21 July, 2020

City of Adelaide installs new sign honouring Dr George Duncan

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The City of Adelaide has installed new signage honouring the memory of Dr George Duncan, whose tragic death in 1972, resulted in South Australia leading the world on reforming laws which discriminated against LGBTIQ community members.

Lord Mayor Sandy Verschoor unveiled the sign, next to his memorial, near the Adelaide University footbridge on Victoria Drive today (20 July) – the 90th anniversary of Dr Duncan’s birth.

In 1972, Dr Duncan had recently returned to Australia from London to take up a lectureship in law at the University of Adelaide.

At the time, male homosexual acts were criminal throughout Australia and the southern bank of the River Torrens was a night-time meeting place for gay men.

At about 11pm on 10 May 1972, Dr Duncan and another man, Roger James, were thrown into the river by a group of men. James suffered a broken ankle and Duncan drowned.

Within eleven weeks of Duncan’s death, a private member’s bill to decriminalise male homosexual acts

was introduced into South Australia’s Legislative Council.

On 17 September 1975, South Australia became the ¬first jurisdiction in Australia to achieve decriminalisation. This legislation was also the ¬first in the English-speaking world to eliminate any distinction in the criminal law between heterosexual and homosexual acts, including an equal age of consent.

The death of Dr Duncan remains one of the state’s most notorious unsolved murders.

Lord Mayor Sandy Verschoor said the tragic death shocked the state but also became the tipping point in a process to remove discrimination against the LGBTIQ community.

“What happened to him, and the reaction to that fateful event, changed our state, and our nation, forever,” the Lord Mayor said.

“We’ve come a long way since then and the life and legacy of Dr George Duncan is an important story to tell on that journey.

“Council is proud to display this sign as a reminder of the tragedy that led to the increased freedoms enjoyed by so many today.

“South Australia led the way on inclusion and that is a legacy the City of Adelaide is thrilled to continue with initiatives such as our magnificent Pride Walk, which celebrates the achievements, but also recognises the struggles, of our LGBTIQ community.”

For more information

Ashleigh Pisani