Monday, December 14, 2009

Don Dunstan

Could Don Dunstan be another New South Wales Premier, or am I done with that?

The suspense is killing me.

Let's see.....

Well, Lord Wiki says he's not a former Premier of New South Wales. He's a former Premier of South Australia.

It looks like he was the Premier twice. The first time was from 1967 until 1968. Then he had two years of not being Premier. In 1970 he became Premier again, and this time he was in office until 1979.

Baby Don wasn't born in Australia. He was born in Fiji to Australian parents. His parents had moved to Fiji in 1916 because of Daddy Dunstan's job. He worked for the Adelaide Steamship Company. I guess they needed some of their people in Fiji.

Ten years after they moved there...on September 26, 1916....Don Dunstan was born.

Little Don spent seven years living in Fiji. He had health issues though, and his parents sent him to Australia because they felt the climate might be better for him. They didn't come with him. They sent him to live with his maternal grandparents.

That seems a bit sad to me. I understand it might have been hard for the father to move back to Australia...with his job and everything. Did he even try to get a position in Australia? And why didn't the mother go back with her son? Perhaps they had other children, and it would be too hard to uproot everyone.

Dunstan and his grandparents lived in a South Australian town called Murray Bridge. It's about an hour east of Adelaide.

Dunstan lived there for three years, and then returned to Fiji. I guess he would have been about ten.

At some point, Dunstan returned again to South Australia. I'm not sure when. Lord Wiki's not clear about that. Although he does say he returned to Fiji for a short period. Is that a few weeks? Months? A couple of years? Who knows.....

When he returned to Australia, he went to a school called St. Peter's College. There he was good at public speaking, classical history, and languages. He was not so good at math. Two years in a row he won the school's public speaking award.

Dunstan's uncle was once the Lord Mayor of Adelaide. He had that job from 1933 until 1935. This would be the time that Dunstan had been living with his grandparents.

The uncle was a Liberal, and because of this, young Dunstan was a Liberal as well. Well, it wouldn't have been the Liberal Party because that didn't come about until the 1940's. It would have been one of those Pre-Liberal parties. Lord Wiki says the Premier at that time was from a party called the Liberal and Country League. It was a South Australian party.

At the University of Adelaide, Dunstan broke away from the politics he grew up with, and found his own way.

There he studied Law, and in his spare time he joined various organizations. He joined the University Socialist Club, and something called the Fabian Society. Lord Wiki says it's a group with British origins. Their purpose is to promote social democracy. It sounds familar. Have I written about it before? I remember some group, and a controversy. I wonder if it was Fabian. Let me go check.....


I did a blog search....nothing there.

Anyway, Dunstan spent a few weeks in a Communist Club. Then he moved onto the Labor Party.

I wonder why he joined all these clubs? Did something he learn in his law classes prompt him to take a more socialism viewpoint? Did he see something in the news? Did he have friends on the left? Was he trying to impress a woman?

I guess Dunstan had long hair in his university days. Lord Wiki says he wasn't exactly welcomed into the Labor Party with open arms. Some people made comments about his style. One person said, how could that long-haired prick be a Labor man?

This would have been in the late 1940's....before the whole hippy thing happened. I'm trying to find information about men and long hair in that time period. I'm not having that much luck....

While at University, Dunstan met a Jewish woman whose family had fled from the Nazis. The two fell in love, and in 1949 they got married. After Dunstan graduated, they moved to Fiji where he worked as a lawyer. I wonder why he returned to Fiji? Were his parents still there? Did he have idyllic childhood memories?

Well, they stayed there for only two years. Then they returned to South Australia. They lived on George Street in Adelaide with their young daughter. Financially, they struggled for awhile. To earn extra income, they had boarders at their house.

We've had boarders at our house before. Although they didn't pay us. They stayed for free. I didn't like having them there, and I no longer like those people....for various reasons.

I suppose while Dunstan was struggling to establish his law career, he was also getting himself more involved with politics. In 1953, he was nominated as the Labor candidate for Norwood. He campaigned by posting a picture of his face on every post in the district. He also had his supporters walk the street and speak out in support of him being elected.

One group that Dunstan targeted was the Italian-Australians. There were many of them living in the district. The opposing candidate had said, these immigrants are of no use to us — a few of them are tradesmen but most of them have no skills at all. And when they intermarry we'll have all the colours of the rainbow. Dunstan had these remarks translated into Italian. Then he distributed them to those he thought might find it interesting.

Dunstan won. He became part of the New South Wales House of Assembly, and he had that seat of Norwood until 1979. The person in the seat right now is Labor Politician Vini Ciccarello. She's been there since 1997.

