Former Premier of South Australia, the Hon Dr John Charles Bannon AO was the Master of St Mark’s College from 2000 to 2007.
The enduring importance of education was a key theme that carried throughout Dr Bannon’s life: through his university years, political career, teaching roles and as an academic and historian.
After graduating from the University of Adelaide in Arts and Law, he was a union advocate, and later an industrial relations and higher education policy advisor to state and federal Governments.
After service in the State Parliament he completed a PhD and, as an academic historian, published and lectured mainly on his specialist interest of Australian Federation and Commonwealth/State relations.
He was a member of the ABC Board in the 1990s, and Master of St Mark’s College for eight years from 2000.
The arts and sports always played an important part in Dr Bannon’s life and this passion is reflected in his other activities over the years, both in and out of politics.
The Early Years
John Charles Bannon was born in Bendigo, Victoria, in 1943, and was educated at East Adelaide Primary School and St Peter’s College, where his father was the art master.
He was a student at St Mark’s College in 1962-1963 and graduated from the University of Adelaide in Arts and Law. He was editor of the student newspaper ‘On Dit’ (1964), and President of the Australian Student Labour Federation (1965-6), the Adelaide University Students Representative Council (1966-7) and the Adelaide University Union (1969–71), and full-time President of the Australian Union of Students (1968-69).
John Bannon was a member of the Australian Universities and State debating teams, and professional stage and radio performer.
Before entering the South Australian Parliament he was an industrial advocate for the Australian Workers Union; policy advisor to Clyde Cameron, in the Whitlam Government; and Assistant Director of the South Australian Labour and Industry Department.
Dr Bannon was elected to the South Australian House of Assembly in 1977, retiring at the 1993 election. He was Minister of Community Development, Arts, Recreation and Sport and Local Government in the Dunstan and Corcoran Governments (1978-9) and the Leader of the Opposition (1979-1982). From 1982 to 1992 he was Premier and Treasurer of South Australia and Minister for State Development and the Arts.
He was National President of the Australian Labor Party from 1988 to 1992.
His administration was marked by a big agenda of social justice policies and new initiatives in health, welfare, the environment, Aboriginal land rights, the arts, public housing, prisons and criminal justice, as well as major public sector administrative reform.
His expertise and interest in Commonwealth/State relations and Federation led to Dr Bannon’s role as a member of the Expert Advisory Panel for the Department of the Prime Minister’s Reform of the Federation White Paper in 2015.
Dr Bannon’s love of the arts was first inspired by his artist father, Charles Bannon AM, although his own chief interest was in theatre. From the age of nine he took roles in radio plays for the ABC, and later acted professionally in radio and TV and stage, and in many amateur stage productions, including the University Footlights Revue.
He took special interest in arts policy and development as Arts Minister and Shadow Minister. After politics he was a Board member for the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra and Australian Exhibitions Touring Agency. From 1994 to 1999 he was a director of the ABC.
Dr Bannon was a keen sports enthusiast as participant, supporter and administrator. He was a member of the Board of Directors of Cricket Australia and co-chair of its National Indigenous Cricket Council, Board member of the South Australian Cricket Association and a Director of the Adelaide Oval Stadium Management Authority.
A keen runner in track, road and cross-country events, Dr Bannon completed over thirty marathons, locally and abroad.
Native plants and gardening
One of Dr Bannon’s interests was the environment. His passion for Australian native plants dates from his earliest gardens in the 1960s. As Life Members of Trees for Life, he and his wife Angela propagated and planted thousands of seedlings both for landholders in different regions of the State and for their 20 acre block in the Adelaide Hills. This was a bare stock paddock, but natural re-growth, direct seeding and tube planting turned it into a park over the course of 25 years. When in Government, his initiatives included the first Act to control clearance of native vegetation, and a massive extension of conservation parks.
From 2000 to 2008 Dr Bannon was Master of St Mark’s College at the University of Adelaide. He was an Adjunct Professor of Law at the University of Adelaide, a Visiting Research Fellow at Flinders University, and held residential Fellowships at King’s College London and the University of Edinburgh.
Dr Bannon had a strong commitment to lifelong education and learning. Prior to entering Parliament he served on the councils of The University of Adelaide, Sturt College of Advanced Education, the Australian Graduate School of Management, the Trade Union Training Authority, and the WEA.
Latterly he was Chairman of the National Archives of Australia Advisory Council, a member of the Australian Information Advisory Committee, Trustee of the C.A.S. Hawker Memorial Scholarship Fund, President of the History Council of South Australia, and an Honorary Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia.
Dr Bannon’s publications include The Crucial Colony: South Australia’s role in reviving federation, 1891-1897 (Federalism Research Centre, 1994), Supreme Federalist: the political life of Sir John Downer (Wakefield Press, 2009) and the chapter on ‘South Australia and Federation’ in the Centenary Companion on Australian Federation (Cambridge University Press, 1999). He co-edited The New Federalist, the national journal of Federation history.
In 2007 Dr Bannon was made an Officer of the Order of Australia Honour “for service to politics and to the South Australian Parliament, to history, particularly through researching and publishing in the subject area of Australian Federation; and to the community through sporting, cultural and welfare organisations.”
He died on 13 December 2015 in Adelaide.