University of Adelaide honours murdered law lecturer George Duncan by renewing grave lease

The lease of the grave of a gay university lecturer who was murdered and thrown into Adelaide’s River Torrens 50 years ago has been renewed for another half-century.

George Duncan’s death led to South Australia being the first state in Australia to decriminalise homosexuality.

He was 41 years old and had only been living in Adelaide for six weeks after recently accepting employment at the University of Adelaide.

He was thrown into the River Torrens by a group of men on May 10, 1972, and, not knowing how to swim, he drowned.

The murder was labelled a “hate crime” but the culprits were never charged.

As custodians of Dr Duncan’s grave, the university held a ceremony at the Centennial Park cemetery in Pasadena today to mark the 50th anniversary of the professor’s death as well as the renewed lease.

An Adelaide Festival promotional image for the oratorio Watershed.
George Duncan died in 1972.(Adelaide Festival)

University of Adelaide law professor John Williams said that through Dr Duncan’s tragic death, he  became “a symbol of injustice”, changing Australia forever.

“I’d like to say that this senseless and deplorable death was a moment when the community decided enough was enough,” Professor Williams said.

“Law reform is never easy … it takes a moment in time, it takes courage, it takes a community that will not let it rest.

“We didn’t know Dr Duncan, but we know what he’s done for our community, for our society.

“Dr Duncan was one of us.”

Still more progress to be made

Greens MLC Robert Simms said honouring Dr Duncan would contribute to the upholding of LGBT rights.

“Gay men of my generation owe the gay men of Dr Duncan’s generation a great debt,” Mr Simms said.

“One of the tragic things about Dr Duncan’s death is that he was one of many gay men who were victims of these terrible events.

“The tragic events that we’ve seen overseas over the last few days are a reminder that there is a lot of work to do to combat hate crimes and homophobia.

“Today really is a time for reflection.”

A man wearing a suit without a tie standing in a cemetery next to a grave with flowers on it
Greens MLC Robert Simms speaks at the ceremony.(ABC News: Viki Ntafillis)

Not only does 2022 mark 50 years since Dr Duncan’s death, but also 25 years since Adelaide’s first Feast Festival.

Festival chairman and University of Adelaide special events manager Adam Gardnir said LGBT people had a lot to be proud of, but tragedies like Dr Duncan’s death were still all too common.

“We’ve come a long way, but we have a long way to go,” he said.

“As we’ve seen this week overseas, our rights are constantly under threat.

“That’s why Feast exists, and why we get together and honour the past, but we also strengthen up for the future.”

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