Born in Koorawatha, in the Central West of NSW, "Lew" McKay grew up during the years of the Depression helping his mother run an eighty acre farm while his father undertook casual and contract shearing work. On leaving Young High School after second year McKay worked in the sheds and studied wool classing part-time. An activist during the 1956 Shearing Strike, McKay obtained his first paid position as an organiser for the Australian Workers' Union [AWU] in the following year. After two years, the State Secretary of the NSW Branch, C.T. Oliver, offered McKay first the Griffith, then the Newcastle areas. These he declined but accepted the post of organiser on the South Coast and established an office at Port Kembla. By 1963 McKay had become openly critical of the AWU administration and in 1967 Secretary Oliver attempted to dismiss him. When this failed the Branch Secretary then attempted to relocate McKay to Sydney. Obtaining support from both the South Coast organisers and a substantial section of the rank and file, the McKay faction won control of the branch Executive in the Branch ballot of September 1969. The two factions fought for control of the Union for a period of five years at an estimated cost of $70 000 in litigation fees. Finally the Oliver faction regained control in 1972 - 1973 and subsequently dismissed McKay from the NSW Branch Executive. Appeals through the Industrial Court failed to obtain a reversal of the decision. In 1974 McKay applied for a post as an Arbitration Inspector with the Australian Public Service.