After the scrums

Photo: Dave Gleeson

By Ron Lane

From the quite dignified atmosphere of a school room in Scotland to the harsh realities of a Royal Marines Commando Training School in England was in the words of Donald McKill, ‘’A rude awakening.’’

Born in Edinburgh Scotland in 1958 Donald was educated at the local George Watson College and in 1976 after completing grade 10 immediately joined the Royal Marines basic training camp in Lympstone England.

“Like I said it was a rude awakening; they (the instructors) were there to make you or break you. It took twelve months to qualify for the Green Beret and on average, out of 50 volunteers maybe 10 or 12 would make the grade.”

On completion of his basic training he was sent to 45 Commando Group based in Arbroath North Scotland where he underwent training in Artic Warfare.“Every January we were sent to Norway in the Arctic Circle for four months for advanced training in extreme conditions; on a normal day it would be, minus 20 or 22 degrees; you had to live in the open dig in and set up your fox holes. Our reason for training there was that it was the end of the cold war period and we did not know what to expect from the Russians.”

Apart from Norway Donald also saw service in Germany, Denmark and Holland. Then in 1980 he finally left the British Forces and travelled to Kenya South Africa. While there he worked in security and also kept up his love of rugby (which he developed in high school) playing games in such places as Nairobi and Cape Town.

Then in 1984 after returning home to Scotland, Donald bought into a well-established family hardware and timber business, a business which he was to run successfully for the next 20 yrs. Also on returning home he had continued his Rugby, playing for the local club.

Following this in 93 Donald met and fell in love with attractive young Scottish lass named Miffy and a year later they married. They are now the proud parents of three children. “We have a son Charlie 23 who has returned to Scotland to play Rugby, Ellie 22 who is doing her nursing degree in Brisbane and Zoe 17 who is in year 12 at St Andrews College. Three great kids of whom we are very proud.”

However it was during the 95 season that his rugby career came to an end. It happened during a club game; a scrum collapsed and he suffered what was termed a broken neck. “I finished the game but realised something was not right; I started to get a funny feeling in the arms and a tingling in the fingers. So I went to our emergency people and following medical procedures they found the trouble; it was damage revolving around the C 3 and C 4 vertebras. So unfortunately at age 38 my playing days were over.”

As they say in life when one door shuts another opens. When Donald’s playing days finished and his role as a supporter of the game became a passion, he visited Australia in 2001 as members of the Lions support group and had occasion to visit a beautiful tourist resort called Noosa Heads

”I visited again in 2003 for the Rugby World Cup: I loved the place, decided this was it and in January/February 2005, after discussions with the family, (Miffy had visited in 2004,) we shifted. It was a big change in lifestyle for all of us but we loved it,”said Donald.

On settling into Noosa Donald and Miffy joined the Dolphins Rugby club and also enrolled the children in the Noosa Nippers. “With such a change in lifestyle doing these things was indeed a big help in settling into the way of life. A great move for the whole family.”

Once they had settled Donald began working for Ray Brown at Fit Noosa as a personal trainer and as both were ex-Military it worked well; they then went on to start a series of very successful Boot Camps in Noosa.

In the Noosa Nippers Donald became an age manager working with Carolyn Lansdowne (JAC Chairperson) for several years. During this time he also obtained his bronze medallion and was eventually appointed Patrol Captain. He also put his hand up to start fitness programs for the members and also became involved in the surf awareness programs working with Greg McLaughlin club Education Manager.

Perhaps his proudest involvement has been working with the Noosa Seahorse Nippers an organization he joined when Steve and Nicki Mawby formed the group some six years ago.

“To watch those little kids with special needs come to the beach and involve themselves is very heartwarming; and also to see the junior lifesaving working as helpers along with the seniors is a great moral booster for the senior club. What the Mawbys and their supporters have achieved is incredible.”

