Don Dunstan's pink shorts at parliament a symbol of his decade of radical 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.


Other related ADELAIDEAZ articles

Kaurna Boomerangs the first Aboriginal ice hockey team, from Adelaide youth program

The driest state on the driest continent has produced an ice hockey team from an unlikely source in Adelaide. The Kaurna Boomerangs are Australia’s first representative Aboriginal ice hockey team. It emerged from the Ice Factor program started in 2005 to help at-risk students stay in school and out of trouble. A former program member Shaquille Burgoyne, with Jaidyn O’Neil, came up with Kaurna Boomerangs ideas, inspired by the 1990s Mighty Ducks films. Taking their Kaurna name from the traditional owners of the Adelaide plains, the Boomerangs got the chance to stage the first exhibition ice hockey games in 2019 in Darwin at the Arafura Games –  a week-long international sporting event for Indigenous representatives from 33 countries. The Boomerangs team for the Arafura Games included one of its coaches and captain, Jarrad Chester, the first Aboriginal  ice hockey player to compete for Australia. The other coach is Justine Shaw, the first Ice Factor kid, whose mother, Marie Shaw QC, started the program. South Australian Ice Sports Federation and the Ice Arena at Thebarton helped developed the program with Adelaide metropolitan high schools, starting with advice from Don Anderson a youth worker in alternative education at northern suburbs’ Parafield Gardens High School and a group of disengaged students ages 13 to 18. A pilot project led to the Ice Factor Program using ice hockey as a vehicle to develop a team and long-term life skills. By 2019,15 high schools were involved in the program aimed at youth at risk, because of absenteeism, behaviour or literacy. 

Myth fuels dispute over Benjamin Mendes da Costa's gift to Anglican church and St Peter's

An enduring Adelaide myth is that the Anglican Church deprived the Roman Catholic Church of the large bequest from businessman and philanthropist Benjamin Mendes da Costa. The myth is rooted in da Costa’s Portuguese name, suggesting he was Catholic. But da Costa had Jewish lineage and, with sister Louisa, was bought up in the Church of England as a child of his father’s second marriage. (The first-marriage children were brought up Jewish.) Benjamin and sister Louisa (both never married) arrived in South Australia on 1840. He set up as a merchant in Hindley Street and moved to Grenfell Street. He built up property across South Australia but significantly in eight places on Hindley, Rundle, Grenfell, Currie, Gilbert and Pulteney streets plus Hindmarsh Square and South Terrace. The da Costas only stayed in South Australia seven years but when Benjamin died in 1869 he left land for the site of St Peter’s Cathedral and his £20,000 Adelaide property estate to the Collegiate School of St Peter. The dispute over wording of his will concerns which bishop of Adelaide was beneficiary: the Anglican Augustus Short, whom da Costa knew, or the Catholic bishop. A legal case won by the Anglicans on this point is a myth. St Peter’s College didn’t get its bequest until the last of da Costa’s relatives (also heirs) died in 1910.

Iced coffee becomes a South Australian global oddity that conquered even Coca-Cola in sales

Farmers Union Iced Coffee is a South Australian – and a global – oddity. First sold in 1977, it became so popular in South Australia that it outsold Coca-Cola (by 3:1 in 2008). South Australia was the only place in the world where a milk drink outsold a cola, with South Australians consuming 36 million litres of it in 2008, Launched when Farmers Union was still a South Australian dairy farmers cooperative, its iced coffee was Australia’s best-selling flavoured milk by 2003 when sales reached 22 million litres. The drink is made with coffee, glucose, and homogenised reduced fat milk and milk solids. It is available predominantly in 600 mL and 375 mL cartons. In the early 1990s, the Farmers Union was bought by Adelaide Steamship Company and made part of National Foods. Meanwhile, another South Australian milk cooperative, Dairy Vale, from Mount Compass, was taken over in 1997 by a New South Wales cooperative called Dairy Farmers. This set up an advertising war from South Australia for the national iced coffee market using Farmers Union and Dairy Vale brands. Pitting marketing figures such as Trevor Pomery (Farmers Union) and Patrick Baker (Dairy Vale) against each other, the battle saw “It’s a Farmers Union Iced Coffee or it’s nothing” win, along with television commercials doing twists on: “When the wall came down”, “Survived the Apollo disaster”, “When Chisel broke up”, “Lived through the Millennium bug” “..and Trevor’s underarm” and “Strongly opposed the Bush invasion”. These and others helped raise the Farmer’s Union Iced Coffee profile nationally.


