Don Dunstan: Australia’s greatest premier was also bisexual

don dunstan

Among other achievements, bisexual South Australian premier Don Dunstan headed the first Australian state government to decriminalise gay sex. Often heralded as South Australia’s most progressive leader, his reforms spread across the continent and left Australia much better for his contributions.

The Bisexual Premier ⇓

The Pink Shorts ⇓⇓

The impact of the reforms implemented by Don Dunstan extended beyond South Australia, shaping the nation’s political landscape. Whether through economic reforms, social policies, or infrastructure projects, he left an enduring legacy that influenced the direction of the states and the nation as a whole.

During the twentieth century, state premiers didn’t generally rank high on the list of political achievers. After federation, they simply didn’t have a lot to do. Even less after WWII, when the feds took over all responsibility for collecting income tax and never gave it back.

But the premiership of Don Dunstan changed all that. Not content to simply administer hospitals and schools, Don Dunstan embarked on a socially progressive legislative program of groundbreaking social reform.

During two terms in office as Premier, Don Dunstan led a government which:

  • recognised Aboriginal land rights.
  • decriminalised homosexuality.
  • appointed Australia’s first female Supreme Court judge, first non-British governor and first Indigenous governor.
  • enacted consumer protection laws.
  • reformed and expanded the public education and health systems.
  • abolished the death penalty.
  • relaxed censorship and drinking laws.
  • created a ministry for the environment.
  • enacted anti-discrimination law.
  • implemented electoral reforms.
  • enacted measures to protect buildings of historical heritage.
  • encouraged the arts.

The interest of other state governments in issues like heritage, the environment, discrimination, the arts and social reform can be traced straight back to Don Dunstan’s South Australian  Labor state governments.

It seems no coincidence that an examination of the records of Australian state premiers shows our highest-achieving state leaders came after Dunstan, inspired by the template he provided for the role of state governments in modern-day Australia.

Premier Don Dunstan

The charismatic and progressive leader served as the Premier of South Australia from 1967 to 1968 and then again from 1970 to 1979. His tenure was marked by a series of bold and innovative policies that transformed the state.

Don Dunstan was a champion of social justice and equality. During his time in office, he introduced groundbreaking reforms in Aboriginal rights, anti-discrimination, and the decriminalization of homosexuality. His commitment to ending discrimination and promoting equal opportunities for all South Australians was ahead of its time. He helped shape a more inclusive and tolerant society.

In the economic realm, Dunstan was an advocate for diversification and modernization. Recognizing the importance of moving beyond traditional industries, he supported initiatives to promote arts, culture, and tourism. The establishment of the Adelaide Festival Centre, the SA Film Corporation, and the creation of the Adelaide Festival of Arts were all part of his vision to position South Australia as a hub for creativity and innovation.

Dunstan also played a pivotal role in transforming Adelaide into a vibrant and cosmopolitan city. He encouraged urban development and investment in infrastructure projects, fostering a more dynamic and attractive environment.

Furthermore, Don Dunstan was a trailblazer in environmental conservation. Concerned about the impact of industrialization on the environment, he implemented policies to protect natural resources and promote sustainable development. His initiatives laid the foundation for South Australia’s commitment to environmental sustainability.

Don Dunstan’s legacy stems from his dedication to social justice, economic diversification, urban development, and environmental conservation. His forward-thinking and progressive approach set the stage for the state’s continued growth and evolution. His impact remains evident in the cultural richness, inclusivity, and economic resilience of South Australia, making him a revered figure in the state’s history.

The Bisexual Premier

Don Dunstan never commented publicly on his sexuality. However, he did state that “to be human was to be ambisexual.”

Married twice, he enjoyed numerous affairs with men and women from the 1960s on. After meeting Stephen Cheng in 1986, Don lived openly during the remainder of his life with the man who would later nurse him through lung cancer to death.

The Pink Shorts

The South Australian premier did not subscribe to the normal conservative dress of an Australian politician. He often wore safari suits, a lightweight suit designed to be worn without a shirt and tie, popular in Australia in the 1970s.

In 1972, when the South Australian parliament relaxed its dress code, the Premier caused a media frenzy when he arrived at Parliament House wearing short, short, pink shorts. Men of the era simply did not wear pink. But Australia loved Don Dunstan and he remained one of the nation’s most popular political figures.

What a difference one determined person can make.

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Destiny Rogers

Destiny Rogers embarked on her career in the media industry immediately after high school, initially joining Mirror News, which later evolved into News Ltd. She fondly recalls editing Ian Byford's 'Passing Glances: A History of Gay Cairns' as one of her most fulfilling projects. Additionally, Destiny co-researched and co-wrote 'The Queen's Ball', chronicling the history of the world's longest-running continuous queer event. Her investigative work on the history of Australia's COON Cheese and Edward Coon culminated in the publication 'COON: More Holes than Swiss Cheese', a collaborative effort with Dr. Stephen Hagan. Destiny's journey at QNews began as a feature writer, and she was subsequently elevated to the role of Managing Editor of QNews Magazine in 2018. However, in July 2022, she decided to resign from this role to refocus on research and feature writing. For contact, please reach out at

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1 Comment

  1. 26 January 2024


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