Don Dunstan Biography

(35th Premier of South Australia)

Birthday: September 21, 1926 (Virgo)

Born In: Suva, Fiji

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.
Quick Facts

Australian Celebrities Born In September

Also Known As: Donald Allan Dunstan

Died At Age: 72


Spouse/Ex-: Adele Koh, Gretel Dunstan

children: Andrew Dunstan, Bronwen Dunstan, Paul Dunstan

Born Country: Fiji

Political Leaders Australian Men

political ideology: Australian Labor Party

Died on: February 6, 1999

place of death: Norwood, Australia

Notable Alumni: Adelaide Law School

Diseases & Disabilities: Throat Cancer

Cause of Death: Lung Cancer

More Facts

education: Adelaide Law School

Childhood & Early Life
Don Dunstan was born on September 21, 1926, in Suva, Fiji to Australian parents of Cornish ancestry.
His parents, Francis Vivian Dunstan and Ida May Dunstan, raised their son in Fiji, where Francis had a position for the Adelaide Steamship Company, until Don became ill at the age of 7.
From the age of seven till ten, he lived in Murray Bridge, South Australia, with his maternal grandparents, where it was hoped the drier climate would improve his condition.
At the age of ten, he moved back to Fiji, with the intention of beginning his secondary schooling there. However, he instead returned to Australia to attend St. Peter’s College, as he had succeeded in securing a full scholarship on the merit of his public speaking abilities.
During his private school years in Australia, he lived with relatives at Glenelg, a beach-side suburb of Adelaide, instead of boarding at the institution.
He graduated in 1943, and he was among the top 30 graduates from that year, from throughout the state.
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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.

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