A few months after he started his role as the Norwood Man, Dunstan and his wife had a second child.

Lord Wiki says Dunstan was the type of person not afraid to speak his mind in Parliament. The Premier at this time was a guy from that Liberal and Country League...Thomas Playford IV. It sounds like the guy is a movie sequel. Dunstan didn't like Playford, and wasn't shy about letting that be known.

Okay. I'm about to learn a new word now...or I'm going to attempt to learn a new word and fail. It's gerrymandering. I think I've probably heard it before. I have no idea what it means.

Well, Lord Wiki's explanation is long and confusing.

This voting website might explain it better. They say gerrymandering is: Gerrymandering is a term that describes the deliberate rearrangement of the boundaries of congressional districts to influence the outcome of elections.

Okay. I think I got that.

Anyway, I'm not going to tax my brain too much. Let's just say Dunstan accused the Premier of gerrymandering. We can leave it at that. Right?

Dunstan also bitched at the government-in-power for not spending enough on stuff like social welfare, education, and the arts.

In 1960, Dunstan had the honor of becoming President of the South Australia Labor Party. He also wanted to become Opposition Leader. The previous Opposition Leader had died, and Dunstan wanted to take his place. He tried, but the Labor Party folks thought he was too young and inexperienced.

Lord Wiki talks about Dunstan doing Federal Stuff. Maybe this was part of being the President of the South Australia Labor Party?

It sounds like he was friendly (or friends with) Gough Whitlam. The two of them (and others probably) attempted to remove the White Australia Policy from the Labor Party Platform. Go Whitlam and Dunstan!

Unfortunately, they met resistance. Certain factions of the Labor Party wanted to keep the racism intact.

Dunstan refused to give up. He was like that Little Engine that Could. Finally, in 1965, it was removed from the Labor Party Platform. But it didn't officially end until Whitlam was in power in 1973. Well, I guess that's because the government was Liberal in the years before that. They kept the White Australia Policy. Then Labor got in power, and they got rid of it.

Also, in 1965....South Australia got itself a Labor Premier. Frank Walsh. Dunstan got himself some Ministry jobs. He became Attorney General, and he also became Minister of Community Welfare, and Minister of Aboriginal Affairs. I still don't understand why nonIndigenous people became Minister of Aboriginal Affairs. It makes no sense to me. How about we have a Buddhist person be Minister of Christian Affairs, and a Chinese person be Minister of Italian-Australian Affairs? How about a Man be Minister of Women Affairs? I think I shall try to become Minister of Christian Affairs....cause as Jew-turned-Pagan, I certainly know what's best for those people.

Yeah. I know there's no Minister of Christian Affairs or Minister of Italian Affairs. Don't worry. I'm just using my imagination here.

Soon it became time for Premier Walsh to retire. Who should take his place?


Some right faction Labor folks did not like this idea. But in the end, their worries and complaints were dismissed. Dunstan got the job.

In that first term as Premier, Dunstan tried to reduce the depression that had been plaguing South Australia. He did a fair job. Lord Wiki says he blamed Federal Government for part of it, and demanded they help them. Did some of the blame really fall on them?

In the 1968 election, the use of television became prominent. Lord Wiki says that Dunstan worked well with the medium. Well, remember....he was a good public speaker. Unfortunately, the Liberal and Country League won. What happened is that party, and the ALP each had nineteen seats. I don't know what this means exactly. But I DO understand when Lord Wiki says the outcome was in the hands of two independent Parliament members. They chose to support the conservative party.

Dunstan had a break from being Premier...likely not a welcomed break. Then in 1970, he became Premier again.

Dunstan still had a thing about wanting the Federal Government to give South Australia money. He had conflicts with Prime Minister Gorton regarding this. It seems he tried again though, and he ended up getting money from the Federal Grants Commission. Dunstan got a LOT of money. He used it to build a giant water slide, and he placed it smack in the middle of Adelaide.

I'm joking.

The money was put to responsible use.

What else happened during the Dunstan days?

Drinking laws were liberalized. What were the drinking laws back then? I tried to look it up, but I didn't find any information that satisfied me.

Police powers were restricted. That sounds interesting.....

Censorship was liberalized. I guess that means there was LESS censorship, but the wording makes it kind of sound like they made it easier to censor stuff.

Dunstan helped make changes in Parliament dress codes. I'm guessing they mean South Australia Parliament. Anyway, people started wearing stuff like shorts. And one time, Dunstan wore pink shorts. Fun!

