Australian politician Don Dunstan was a controversial figure for most of his life. His progressive social and economic policies grated with the ingrained conservatism of his home state South Australia.
His behaviour – including turning up to Parliament in pink shorts – also got tongues wagging. And, almost inevitably, there were rumours about his sexuality.
The pressure from the many battles he was forced to fight finally led to him resigning from politics in February 1979.
Three years later, he was appointed to the role of Director of Tourism in the neighbouring state of Victoria.
It all seemed to be going very well until he agreed to make an appearance at the launch of a gay history book – Being Different – at Sydney’s Town Hall in December 1986. In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald some years later Dunstan stated:
“I thought it was quite an important book for people to understand the difficulties and, at times, tragedies of being gay.”
But then, after his speech:
“A character I’ve never seen, who was dressed in ecclesiastical drag, put on an unscheduled performance. I was asked to have my photo published with some of the contributors and I thought he must have been one of them.”
The ‘character’ was Fabian Lo Schiavo, also known as Mother Abbyss of Sydney’s Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and US evangelist Reverend Oral Riches. On this occasion Fabian appeared as Monsignor Porca Madonna, “Apostolic delegate to the Gay Community”.
Despite Dunstan claiming no knowledge of the Monsignor he was subjected to a campaign of “sheer gutter, dishonest journalism”. Calls for his sacking came from the Catholic Church and the Italian community. He resigned shortly thereafter.
Calls also came for Lo Schiavo to be sacked from the Anglican Synod in Sydney. To the best of my knowledge, this didn’t happen – nor did he resign or give up appearing as the Monsignor.