A hero firefighter devastated by the deaths of two toddlers in a single week watched the 2020 bushfires rage from his prison cell and realised he had wasted the past seven years.
Luke McNally was successful in nearly every aspect of his life up to 2012.
He was a career firefighter awarded for his bravery, became the first Indigenous man to win the Mr Australia bodybuilding competition and built a nutrition company worth up to $40 million at its peak.
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And then he pulled the body of a two-year-old girl from a house fire the same week that he attended a fatal crash that claimed the life of another two-year-old girl.
At that scene he picked up a hair clip identical to those he had clipped into his own daughter’s hair, before she was taken to the UK by her mother post-divorce and disappeared.
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McNally withdrew into his own world and his mental health declined rapidly, before he was eventually diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
No stranger to illicit substances, having used anabolic steroids during his bodybuilding career, he turned to harder drugs, including methamphetamine.
McNally then began to manufacture drugs.
McNally’s mental health declined and he was eventually diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Credit: Dan Himbrechts/AAP
“He walks away from his career, he walks away from his life, he walks away from a business worth millions of dollars,” his barrister Matthew Page told Judge Rosemary Carlin in a pre-sentence hearing in Victoria’s County Court on Monday.
His first attempt at making the drugs failed and he was arrested and bailed to the Wellbeing Planet — a drug rehabilitation centre in the old Daily Planet brothel site.
McNally described the centre as a hive of drug activity and said he was encouraged by an organised crime figure to again cook drugs.
He was caught again and was convicted by a jury earlier this year of 24 charges, including trafficking a large commercial quantity of a drug of dependence and possessing precursor chemicals.
He also pleaded guilty to a separate trafficking charge after selling 3.5 grams of methamphetamine to covert police, having bragged about his drug operation to them in a police station.
“This is about as big a fall from grace as you could possibly imagine,” Page said.
He said McNally wasn’t good at manufacturing drugs and what he did manage to make was essentially unusable, noting the judge had seen pictures of “sludge”.
Page described McNally’s prospects of rehabilitation as good, noting that while in prison he had qualified and accredited as a forensic fire investigator, and developed a certificate in firefighting operations to be delivered in prisons.
He has also become a drug and alcohol peer educator, and an accomplished Indigenous artist.
Prosecutor David Brustman KC rejected suggestions McNally’s drug setup was not sophisticated, saying though McNally was captured on his own CCTV, it was certainly not the work of an amateur.
“To say that he’s some sort of a klutz in this we say beggars description,” he said.
Carlin will sentence McNally, who has spent nearly five years in custody already, at a later date.
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