In 1972 Dunstan and his wife separated. I wonder if that caused a scandal at all. It took two years for the separation to turn into a divorce. Dunstan didn't see it as a very happy time in his life; but he managed to stay afloat. He kept busy with his hobby of cooking. He even published a cookbook. This University of Adelaide newspaper has some information about his cookbook and cooking.

A student at the university did his thesis on Dunstan and food. That sounds like a fun topic.

There's all kinds of interesting stuff here.....

Dunstan helped his friend start Meals on Wheels. I think that's gone international by now. Right? There was a funny episode of Mother and Son involving that.

Well, the Meals on Wheels of America site seems to be claiming that it started in America. They make no mention of the Australian organization.

I'm reading what Lord Wiki has to say. He says the Australian version of Meals on Wheels began in 1952. That was in Melbourne. Then the friend of Dunstan did her thing in 1953. America's first similar program was in 1954. There's not much mention of one place being inspired by another. I'm going to guess that MAYBE people came up with the ideas independently. Then eventually, they borrowed the name from each other. I have no idea who coined the name first. Or maybe America borrowed the idea from Australia, and they're to ignorant to realize or admit it.

The article says Dunstan's cookbook was one of the first to include stir-fry recipes. I'm getting the idea that he brought a more eclectic diet to South Australia. And he was also into using local foods.

Basically, the guy was a foodie.

Back to Lord Wiki.....

During Dunstan's time in office, he tried to legalize homosexuality, abolish capital punishment, and legalize gambling. All of this was rejected. In those days, I don't think legalizing homosexuality was about gay marriage. I think it was actually illegal to be gay. So I guess although we've got a long way to go, we need to remember that we've already come a long way.

Lord Wiki says that homosexuality stopped being illegal in 1975.

These laws do not usually explicitly say Do not be gay! What they do is make gay sex illegal. They often call them sodomy laws. Texas didn't lose their law until 2003. And it was the Supreme Court who pushed that. If Texas had their way, it probably would still be illegal to be gay.

Ah, here we go. Before the Supreme Court forced the Texas folks to act decently, there was a fine of $500 for same-sex sodomy. In Idaho you could go to jail for life. Shit.

Now how many homosexuals have been actually arrested for Sodomy? I don't know.

Wait. Here in the Dunstan entry, Lord Wiki says the anti-gay laws weren't revoked until 1976. Anyway, I guess it's not a big deal. It's just a one year difference.

Around that time, capital punishment went bye bye.

Another change in law was that rape within marriage became a crime. That's kind of nuts. It was illegal for two consenting men to have sex. Yet, it was legal for a man to rape his wife. Sometimes this stuff make me actually feel a little better. Yes, we are a messed up world. But if you look at history, there have been some improvements. We are slowly fixing things.

Well, here's something interesting. Right below the rape and gay information, Lord Wiki says that the birth rates dropped. And in Australia, that's not always seen as a good thing. Is Lord Wiki saying that the lack of legal rape caused this? Well, I bet he's not saying that. It just kind of looks that way.

Here's some more soap opera personal stuff. Not long after he separated from his wife, a woman from Singapore was given a job working for Dunstan. Well, she was actually a Malaysian living in Singapore. She criticized the government, and got expelled. That's how she ended up in Australia. Cupid intervened. The woman eventually became Dunstan's second wife.

Oh! Dunstan appointed an Indigenous Australian to be Governor of South Australia. I didn't know there were any Indigenous Governors. Have there been any more? Sadly, this Douglas Nicholls guy wasn't in office long. He got sick, and had to retire.

The police around this time kept secret files of various people....Who is a Communist? Who is Gay? Who doesn't leave cookies out for Santa Claus? The gay files were called pink files.

I'm too lazy to go into the details. What I'm getting is that Dunstan fought these files, and most of them were eventually burned.

In 1978, Dunstan's wife got lung cancer. She was diagnosed in May, and died in October. This was all extremely hard on Dunstan. After she died, his own health went downhill. Was that a coincidence, or was the bad health due to depression? Anyway, one day he collapsed in Parliament. Instead of offering sympathy, the Liberal Party used his weakness to their advantage. They said something like the Labor party is as ailing as the man who led it.

Dunstan announced his resignation as Premier in February 1979. He wore a hospital gown. Lord Wiki has a photo. Dunstan looks so sad.

In the 1980's, a book was published that alleged Dunstan had misused funds and had a homosexual affair with a restaurateur. Dunstan's view of the book was that it was all lies. He published his own memoirs in 1981. It's called Felicia. I wonder why it has that title.

