Don Dunstan's Legacy – Beyond the Pink Shorts
After years of painstaking research, Dr Dino Hodge has published the first ever biography of former SA Premier the late Don Dunstan, something long overdue. He speaks to Brodie McGee.
When people are asked to recall images of Don Dunstan, we can all be assured that many minds will conjure the pink-shorts wearing caricature of Dunstan we’ve all come to know. What many may not know is the media bias which went behind the perpetuation of this image of Dunstan. “The media still likes to paint a picture of Dunstan in pink shorts but, as he correctly insisted, they were actually pale rose.” Dino Hodge, author of the new biography Don Dunstan, Intimacy and Liberty tells blaze. “The glide from pale rose to pink persists in popular memory and continues to tint - or worse, to blind - our vision of the factual history.”
Don Dunstan lived in a climate where views of homosexuality, despite being constantly challenged, were far from the reforms we know today. For young people it may be hard to imagine a world where police and politicians worked hand in hand to root out and publicly expose gay men. Men were often arrested under a loose accusation of ‘loitering’, and then named and shamed as homosexuals.
[Image] The Hon. Michael Kirby and author of Dunstan's biography Dino Hodge.
Famously known for his flamboyant attitude, Dunstan was often the target of negative media attention. Dunstan took it upon himself to dedicate his life to making South Australia a better place for people from all parts of the community and in doing so outwardly challenged public perception of sexuality. “What they are trying to say is that I am, to some extent at any rate, gay. So what? I don’t worry about that.” These were the words spoken by Don Dunstan to reporter George Negus in 1996. For a man who lived his life in the public political arena, these words were certainly indicative of courage and conviction.
Don Dunstan, Intimacy and Liberty by Dino Hodge is the first biography of Don Dunstan, and has lifted the lid on the life Dunstan lived. Hodge explains that he first set out to write a book to explore the mass of groundbreaking work Dunstan did in relation to Indigenous rights, women’s rights, anti-discrimination legislation, international democracy and, of course, his work on queer rights. During his research, he quickly found that the first biography about Don Dunstan needed to touch on these issues, but more importantly focus on the bigger issues that arose from the Cold War during Dunstan’s time.
Hodge has dedicated a large amount of time to painstaking research on Don Dunstan’s life and times. “My motivation in writing this book was to learn more about Dunstan's efforts in working for social justice across the board, and especially for queer citizens,” Hodge says.
“I suspected that there was an important story, and knew that there had been no previous biography published.
[Image] Don Dunstan
“It was time, I believed, that we gave the man proper recognition.”
Hodge achieved this through five years of thoroughly sifting through archives, files and interviews.
His research revealed that the changes Dunstan implemented since the Cold War which benefited the queer community, changes that we take today for granted, are so many in number it’s quite amazing to think one man could spearhead such a campaign.
Included in this list are Dunstan’s inquiry into the workings of the Special Branch of SA Police, effectively stopping the police harassment and constant surveillance homosexual men were subject to, and saw the destruction of thousands of police “pink files”. Dunstan also secured Cabinet approval to put forward laws regarding protection for queer people against discrimination.
Perhaps bigger than any one piece of law reform, or single change to legislation, Dunstan also instigated a cultural change. “Dunstan personally oversaw a renaissance in South Australian police culture: a code of ethics was introduced for the first time, a complaints mechanism was implemented, a public affairs section was created,” Hodge says.
“In summary, Dunstan’s efforts saw a revolution in police culture that made them more accountable for their actions, and transformed their approach to their relationship with a wide range of groups in their wider community.”
Don Dunstan was a man who took it upon himself to change the world for the better, and ignoring the mounting political, societal, and media pressures, pressed on as hard and as far as he could, showing us today what it really means to be dedicated towards a cause. Not just a pink-shorts wearing flamboyant politician, but a man who truly believed in improving our community.
Don Dunstan, Intimacy and Liberty: a political biography is out now.