Mackay is a city on the eastern coast of Queensland, Australia, about 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.
There is controversy about the geographic location of the region, 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. Equally, 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".
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. The City of Mackay was later founded on Yuibera traditional lands.
Although several other maritime explorers sailed through the waters off Mackay, it was not until 1860 when moves were made to claim the region’s virgin pastures.
Two young men, John McCrossin and Scottish-born John Mackay, assembled a party of eight, including an Aboriginal man named Duke, and left Armidale, New South Wales in January 1860. Two men left the party in Rockhampton while the others reached the top of the range overlooking the Mackay district's Pioneer Valley in May. After descending into the valley and exploring almost to the mouth of the river, which they named the Mackay, the members of the party selected land and began the trip back to civilisation. On the return journey, they all suffered from a fever that claimed the life of Duke.
Mackay returned to the area with 1,200 head of cattle in January 1862 and founded Greenmount station. Although the other members of his first expedition had marked runs, none but Mackay took up their claims. However, Mackay remained in possession of Greenmount for less than two years. Ownership transferred to James Starr in September 1864 and, despite Mackays protests, he never succeeded in regaining control. Greenmount passed through a number of owners’ hands before being bought by A.A. Cook in 1913. Before leaving the district, John Mackay chartered the vessel Preston, which landed stores from him on the riverbank about a kilometre upstream from the present Hospital Bridge. Mackay made a survey of the river and the chart was sent to Rockhampton. The Port of Mackay was then officially declared a port of entry.
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.
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.
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 . 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.
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.
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.