to pull out his 
$1 million because of the squabbles. She said she resigned to save the 
centre, but was bitterly hurt.

"It was like my son died all over again," she said.

In the meantime the Swedish Hassela group has taken over the drug farm. 
Three of the five board members are now Swedes.

Hassela Australia president Gary Christian said there were 18 points on 
which the board clashed with Mrs McKay. The issues built up until the 
future of the farm was at risk.

"Mrs McKay can be naive on the facts of drugs," Mr Christian said.

"I still support her in her fight against drugs but I have been told that 
she upset people at the Drug Summit with her attacks on the 
harm-minimisation policy."

Mrs McKay won't be silenced. She is working on setting up another drug farm 
with a church group.

"There is no half measure with drugs," she said. "You have to stop completely."
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