Dunstan left South Australia for awhile. He moved to Victoria and became the Director of Tourism. He was there for only a few years. Then he returned to South Australia.

In 1989, he played himself in a movie about terrorism called Against the Innocent.

Back up a few years.....Lord Wiki is not doing well with chronology. He's going back and forth like a ping pong.

Anyway, back in 1986, Dunstan got himself a partner....Stephen Cheng. Now was this a PARTNER partner, or just a business partner? I don't know.

They did open a restaurant together. Don's Table. But that wasn't until 1994. I'm thinking this is a romance thing. The two lived together.

All right. I'm done with Lord Wiki. I shall go to other sites now.

The University of Adelaide has a Don Dustan Foundation. The purpose is to exchange ideas and debate. They a bridge between academic analysis, government policy and the people. That sounds great to me.

They have a list of facts about Dunstan. I'll see if there's anything interesting that Lord Wiki missed. Well, it's actually more of a timeline resume type thing. He was the chairman of various organizations. I'm not going to list them. I'm not in the mood.

This website has an restaurant related article that was written just before Dunstan's death.

The article talks about Don's Table. It seated ninety people. I'm not an expert on restaurants, so I don't know if that's small, medium, or large.

Stephen Cheng's family owns the mansion that the restaurant is in. I guess it takes up only a part of the mansion. I should talk in past tense. From what I'm seeing on Google....the restaurant no longer exists.

Oh! Here's some stuff about the old alcohol laws. Before Dunstan changed things, Australia restaurants could serve alcohol until only 9 pm. Another law he changed was regarding eating outdoors. I guess in the past, restaurants weren't allowed to have outdoor seating?

This ABC transcript says there's a play about Dunstan. Cool! It's called Lovers and Haters.

The transcript says that one time Dunstan defied a tidal wave prediction by walking on a beach that was believed to be in danger. Why would he do that?

Here's an article about that day. It happened in January 1976, on a beach called Glenelg. Lord Wiki says that's a beach in Adelaide.

Dunstan and two thousand people walked along the beach. I guess they were trying to be brave? Defiant?

Oh!! I get it now. This did not come from a scientific prediction. Someone dreamed there'd be a tidal wave.

Still. Sometimes dream predictions come true. I'd probably stay away from the beach. But I don't think what Dunstan did is as bad as ignoring a scientific-based warning.

I guess people put a lot of faith in this dreamer. People sold their beachfront properties. Hotel reservations dropped twenty-five percent. There was a mixture of fear and excitement in the air. The author of the article says, No one seriously believed there would be a tidal wave, but it was sort of fun to be there just in case.

That's like my plan to be in Australia on the Mayan prediction of the end of the world. I actually had already considered going in December 2012. It was that or December 2011. My big 40th birthday is November 2012, so it kind of made sense to go then. Anyway, when I realized it was the Mayan doomsday time, I liked that we'd be in Australia. I seriously doubt anything will happen, but I just kind of prefer to be in Australia if it does.

Back to the transcript.....

It says Stephen Cheng was not too happy about the play. He said, Actually, I was really horrified to learn that the play was about Don's private life instead of the enormous contribution that he made in this state.

Well, I can see why that would upset him. I think the best play would be one that concentrates on both of those aspects. Dunstan is definitely interesting....or at least I find him to be interesting. I'd love to read his autobiography someday.


  1. Interesting that your research didn't come up with more emphasis on Don being gay! He didn't hide it and was proud of it, "came out"! He was before his time, a forward thinker which most Australians, even today, don't deal well with!
    Good one ... You've done it again Luv ;)

  2. Gay friends of mine who are older than I am used to refer to him as Dolly Dunstan.

  3. I like this old Texas State law still on the books...

    "The state's Business and Commerce Code requires companies advertising a going-out-of-business sale to "file an original inventory with the chief appraiser of the appraisal district in which the person's principal place of business is located." The permit costs $20."

  4. Redness: When did he come out of the closet? Anyway...yeah. I had no idea he was gay until I got towards the end of his life and read he had a partner. He was worked towards gay rights. And he did have the pink pants. But I just thought he was progressive and supportive.

    Andrew: There are people older than you? SORRY. Couldn't resist ; )

  5. Tim,

    I don't even get that. And no I'm NOT faking stupidity like that FOX girl. I've read that paragraph four times, and it goes completely over my head.

    You can explain it to me at dinner.

  6. Actually he was well known as having male partners for most of his life that he got friends to pick up for him from gay bars, etc. He'd go into the place and get the friend to bring him to him. But I would say he was bisexual and also preferred Asian men and women.

