At last: a life of Don Dunstan

Already an habitué of the Dunstan Collection in the Flinders University Library, Dr Ruth Starke will be spending a lot more time there, thanks to a $40,000 grant from the Australia Council.

The Literature Board of the Australia Council has made the grant to assist Dr Starke in writing a personal biography of flamboyant former South Australian premier, Don Dunstan (pictured).

Previously unpublished material, including the manuscript of a novel by Dunstan, will make a major contribution to the biography.

Dr Starke has been working in the Dunstan Collection since last December, and in July was awarded the Australian Book Review Patrons’ Fellowship of $5,000 to write a feature for the magazine called Media Don. The piece will explore Dunstan’s relationship with the media, focusing on his pioneering use of the media to further his political and electoral aims.

As an author of fiction and lecturer in Creative Writing, Dr Starke will have to do a bit of genre-jumping to become a biographer, but she says she is thrilled by the prospect.

“I’ve published over 25 novels for young people, and have been a book reviewer for ABR and other journals for some 20 years, but my only major work of non-fiction is my PhD on the history and cultural significance of Adelaide Writers Week, which I completed at Finders a decade ago,” Dr Starke said.

“I guess the Board liked the sound of my project and found its subject as fascinating as I do. Considering his high profile and the extent of his political and social legacy, it’s curious that there have been no published biographies of Don Dunstan.”

While full attention will be given to Dunstan’s public life and political career in the 1960s and 70s, Dr Starke also hopes to illuminate Dunstan’s personal intellectual and cultural interests.

Although he died in 1999, the Dunstan Collection gives Dr Starke access to a range of previously untapped material.

“I hope to make full use of the Collection’s archive of letters and diaries and also the manuscript of Dunstan’s unpublished and highly autobiographical novel,” she said.

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