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Dunstan, Douglas Avon (1906–1987)

by Michael Treloar

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Douglas Avon Dunstan (1906-1987), printer and book designer, was born on 29 September 1906 at York, Western Australia, eleventh of thirteen children of Victorian-born parents Richard Dunstan, Methodist minister, and his wife Martha Euphemia, née Cock. In 1907 the family moved to Rockhampton, Queensland; Douglas’s father died ten years later. Educated at Toowoomba and Mary-borough schools and at Brisbane Grammar School, Douglas was apprenticed to a compositor in Brisbane. He finished his training with Green Press Ltd, Sydney, under his brother-in-law Percy Green, whose influence on Dunstan as a typographer and book designer was profound. By 1929 he was production manager. On 6 September 1930 at the Methodist Church, Concord, he married Winifred Kate Thompson (d.1961). Active in trade associations, he wrote The Typography of Letterheads (1934).

In 1938 Dunstan was appointed manager of the Advertiser Printing Office, a department of the Adelaide Advertiser. Supported by the paper’s managing director, (Sir) Lloyd Dumas, he insisted on the highest standards of craftsmanship and service. Despite wartime difficulties, in 1944 he embarked on a seven-month overseas trip investigating postwar business opportunities. He recommended that the office install offset printing and die-stamping presses to enable it to compete in the fine printing field. In 1947 he travelled abroad again, to assess the potential for book production in Australia. The company entered the market seriously, confident that few competitors could match the required investment. Dunstan successfully fought for machinery capable of producing work economically and to the highest standard. He was president of the South Australian Master Printers and Allied Trades Association (1948-50) and of the Printing and Allied Trades Employers’ Federation of Australia (1949-50). His presidential address (1948) to the State association was entitled Printing for Profit and Pleasure.

The printing office became Griffin Press in July 1954. Books were a speciality, and over one thousand different titles were produced in Dunstan’s time; he was responsible for establishing and maintaining excellence in typography and design. He secured commissions for four books from the Limited Editions Club, New York, including The Explorations of Captain James Cook in the Pacific (1957), edited by (Sir) Archibald Grenfell Price. All were designed by Dunstan, and printed and bound by the press. On 4 August 1962 at Wesley Methodist Church, Norwood, he married Una Betty Macdonald, a schoolteacher.

Dunstan retired in 1967. He continued to design books, and wrote The Story of the Griffin Press (1977). A committee-member (1955-84) of the Friends of the Public (State) Library of South Australia, in 1978 he donated his collection of rare and special editions to the library. He was president (1974-75) of the Rotary Club of Adelaide and, for over a decade, a member of the South Australian working party of the Australian Dictionary of Biography. The journalist Stewart Cockburn described him as an enthusiast: `a coiled spring of energy seeking outlet and self-expression, with an instinctive passion for excellence and a compulsive desire to help others’. A teetotaller and non-smoker, he was a member of the congregation of Beaumont Uniting Church and editor of its history (1980). In his later years he became a proficient wood-carver. He was appointed OAM in 1986. Survived by his wife and the son and two daughters of his first marriage, he died on 14 April 1987 at his Hazelwood Park home and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • P. G. Green, I Am Evergreen (1967)
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 28 Oct 1967, p 11, 1 July 1983, p 6, 16 Apr 1987, p 8
  • News (Adelaide), 29 June 1983, p 23
  • Mortlock Library Newsletter, June 1987, p 3
  • J. Robertson, interview with D. A. Dunstan (transcript, 1973, State Library of South Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Michael Treloar, 'Dunstan, Douglas Avon (1906–1987)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/dunstan-douglas-avon-12447/text22383, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 15 December 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

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