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The Australian National University

‘One of the very few socialists the College has ever had’: Don Dunstan’s Education in 1940s Adelaide

Date and time

Wednesday, October 28, 2015 - 16:15 - 17:30


SPECIAL VENUE: Coombs Extension, Lecture Theatre 1.04, ANU

Don Dunstan was one of the most influential political figures in 20th-century Australia. Premier of South Australia between 1967–68 and 1970–79, he blazed a trail of reform, ending the gerrymandering that had guaranteed decades of conservative rule, and introducing his vision of social democracy in one state. Passionate about social equality and civil rights and liberties, Dunstan legislated against racial discrimination and for Aboriginal land rights, decriminalised homosexuality, worked to improve the status of women, and urged Australians to see themselves as part of the Asia-Pacific region.

When in 1940 the 13-year old Dunstan sailed from home in Fiji to attend the elite St Peter’s College, Adelaide, such an influential reformist career would not have seemed likely. This paper—part of a biography in progress—looks at Dunstan’s education in 1940s ‘Establishment’ Adelaide. He graduated from St Peter’s in 1943, and went on to study Law and Arts at Adelaide University, where he lived at the Anglican men’s college St Mark’s. While St Peter’s was the nursery for Adelaide’s most powerful, it was A. Grenfell Price, the Master of St Mark’s, who commented with surprise on Dunstan’s politics in his October 1947 report. In some ways, Dunstan’s education fitted him well into Adelaide’s legal and political circles. Yet from early on he stood out: for his rhetorical and acting abilities at St Peter’s, and for his activist and socialist politics while at St Mark’s. And some of the Adelaide ‘Establishment’ nurtured the kind of resentment reserved for class traitors.


Angela Woollacott is the Manning Clark Professor in the School of History and currently serves as President of the Australian Historical Association. Her latest book Settler Society in the Australian Colonies: Self-Government and Imperial Culture (Oxford UP, 2015) was shortlisted for the Queensland Literary Awards—University of Southern Queensland History Prize. Her biography-in-progress on Dunstan is supported by an ARC Discovery Grant.


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