However Donalds love of working with youth in need doesn’t stop there. While taking part in the Noosa Triathlon he met a lady named Suzie O’Neil (not the famous Olympian) and started working for the K.I.D.S.Foundation; an organisation formed to help, as the name implies, Kids In Dangerous Situations.

One of the most heart wrenching charity functions for K.I.D.S. occurred one evening in 2016 when Donald joined with Suzie O, Neil on the verandah of the Noosa Surf Club. “To mingle with children carrying scars from multiple burns and acts of adult violence was unforgettable. It took a while but as the evening progressed the children relaxed and began to talk and mix. A simple, hullo young man or lady, followed by a hand shake was all that some needed.”

When it was announced that a charity bike ride from Coffs Harbor to Noosa was being organized several guests signed up-thus making it a night to remember.

Being an ex-serviceman another charity that is close to Donalds heart has been to help organize the international golf tournaments for the British Battle Back Handicapped Veterans. They visited Noosa on two occasions, the first being in 2015 and the second 2017. On the first they challenged the Aussie veterans known as the Mates 4 Mates and the second saw them up against Soldier On. On both occasions functions were ably supported by senior Noosa Life Savers some of whom were Vietnam Veterans.

Since moving to Noosa his love of Rugby has never faltered. During the winter months and sometimes overlapping into the summer, he now fulfills his duties as President of the Dolphins Rugby Union Club; his 2017 appointment to this position followed on his three years as Vice President.

During his early years he became involved in helping to establish the Noosa 7 Rugby Program. As a result of this he was invited by Mike O’Connor coach of the Australian 7s to work as a players liaison officer, an office he held through to and including the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

‘’Amongst our many success stories has been the great work by Rob Frey and his support group in consolidating our Junior Programs. These people along with others are doing wonders not just for us but also Rugby in general. Also on the list of new programs has been the introduction of girls and women’s rugby competition; and again our administrators and supporters are doing a great job to make this new concept a success.

The Dolphins is a great club having won 17 premierships in 36 years and there have been many outstanding achievements from coaches, players and most important our support groups. And of course the support we get from our local business community is definitely second to none.’’

In the year 2012 Australia was on the verge of a financial crisis and Noosa along with other communities was starting to feel the effects.

However it was during this year that Australia received a visit from the management section of the British and Irish Lions Rugby Union. The reason for the visit was to check -out possible locations for training and accommodation for their forth coming tour; a tour which would include a three Tests series against the Wallabies.

With some delegates being Scottish and known to Donald, he on behalf of the Noosa Dolphins was authorized to extended an invitation to visit our town and inspect possible accommodation and the Dolphins Rugby Training facilities.

‘’We took them for an aerial view of the town and beaches plus a visit to Dolphins Club. This was followed by a luncheon on the verandah of the Noosa Surf Club; and with Noosa at its best plus the total support of Damien Messingham and his team at Tourism Noosa, it was soon a done deal.’’

Not only a great achievement for Dolphins but also great advertisement for the resort of Noosa. Financially it could have not come at a better time; this was community team work (Dolphins, Tourism Noosa and Surf Club) at its best.

‘’However when the Lions arrived at the Maroochydore Airport in July to be welcomed by our President Chris Burton, they were on a downer after having lost the second Test to Australia 16-15. This had the series at one Test each so to win the third and final one was vital.’’ When they settled in and visited our surf beach and then started to train at Dolphins their moral went through the roof. The rest is now history. A resounding win to the Lions 41-16.

Unbeknown to many the choice of Noosa as a training base was not well received back home by the British press. “Why this place called Noosa?” However head Lions Coach Warren Gatland said, “The environment and training venue at Noosa was the right place and right time. And the results speak for themselves.”

As we sat and talked several things about this quietly spoken man became apparent. His demure in helping children, his belief in working for the community, his great love for the Dolphins, their people and the game of Rugby; but above all the love and pride he has for his family

Through summer and winter Donald McKill is definitely a man for all seasons.

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