Don Dunstan Biography

Don Dunstan was a South Australian politician, best-known as the 35th Premier of South Australia. This biography offers detailed information about his childhood, career, life, achievements and timeline.

Quick Facts

Birthday: September 21, 1926

Nationality: Australian, Fijian

Famous: Political Leaders Australian Men

Died At Age: 72

Sun Sign: Virgo

Born Country: Fiji

Born in: Suva

Famous as: Former Premier of South Australia

political ideology: Australian Labor Party


Spouse/Ex-: Adele Koh, Gretel Dunstan

children: Andrew Dunstan, Bronwen Dunstan, Paul Dunstan

Died on: February 6, 1999

place of death: Norwood

More Facts

education: St Peter's College, Adelaide, 1948 - University of Adelaide, University of Adelaide

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Don Dunstan was a South Australian politician, best-known as the 35th Premier of South Australia and the 38th Attorney-General of the same state. He is largely recognized as an unusually charismatic and outspoken politician, committed to the causes of public education and public health, reduced censorship laws, anti-discrimination legislation, environmental causes, universal suffrage, Aboriginal land rights, the decriminalization of homosexuality, consumer protection, electoral reforms, lower voting ages and other reforms. Aside from his political stances, he is widely associated with tendencies of the so-called “Dunstan Decade”, such as increased cultural exchange with Asia and increased multiculturalism within Southern Australia.

Childhood & Early Life
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  • Following secondary schooling, Dunstan enrolled at the University of Adelaide, where he studied law and arts and became increasingly involved in student political organizations.
  • In 1949, he moved to Fiji with his wife Gretel, where he was admitted to the bar and began working as an attorney.
  • In 1951, he returned to Adelaide and began establishing a legal practice in Australia, briefly taking in boarders while he worked to get his law office started.
  • In 1953, he began his political career when he was nominated as the Norwood electoral district’s Labor Party candidate, winning the seat and joining the South Australian House of Assembly.
  • In 1953, he criticized the LDL’s introduction of the ‘Government Electoral Bill’ with unusually strong language, gaining attention for his outspoken approach to politics.
  • In 1958, he again received ample press coverage for his strong opposition to the handling of the Max Stuart trial, which further established his reputation as a reformer and champion of social welfare issues.
  • In 1960, he became president of the State Labor Party and, though he strove to be either Opposition Leader or Deputy Leader, he could not get either of the two.
  • Between 1961 and 1965, he campaigned to bring an end to the “White Australia Policy”, finally achieving success in 1965 and largely taking credit for the accomplishment.
  • In the run-up to the 1968 elections, he emerged as a popular favorite, with polls showing an 84 percent approval rating. However, the elections resulted in a hung parliament, with evenly divided party lines, and he was simply the Leader of the Opposition.
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  • In the elections of 1970, he led his party with 27 seats, giving it the majority.
  • From 1970 until 1979, the so-called “Dunstan Decade”, he held the post of Premier of South Australia, making him the 35th individual to hold the office.
  • In 1975, he became the 38th Attorney-General of South Australia, returning to his roots in law.
  • In 1979, following the death of his wife in 1978 and his own declining health, he announced his retirement from office.
Awards & Achievements
  • From 1980 to 1981, he briefly edited the magazine POL, the first post of his “life after politics”.
  • In 1982, he became the director of tourism of Victoria, moving away from the state of South Australia, which he had served for so many years, to many constituents’ surprise.
  • In the 1980s and 1990s, he chaired several community-oriented organizations as well as holding academic positions related to politics and public policy.
  • In the 1990s, he also wrote for ‘Adelaide Review’ magazine, addressing a range of political and social themes.
Personal Life & Legacy
  • Dunstan was married to Gretel Dunstan from 1949 until 1974, having one daughter and two sons together.
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  • In 1973, he remarried, this time to Adele Koh, a Malaysian journalist - they remained together until Adele’s sudden death in 1978.
  • In 1986, he met Stephen Cheng, the man he became partners with during his final years of life, living together in Norwood throughout Dunstan’s bout with cancers of the throat and lung.
  • On 6 February 1999, he died of inoperable lung cancer, following several years of severe sickness.
  • The University of Adelaide established their Don Dunstan Foundation in his memory.
  • Since 2003, the Adelaide Film Festival has given ‘The Don Dunstan Award’ to exceptional individuals working in the Australian film industry.
  • The Electoral Commission of South Australia renamed the Norwood seat as the Dunstan seat in his honor.
  • In 1994, he opened a restaurant called “Don’s Table” together with Stephen Cheng, his partner.
  • From his years in private school, he was identified as a “maverick”, or, in the words of one of his schoolteachers, a “congenital rebel”.
  • He didn’t like identifying himself according to his family background; when once asked about his roots, he replied, “I’m a refugee from it and thank God for somewhere honest to flee to!”
  • As a student, prior to joining the Labor Party, he was a member of the University Socialist Club and, for two weeks, the Communist Party.

See the events in life of Don Dunstan in Chronological Order

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