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October 16, 2014

Moments in time # 4 – Don Dunstan’s dud

Our city has a history. Sure, it’s not especially long or hugely interesting history – but it has its moments. These are them.

  • Words and pictures: Owen Lindsay

Don Dunstan was arguably the best Premier that South Australia has ever had. During his ten years as boss (1967-1968 & 1970-1979), Don transformed the state from being basically 1690s Salem into a place in which a time traveller from the distant future of 2014 might not be embarrassed to take up residence.

Under his premiership:

  • homosexuality was decriminalised
  • Aboriginal land rights were recognised
  • the death penalty was abolished
  • true universal suffrage was enacted
  • stone-age drinking restrictions were revised
  • Rundle Mall was established
  • Adelaide became the cultural and artistic centre of Australia
  • laws mandating that all babies be donated to laboratories researching the resurrection of Supay, Incan god of death, were repealed (this final point intended to be metaphorical only)

Yes, it sure was a pretty exciting time for Adelaide during the “Dunstan decade”.

But not all ideas can be winners.


Take this one for example: Worried that Adelaide’s suburban population would soon bloat beyond capacity, Don decided that the state required a second city – a satellite metropolis that would grow in parallel to Adelaide and develop its own independent economy and identity. It would be a utopian urban space, characterised by majestic residential villas and a bicycle-only town centre.

And Don said ‘let it be called Monarto’. And yea, it was called Monarto.

The fact that Monarto is presently home to a giraffe paddock, a Big-W distribution centre and something called Delta Force Paintball, however, should give you a clue that there were some difficulties in realising Don’s romantic vision of a 21st century utopia.

For one, though Don projected that Monarto would be home to some 200,000 people by 2000, it was unclear what exactly they would be doing there. Apart from vague references to ‘light industry’ and ‘public sector work’, there was little practical vision or corporate support for the idea. And a city without an economy is like a turtle without a shell: disgusting to even consider.

For two, it turned out that the initial projection suggesting that Adelaide’s population was due to bubble over had been ludicrously wrong. You can probably chalk this one up to 1970s statistical analysis technology, which we speculate consisted of four rubber bands, a pack of smokes and a copy of the morning horoscope.

For three, Federal Government financial support for the project was stopped in 1975, when Gough Whitlam got the arse and Australia fell under the reign of Malcolm Fraser (Fraser’s pants fell later on).

So Don’s grand plans fizzled and failed. Still – although the dream city of Monarto never did materialise – today the land does do a pretty good job as a stand-in for the Serengeti. If you were a man who loved safari suits, you might even call that a utopia.

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