Donald Dunstan

Donald Allan Dunstan

Donald Allan (Don) Dunstan was born on 21 September 1926 in Suva, Fiji after his father had moved there to take up the management of the Adelaide Steamship Company. He went back to his mother's parents in Murry Bridge to attend the local High School and later St Peter's College in Adelaide. He joined the ALP in 1946 and graduated with a law degree from Adelaide University in 1948. While at Adelaide University he met his future wife. They married, moved to Fiji where he practised law, and shortly after settled back in Adelaide where he opened his own law firm. Dunstan was appointed a QC in 1965.

From a very early age Dunstan had been interested in politics and social justice. Dunstan also had a love for the Arts and the theatre. He played on stage and in radio drama. Even though his father was a Liberal, young Don Dunstan joined the Labor Party and was elected in 1953 to represent the Norwood electorate. When he retired from politics he had left a legacy that would influence generations.

When Labor came to power in 1965, Dunstan was appointed Attorney-General and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Social Welfare. At other times he had the portfolio of Arts, Development, Tourism or Treasurer. In June 1967 Dunstan became Premier of South Australia to be defeated after 321 days. However during that time one of the most outdated laws was repealed. Hotels which had been closed at six o'clock since 1915 where now allowed to remain open until much later. Dunstan was back as Premier again on 2 June 1970, after having defeated Steele Hall over the Chowilla-Dartmouth Dam issue, and many reforms and changes were introduced during his second premiership.

At a policy speech given by Dunstan in early 1970 he promissed that South Australia would become the technological, the design, the social reform and the artistic centre of of Australia. As early as 1971 Dunstan was decribed as an ALP Wunderkind who had achieved nationwide impact because of his progressive social policies. Under his leadership the radical, but also progressive government, introduced many far reaching reforms. Among these were, Self determination policies and Land rights for Aborigines, Consumer protection and the ending of discrimination against race, colour and women. Women also regained the right to hold a liquor licence and work in hotels. Some of his most controversial changes were ending the six o'clock swill, cellar door sales and outdoor eating and ending discrimination against homosexuals. Areas such as Education, Health, Housing and transport were modernised and expanded. It was Dunstan who was instrumental in having the White Australian Police removed from Labor's platform.

Dunstan had a great interest in Arts and some of the the best examples of this were the completion of the Festival Centre and the establishment of the South Australian Film Corporation and the State Opera. During his time in office, South Australia was leading Australia in artistic, intellectual and political life.

Dunstan set up the Industrial Development Department and established the Industrial Development Advisory Committee and was one of the first to point out that Australia's economic future was a successful trade relation with South East Asia. He established trade offices in Tokyo, Singapore and other Asian capital centres. He also advocated Worker Participation Schemes.

Dunstan also had the ability of upsetting people and the 'establishment'. During Australia's involvement in the Vietnam War he declared that he would defy the National Service Act and clashed openly with the police over its handling of the Anti Vietnam demonstrations. Dunstan was keen to curb police powers of arrest and search and safeguard individual privacy. Later he sacked Police Commissioner Harold Salisbury over the Special Branch Files. The appointment of numerous outsiders to senior public service positions was also strongly disliked. Even after his retirement he managed to upset many South Australians when he took up the job of Chairman of the Victorian Tourist Commission in 1982.

Dunstan resigned as Premier of South Australia, due to ill-health, on 15 February 1979 after having led the Labor Government in power for almost ten years. He served as a MP for Norwood for twenty-five years. After Tom Playford, Dunstan became the second longest serving Premier of South Australia.

In 1997 Dunstan became adjunct professor at the Adelaide University's Department of Social Inquiry, leading to the Don Dunstan Foundation. He died on 6 February 1999.


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