Alumni Update | Issue Six 2014

Untold history of an Australian legend

UniSA alumnus writes first bio of Don Dunstan

Dino Hodge, author of Don Dunstan: Intimacy and Liberty
He’s an iconic political figure, but the life of former South Australian Premier Don Dunstan has gone without a posthumous chronicle for 15 years.

However, historian and UniSA graduate Dr Dino Hodge has now succeeded where several previous attempts have failed. His new biography Don Dunstan: Intimacy and Liberty gives a full account of the man’s political career – well beyond the pink shorts on the cover.

The book surveys Dunstan’s efforts to promote the rights of homosexual citizens and prevent police abuses of power, and also looks at his reform achievements in women’s equality, multiculturalism, Indigenous rights and the abolition of the White Australia Policy.
Dr Hodge writes through the lens of Dunstan’s often difficult personal life, and his battles as a bisexual man through a Cold War-driven climate of state homophobia around the world.

“Dunstan struggled for most of his adult life to integrate his social democratic principles and philosophy into both his personal and professional lives, and he wanted to live authentically,” Dr Hodge says.

“The challenges posed by homophobia, and by the sacrifice of principle for partisan political gain, were encountered more by Dunstan than by any other political figure of the 20th century.”

As Premier from 1967-68 and again from 1970-79, Dunstan’s homosexual law reforms in South Australia were the first in the English common law world to give homosexual people equal treatment in the criminal law.

They were decades ahead of most other Australian jurisdictions, and Dunstan also initiated anti-discrimination measures that were fully implemented by the subsequent Labor government of John Bannon.

Dunstan’s work first inspired Dr Hodge as a student in the 1970s and his appreciation for the former Premier’s leadership was heightened when he began working as a political adviser at the Federal level.

“It surprised and puzzled me that there had not been a biography published of this great Australian, and I suspected that Dunstan’s complex personal life probably played some role in this circumstance,” Dr Hodge says.

In order to research the book, Dr Hodge was given access to government and community libraries and archives containing a wealth of cabinet papers, government reports and correspondence, police records and documents, and media reports. He also recorded and transcribed 50 formal interviews with Dunstan’s family, friends and associates, which will be preserved in historic archives.

Dr Hodge’s focus on sexuality as a key element of his research also drew some arguably misguided media criticism about its value – although he took that in his stride.

“It can only be expected that some media outlets will dismiss any serious work about Dunstan in favour of titillation and contrived controversy for the purpose of generating profit,” Dr Hodge says.

“What did surprise me was an ABC journalist specialising in political history who cancelled our scheduled interview, explaining that he found the book to be not about political history but about homosexuality.”

From conducting his research and completing the book, Hodge saw in Dunstan a loyal, motivated advocate of progressive ideas.

“Dunstan once said that people with the gift of genius have a responsibility to use it for the benefit of society,” Dr Hodge says.

“He was a polymath, and could have enjoyed an interesting and rewarding life in any number of professional endeavours; instead he devoted his life to public service.”

“Additionally, I learnt that he was not given to self-pity – his continuing political and policy contributions following his retirement as Premier, together with his further work for the causes he believed in, reveals Dunstan’s true character.”

Wakefield Press is offering UniSA alumni a 20% discount on the Dunstan biography and all other Wakefield press titles. See full details here.

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