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The Renaissance man

Nineteen years after his passing, former South Australian premier Don Dunstan is still fondly remembered by the Italian community. Here is their tribute.


(21.09.1926 – 06.02.1999)

by Giorgio Venturini for Resistenza and A.N.P.I., the Associazione Nazionale Partigiani Italiani in Australia.

One of the last – possibly the last – public engagements of an already terminally ill Don Dunstan was at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre on 21 April 1998. He spoke on the theme “We intervene or we sink”, to emphasise that “It is possible to build a society in which individual citizens have security of food, shelter, work and services which will celebrate their worth as individuals … where all citizens have an equal and effective say in their own governance and an opportunity to participate in and to influence decisions affecting their lives.”

After leaving office in February 1979 he had continued to lend his devotion, intelligence and humanity to many public causes. It was this activism, outside of office, which enhanced his reputation as a man of the people as much as his period as a social reformer whose fight against injustice and discrimination were a symbol of his government.

Friends of Lionel Keith Murphy had him to deliver the Seventh L. K. Murphy Memorial Lecture, at the Ninde dana Quarenook (Aboriginal Centre) in Morwell, on 11 November 1993. And we were hoping that an early intervention had eradicated the throat cancer; some years later it metastasised into a lung cancer – inoperable. Death would follow in February 1999.

Some five thousand persons paid their respects to Don Dunstan at the same Adelaide Festival Centre, and an equal number followed the proceedings of the memorial service on a big screen on the lawns outside. Most of them were part of the ‘popolo minuto’ as Don, a lover of the Italian language, might have expressed his feeling for the common persons.

Towards the end of his life he was asked what had sustained him in his various struggles. “The love of people,” he replied without hesitation.

The survivors in Australia of Resistenza and of the National Association of Italian Partisans remembered Don Dunstan with these words:


Rebellious in youth,

artist and art critic,

gentle persuader, humanist, Renaissance man,

defender of freedom for all,

pioneer of social and legal reforms,

… he upheld justice for the First Nations of this land.


Not for that alone, he became the scourge of insularity, ignorance and indifference,

not for that alone he was deeply hated and branded ‘class traitor’

by the poltroons and the beneficiaries

of ‘inherited positional goods’.


Don Dunstan,

brilliant and cultivated orator,

consummate performer among shallow dilettanti,

leader of governments,

patron of the arts, a cultivated man, a dynamo of ideas

… in a country of philistines,

of pavid conformists

and boring imitators in the ‘Westminster tradition’,

he remained loyal to his convictions,

sustained them against the fashionable tide,

and for that continued to win the respect of the common person.


Across the world he stood

… a friend of the oppressed, of the underclass and of the needy.


In Dunstan the men and women of Resistenza and of A.N.P.I.

recognise the coherence between thought and action,

the liberal socialist in the tradition of the European Resistance,

the democratic socialist anchored to principles

… not to personal advancement.


Away from the continuing circus of post-colonial yokels,

he died a “why not” visionary of undreamt-before dreams.


Resistenza and A.N.P.I. mourn the passing

of a man of civic courage

and of great dignity even in adversity,

and of moving stoicism to the end,

and a lover of Italy

and of justice and liberty.




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  1. Pilot

    Ah yes!!!
    Being old enough to remember this man and all the work he did not only for SA, but Australia at large (I’m in NSW btw), he was missed when he left politics but kept working in public view for those with no voice. His guts and determination have, in my opinion never been duplicated by any politician since. His ability to get up the collective noses of the “entitled libs” was great.
    I have neither the education nor the words to truly describe the impact Don had on me back then, watching from afar. We need more pollies with his insight, determination and honesty today.

  2. Joseph Carli

    A wonderful person and a brilliant political figure who SET A STANDARD for serving in public office that has stood the test of time…Thank you Dr. Venturini for this wonderful memorial to an unforgettable citizen of The State.

    We still have and make use of his cookbook..truly a Renaissance Man!

  3. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    Hear, hear Dr Venturini,

    Don Dunstan is the ‘template’ for how our modern Progressive leaders should aim to be. Compassionate, fair, respectful, inclusive, energetic, strong, unintimidated…

  4. John Robertson

    What a great man, such a contrast to the self serving clowns we have in Canberra now. RIP Don.

  5. etnorb

    When Don was in power in SA, we were the front runners on so many levels. Pity it is not the case anymore though! He was truly a great Labor man & a great Premier to boot. He continued on even after he left parliament. It is a pity we now have literally no-one in any of the Labor parties around Australia, that is anywhere near his stature! Only Gough Whitlam, in my opinion was as good as he was. Bob Hawke & Paul Keating were not far behind, as well as Julia Gillard too.

  6. townsvilleblog

    Don Dunstan was a bloody good bloke and a bloody good Premier, if only we had more like him.

  7. diannaart

    Just the memory of Don Dunstan puts the contemporary crop of politicians to shame.

    There was a man.

  8. Roswell

    He was the first person I ever voted for. All these years later he remains one of the best I ever did vote for.

  9. Andreas Bimba

    Integrity, compassion, intelligence, cultured, energetic, popular and a great orator who ran rings around the philistines that greatly outnumbered his kind. Indeed a Renaissance man.

  10. king1394

    One of the few truly great leaders we have seen in Australia. He even fought to have men’s dress for hot weather reformed with the safari suit welcomed as an alternative to the heavy dark suits that reflect northern hemisphere weather.

  11. Zathras

    Don Dunstan is a reminder of how far we have fallen as a society in being willing to have second-rate performers and third-rate people representing our interests.

    That was an age where some degree of civility and intelligent debate was the norm rather than the exception.

    Poor Fella my Country indeed.

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