Eccentric genius Percy
 Grainger inseparable 
from his most devoted mother: 
Adelaide’s Rose

The bizarre and brilliant career of “mad genius” Percy Grainger is inseparable from his Adelaide-born and raised mother Rose (nee Aldridge). Percy and his mother are buried together at Adelaide West Terrace cemetery. Percy’s architect father John migrated to Adelaide in 1877 to join the engineer in chief’s office. He married Rose (Rosa) Aldridge, daughter of a prominent Adelaide hotelier and race horse owner, in 1880. The couple moved to Melbourne where John produced designs for the Princes Bridge and, via her builder father David Mitchell, Nellie Melba’s Coombe Cottage. But, in 1890, John Grainger left for England and never returned. He possibly had passed on the disease syphilis to Rose. This left Rose to foster Percy’s precocious musical talents. Rose was Percy’s constant companion around the world with his reputation soaring, including as a prime exponent of friend Edvard Grieg’s music. Grainger’s personal eccentricities stretched from extremes of his bisexuality to an enormous appetite for sado masochism. Rose’s suicide (by jumping from the Aeolian Building in 42nd Street, New York) in 1922, from despair at false rumours of incest with Percy and the gathering effects of her illness, was a crushing blow for Grainger.

Royal Adelaide a top 100 golf club 
bisected by a train line; with Nobel Prize
 winner in its past

A train line (to Grange) bisecting the Royal Adelaide golf course at Seaton hasn’t stopped it being rated among the top 100 in the world. The train line predates the opening of the golf course in 1906. Among those choosing the Seaton site was the future 1915 Nobel Prize physics prize winner William Bragg, a long-time club member who won its senior medal in 1906/07. Adelaide Golf Club had previous lives, briefly at North Adelaide in the 1870s and from 1892 near Glenelg Golf Club.
The train line on the chosen Seaton site initially became a plus for members who used to travel to the original bungalow-style clubhouse. William Bragg joined the Adelaide Golf Club in 1893 and showed what The Critic weekly magazine called “an infinite capacity for taking pains, as during all his golfing career he has set himself to master individual shots by constant practice”. In 1894, William was elected the club’s secretary/treasurer and oversaw preparing the greens. He reduced his golf handicap from 13 to 1–  for the Browne Trophy competition. In 1900, Bragg and wife Gwen and played in the mixed pairs handicap stroke competition at the Australian championships. Son Lawrence, who would share the Nobel Prize with his father in 1915, recalled: “I used to caddy for [my father] as a boy, and I remember going around with him when he was planning a new course at Seaton.” Bragg provided a club trophy in 1905 before he left Adelaide.

Concrete 'castle' as a sour sequel to 
Herschel Babbage’s
 contribution to South Australia

Babbage’s Castle, a huge concrete structure in fantastic baroque at St Marys, is a lost South Australian 19th Century oddity from Herschel Babbage’s life in Adelaide. Babbage, an engineer, was eldest son of renowned Cambridge mathematician Charles Babbage. In 1851, British colonial secretary Earl Grey sent Babbage to make a geological and mineralogical survey of South Australia. Babbage worked on government projects, setting up the gold assay office in Victoria Square and later as chief engineer for the company building the city-to-Port Adelaide railway. In 1853, Babbage was first chairman of Mitcham District Council and he served as president of the Adelaide Philosophical Society. Babbage was elected to the House of Assembly in 1857, representing Encounter Bay. He resigned to lead an expedition to explore the north between Lake Torrens and Lake Gairdner. When the government grew tired of his slow methodical pace, the crown lands commissioner Francis Dutton replaced Babbage with Peter Warburton in 1858. Babbage complained of this treatment and withdrew from public life except as a 1877 Legislative Council elections candidate who refused to be part of any public meetings. Babbage spent his last years building a mansion near South Road he called The Rosary, although locals referred to it as Babbage's Castle. The building developed defects and was deserted from 1905 to 1935, when it was demolished.

Contact Us

We welcome positive constructive feedback