    That's a bit gossipy I know but there's more. For all of his premiership, his gay side was an open secret and people in his own party used it against him when he planned to change (or not change, I can't remember which now) the government's policy on uranium mining (SA has some of the biggest mines in the world now). I have it on good authority that his retirement in the hospital gown wasn't really about being sick. It was about people in his own party threatening to out him.

  7. Martin,

    It reminds me of the story Matt talked yesterday...people within parties stabbing each other in the back.

    But at least with Dunstan, he had done nothing wrong...nothing to be ashamed about. Sad that his party members could be so manipulative.

    Did he ever formally exit that closet? Was he open about his partner, or did that just kind of leak into the media?

  8. I also wanted to mention that SA was the first Australian colony (and the second jurisdiction in the world, I think - New Zealand was the first, I think) to allow women to vote (in the 19th Century) and the first state to make it legal for men to have same-sex sex (under Don). Don also spearheaded a lot of great consumer as well as social law reform initiatives in the so-called "Dunstan Decade" and worked well with Gough in that.

    Really he never liked to publicly discuss what he saw as a private matter but he did later make it less clandestine. I believe he did 'come out' publicly as Redness said but even then it was very low-key.

    There's something in the water in SA. I can remember another even more recent Premier (this time a Liberal), John Olsen, who hasn't come out so this may be defamatory. I used to know someone who claimed to have compromising photographs of him. The majority of our SA Supreme Court bench also always seems to be in the closet and a couple of our current federal Liberal MPs are, too. I think the progressive nature of the state actually has something to do with it.

  9. Just progressive enough for people to act on being gay but not progressive enough for anyone to want to admit to it.

  10. Martin,

    It's funny. I was doing research recently and found that despite Western Australia having the only Liberal Prime Minister (who seems fairly homophobic) that state has fairly progressive gay/lesbian legislation when it comes to adoption. And then South Australia's legislation is far from impressive. Interesting that there might be a bunch of closeted politicians there.

    It's funny how states can have such varying situation within. Tim and I were talking about Texas tonight. Our governor is not gay friendly. Texas just recently got rid of it's anti-sodomy laws (not by choice, but by the Supreme Court). There's no gay marriage, and I don't even think we have legal partnerships. Yet an openly gay mayor was just elected in Houston.

    So has there ever been a Liberal Politician that was openly gay? OR have their been any Liberal Politicians that have strongly and openly pushed for gay/lesbian rights (such as marriage, partnerships, adoptions, etc).

  11. I can't think of any openly gay Liberals in any parliament but one came out after leaving the party (I think) and called it homophobic and several advisors have been. Many would regard them as gay Uncle Toms. There are a few Liberals and Liberal governments who have supported gay rights in the past (and voted for it) and there are probably a few today but I can't think of any. Liberals also got the Howard government to commission the report that led to the recent raft of reforms that Rudd enacted. I know of several more closeted Liberal Ministers and former Ministers. It tends not to be the party of change.

    And SA has a lesbian federal ALP Senator and Cabinet Minister, Penny Wong.

  12. Well, it was twenty years ago Dina, so there were older people than me around. I think there was one Liberal politician who was gay and came out after he retired. Maybe John Spender was his name? Did you recently mention a Spender?

  13. Martin: I'll be more impressed when someone from the Liberal Party comes out of the closet BEFORE they retire. I'm pretty sure it will happen one day.

    Andrew: I did mention a Spender...didn't I. I have no idea why. And it might not have been John Spender.

  14. Yes, Don was gay, which a lot of people kept hidden back then but I guess because it was quite obvious and spoken about a lot back then (I am in SA - I remember it) he came out.

    I think apart from the orientation, abolishing death penalty, the most pertinent information is Don was a FABIAN SOCIALIST. (Along with Whitlam). I wouldn't read too much into swapping between the commie club and socialist club. What were we taught in school in the 70/80's about Russia? That's right. They were 'commies' right? Actually they called themselves socialists. (Marx was a great marketer though so....)

    I used to criticise the guy because ... I was pretty much taught to by parents, peers etc, but if you look at what he did for South Australia and charities (helped a friend start "Meals on Wheels") and the arts contribution to this state including the festival arts theatre and the SA Film Commission.. I can't criticise him too hard for these things. Even though I hate socialism as a rule.

  15. Dave Bradley,

    Hi! Thank you so much for commenting.

    I like how you might hate socialism, but you're open-minded enough to appreciate some of the stuff that Don Dunstan did.