Don Dunstan's shorts at the South Australian parliament a symbol of decade of reform 1967-79

Don Dunstan's pink shorts, now displayed in the Centre for Democracy in the Institute building on North Terrace, Adelaide.

Premier Don Dunstan made international and national headlines by wearing pink shorts to work at South Australian Parliament House on November 22, 1972.

Dunstan was aware the shorts would attract attention and was determined to be seen, despite the efforts of his Apparently, Dunstan’s minders had been trying to shield the premier from press photographers. But, around 4pm, Dunstan slipped out and posed for them.

The gesture fitted with the whole social revolution that Dunstan had brought to South Australia in the wake of conservative Tom Playford era.

Dunstan had always been flamboyant in florals and safaris suits but, as a white  middle-aged man – and premier – wearing pink shorts (with white T-shirt, long socks, brown shoes) to work was his ultimate signicant salute to diversity – even in the black-and-white news footage of the time. Dunstan made South Australia the first to decriminalise homosexuality in Australia, earning him hero status in Adelaide's gay community.

The pink shorts came to represent Dunstan's political legacy and were bequeathed to Dunstan’s widowed partner Stephen Cheng, who donated them in 2017 to be displayed in Adelaide's new Centre for Democracy in the Institute building on North Terrace.

Dunstan, premier for two terms 1967-79, was a staunch social reformist and one of the most progressive politicians Australia has ever seen.

Born in Fiji and having later practised law there, he was deeply committed to social justice, cultural diversity, democracy, human rights and respect for Indigenous people. He also legislated reforms on land rights, anti-discrimination laws and environmental protection. He was instrumental in eliminating the white Australia policy. Other of his social reforms included legislation for consumer protection, the abolition of capital punishment and child protection reforms.

As premier, Dunstan overhauled the drinking laws that closed pubs at 6pm, and because of his love of food and wine – he later opened his own restaurant, Don’s Table and encouraged the emergence of a new restaurant culture.

Dunstan was also a passionate patron of the arts and was responsible for cultivating a thriving live theatre scene. The Dunstan Playhouse, one of Adelaide’s largest theatre venues, was named to honour his contribution to the performing arts.

His relationship with Cheng, which began in 1988, gives personal context to his earlier act of decriminalising homosexuality.

 

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