Don Dunstan, Intimacy & Liberty: A political biography
Wakefield Press, $39.95 pb, 428 pp
When I was commissioned to write this review, I assumed that this book would be a conventional political biography. I looked forward to reading about Dunstan’s career as premier of South Australia (1967–68 and 1970–79), as his record of achievements showed that our states and territories have the potential to be powerful players in social and cultural reform. However, the focus of Dino Hodge’s intriguing book is Dunstan the man, with an emphasis on the way in which his personal beliefs and ambiguous sexuality influenced his political life and legacy. Don Dunstan, Intimacy and Liberty makes a solid contribution to our understanding of Dunstan and the blurring of his private and public life, fanned partly by the media, but also, sometimes inadvertently, by the man himself.
While the author acknowledges the broad scope of the Dunstan Decade – such as support for the arts, urban planning, indigenous land rights, and multiculturalism – Hodge shows most interest in Dunstan’s commitment to the rights of homosexuals. The author spends a great deal of the early chapters of the book describing aspects of Adelaide’s evolving homosexual subculture, with a stress on the postwar period up to the 1970s. Combined with heavy-handed police persecution and entrapment, the illegality of homosexual activity and general homophobia in the community led to an oppressive environment where fear of exposure as a gay man was visceral. Hodge’s incorporation of oral history sources helps readers born in a more liberal era to understand how brave Dunstan was to champion the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the 1970s.