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Maverick South Australian Premier, Don Dunstan (1926-1999), was in kinship care as child.

Donald Allan Dunstan was born in Fiji. His South Australian parents had moved to Fiji because of his father’s work with the Adelaide Steamship Company.

The young Donald commenced his schooling in Fiji, but because he was often unwell, suffering from asthma, his parents sent him to stay for three years with maternal grandparents in Murray Bridge, a regional city named for the main road and railway that cross over the Murray River. Donald went back to Suva briefly, before returning to South Australia to attend the prestigious St Peter’s College as a day student while living with relatives in Glenelg, a seaside suburb of Adelaide.

Dunstan then went on to study law at Adelaide University; he worked in radio and theatre to support himself. While at university, Dunstan became involved with the Australian Labor Party (ALP), an interest he renewed after returning from Fiji in 1951 (he briefly practiced law in Suva).

Don Dunstan was elected to State Parliament in 1953—as member for the seat of Norwood—and was then appointed ‘Attorney-General, Minister for Social Welfare and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs’ when the ALP took office in 1965. Dunstan had a brief stint as Premier in 1967 after Premier Frank Walsh resigned his position and until the government was voted out in 1968.

In 1970 the ALP again gained office and Don Dunstan served as Premier until he resigned in February 1979 due to ill health.

Although physically unprepossessing – he was short and weedy – Dunstan’s abilities were tremendous. By the late 1960s, he had become an experienced parliamentarian, a compelling orator and a master at handling the media, particularly television. Charming, intellectual and forthright; with a rich, deep, resonating voice cultivated at Adelaide’s elite St. Peter’s College for boys and in the years spent as an amateur actor at school and Adelaide University, he was a superb performer who had a flair for the dramatic and the ostentatious. Dunstan cannot be dismissed as a mere showman, however, because he so obviously, indeed passionately, believed in what he advocated (Saunders p. 183).

Premier in a time of social and political change, Don Dunstan is widely recognised as a radically reformist premier, under whose leadership South Australia led Australia in a range of areas. These include: the decriminalization of homosexuality, the criminalization of marital rape, the appointment of an Equal Opportunities Commissioner, removal of restrictive alcohol drinking legislation, initiating land rights entitlements to the Pitjantjatjara lands in the north of South Australia, the appointment of Australia’s first female judge, and supporting cultural events in Adelaide.

Dunstan was also a vocal critic of the police when they harassed minority groups, including young people and Aboriginal Australians.


“Donald Allan Dunstan 1926-1999.” Flinders University Library, 1999.

“Power, Passion and those pink shorts.” AdelaideNow, 27 April 2013. Available here.

Saunders, Malcolm and Hodge, Dino. “Don Dunstan, Intimacy & Liberty: a political biography.” Flinders Journal of History & Politics, vol. 30 (2014): 182-188.

Image available here