Legislative Council: Wednesday, May 04, 2022



Duncan, Dr G.I.O.

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (16:03): I move:

That this council—

1. Acknowledges that 10 May 2022 marks 50 years since the murder of Dr George Ian Ogilvie Duncan;

2. Notes the long-lasting impacts of Dr Duncan's death on law reform and the LGBTIQ community;

3. Recognises the risks of discrimination and violence still faced by LGBTIQ people today; and

4. Resolves to continue to work toward safety and equality for all LGBTIQ people.

This motion recognises a fairly solemn anniversary: 50 years since the murder of Dr George Duncan on the banks of the River Torrens. Can I be very clear at the outset, this was, in my view, a hate crime. Dr Duncan was killed because he was a gay man. Dr George Ian Ogilvie Duncan was an academic. He held a Bachelor of Arts degree, a Bachelor of Laws, a Master of Arts and a PhD from St Johns College, Cambridge.

He was born in the UK, the son of New Zealand born parents, and attended school in Melbourne. After graduating his tertiary studies in the UK and working for a time at the University of Bristol, he returned to Australia in 1972 to take up a position as a lecturer in law at the University of Adelaide.

Dr Duncan lived just up the road at Lincoln College in North Adelaide. He worked just down the street from us in North Terrace at the Adelaide Law School. Just six weeks into his time here, he was attacked on the banks of the River Torrens at night. On 10 May 1972, Dr Duncan was thrown into the river where he drowned. He was not the only victim on that evening or, indeed, of that year. Two other men were also thrown into the water that night although, thankfully, both survived the attack.

At that time, the Torrens was well known as being a meeting place for gay and bisexual men and you will recall, sir, that in fact, it was illegal to have homosexual activities at the time. On that night, in 1972, a group of men came to the River Torrens for the purpose of harassing and assaulting gay men. Fifty years on, none of those assailants have been brought to justice. Three vice squad police officers were charged with manslaughter more than a decade after the offence, but were acquitted of those charges.

No-one has been found guilty of this murder. No-one has been held accountable for this hate crime but, during that manslaughter trial, evidence emerged that confirmed what our community already knew. There was a culture among vice squad officers of going down to the Torrens, harassing gay men and assaulting them and throwing them into the water. They called it, 'Teaching the poofters to swim'.

This just confirmed what members of the LGBTIQ community had been saying for year after year after year. Now, 50 years on, after the trials and inquiries, the Scotland Yard task forces, no-one has been held to account for this crime. Thankfully, over the years, the murder of Dr Duncan has not been forgotten. Every year, the Student Representative Council of the University of Adelaide holds a memorial for Dr Duncan on the banks of the river where he was drowned. I believe that the next memorial session will be next Tuesday.

The Adelaide Law School has taken a leading role in remembering Dr Duncan, a staff member of the law school, supporting efforts to get justice for this crime. I would particularly like to acknowledge Professor John Williams in recent years for his leadership on this at the Adelaide University. The Adelaide LGBTIQ community also remembers. The relevance of Dr Duncan's murder is not just that it is a terrible, terrible unsolved crime. But this crime, if it had any positive outcomes at all, was that it led the nation, and our state, to consider law reform on the so-called criminal act of homosexual activities. Under the then Dunstan Labor government we enacted that reform.

In the months after, in this place, the Hon. Murray Hill, a Liberal and Country League member, introduced a private member's bill to partially decriminalise homosexuality. It was a very limited form of legal reform, a small step forward, allowing a defence to the crime of sodomy if it was committed in the privacy of a person's home, and it was referred to as the 'drawing the curtains' defence.

But it was not until 1975 that homosexuality was finally, fully decriminalised by the Dunstan Labor government, and I particularly want to acknowledge the efforts of the then Attorney-General, the Hon. Peter Duncan, and particularly the minister in this place who led it through the Legislative Council, the Hon. Anne Levy. That bill, finally passed on 27 August 1975, made our state the first state in Australia to fully decriminalise homosexuality. It led to the same reforms being undertaken around our country, although it was not until 1997 that the last state, Tasmania, finally made this change.

That it took so long for these basic changes of decriminalisation to occur shows that in itself the discrimination faced by LGBTIQ people has not gone away, not in this state and not elsewhere in the country. It shows that the culture that led to police officers beating up gay men on the banks of the River Torrens was persistent around this country. It shows the culture that allows a prime minister to lead the culture war against transgender kids that we have today. It is still persistent in this country. It shows why the work to secure equality for LGBTIQ community members is far from over. I hope that the 50th anniversary of Dr Duncan's death is a catalyst for the next wave of reforms to further equality in our country.

Before concluding, I would like to reflect on the fact that Dr Duncan himself probably would never have enjoyed becoming a martyr to a cause. He would not have enjoyed the limelight, given his history. We do not know much about him. He left very few personal effects behind and those that were stored in the police lockers mysteriously disappeared over the years. His short time in Adelaide meant very few knew him well.

One thing we do know is that he was an intensely private man and I do not think he would have enjoyed the focus that has come to be on him, and in particular on his death. As historian Tim Reeves has noted, he probably would have hated being celebrated as he is today. He is not so much celebrated but remembered, remembered for a hate crime that should never have happened and remembered also for the changes in legislation that flowed from the community's disgust at what was uncovered.

Before I finish, I would just like to reflect, I suppose, personally on what it meant to me as a young man hearing about this crime, not yet a teenager. I was 12. I did not exactly know what my sexuality was, but I knew that I was different, and I also knew, through discussions in my peer group, at school, at home, in the media, in The Advertiser and on television that what I was was wrong. I also knew, from Dr Duncan's death, that if I was ever in trouble at all, not to go to the police, because they will beat you up and kill you for being gay. That is the lesson I learnt before I was even a teenager.

The impact that Dr Duncan had in his short time here in Adelaide was in fact immense, immense in terms of the changes in attitude that evolved in our community, immense in the legislative changes that followed his murder, but even to this day immense in terms of our community standing together for equality and making the demands that we should be considered equal citizens in our state. It means also that our LGBTIQ community will not be divided by a prime minister who seeks to single out trans kids—children—for political campaigns, for his own advantage in this election. We will not be divided. We will not sell those kids short.

Whilst Dr Duncan might not have wanted the legacy that he now has, it is indeed an enormous legacy, and I for one am grateful for the contribution that he has made to our community. I only wish that he did not have to die for it. I commend the motion.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. R.A. Simms.