Charles Perkins (Aboriginal activist)
16 June 1936|
Alice Springs, Northern Territory
19 October 2000 (aged 64)|
Sydney, New South Wales
|Cause of death||Renal failure|
|Other names||Charlie Perkins, Kumantjayi Perkins|
|Education||Bachelor of Arts|
|Alma mater||University of Sydney|
|Known for||Activism, Public Service, Sport|
|Children||Hetti, Rachel and Adam|
- 1 Early life and family
- 2 Education
- 3 Public life
- 4 Soccer career
- 5 Awards and honours
- 6 Film and documentary
- 7 Death
- 8 References
- 9 Further reading and external links
Early life and family
Perkins was born in Alice Springs, originally from nearby Arltunga, to Hetty Perkins and Martin Connelly, originally from Mount Isa, Queensland. His mother was born to a white father and an Arrernte mother, while his father was born to an Irish father and a Kalkadoon mother. Perkins had one full sibling and nine other half-siblings by his mother, and was also a cousin of artist and soccer player John Moriarty. He was the great-uncle of Pat Turner, and inspired her work to improve the lives of and right to self-determination for indigenous people.
He was educated at St Mary's Church School in Alice Springs, St Francis House for Aboriginal Boys in Adelaide, the Metropolitan Business College, Sydney and the University of Sydney from where he graduated in 1966 with a Bachelor of Arts. He was the first Aboriginal man in Australia to graduate from university. While at university he worked part-time for the City of South Sydney cleaning toilets.
The Freedom Ride
In 1965 he was one of the key members of the Freedom Ride – a bus tour through New South Wales by activists protesting discrimination against Aboriginal people in small towns in NSW, Australia. This action was inspired by the US Civil Rights Freedom Ride campaign in 1961. The Australian Freedom Ride aimed to expose discrepancies in living, education and health conditions among the Aboriginal population. The tour targeted rural towns such as Walgett, Moree, and Kempsey. They acted to publicise acts of blatant discrimination. This was demonstrated through one of the Freedom Ride activities in Walgett. A local RSL club refused entry to Aborigines, including those who were ex-servicemen who participated in the two World Wars. At one stage during the Rides, the protesters' bus was run off the road.
On 20 February 1965, Perkins and his party tried to enter the swimming pool at Moree, where the local council had barred Aboriginal people from swimming since its opening 40 years earlier. In response to this action the riders faced physical opposition from several hundred local white Australians, including community leaders, and were pelted with eggs and tomatoes. These events were broadcast across Australia, and under pressure from public opinion, the council eventually reversed the ban on Aboriginal swimmers. The Freedom Ride then moved on, but on the way out they were followed by a line of cars, one of which collided with the rear of their bus forcing them to return to Moree where they found that the council had reneged on their previous decision. The Freedom Riders protested again forcing the council to again remove the ban.
On 6 August 1965, Charles Perkins staged a fake "kidnapping" of 5 year old Nancy Prasad from under the nose of immigration officials at the Sydney airport for the purpose of highlighting the injustice her deportation under Australia’s "White Australia" immigration policy. His antic had effect. The newspapers headlined the "kidnapping". Even so, 5 year old Nancy Prasad was taken to the airport again, and deported to Fiji on 7 August 1965.
In 1967 a referendum was held on constitutional amendments to allow inclusion of Aboriginal people in censuses and giving the Parliament of Australia the right to introduce legislation specifically for Aboriginal people. In the lead up to the referendum Perkins was manager of the Foundation for Aboriginal Affairs, an organization that took a key role in advocating a Yes vote. The constitutional amendment passed with a 90.77% majority.
In 1969 Perkins began his career in public service as a Senior Research Officer with the Office of Aboriginal Affairs. In 1972, as a public servant, he was suspended for alleged improper conduct after he called the Liberal–Country Coalition government in Western Australia 'racist and redneck'.
In 1981, he was appointed Permanent Secretary of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, the first Aboriginal to become a permanent head of a federal government department. He served as Chairman of the Aboriginal Development Commission between 1981 and 1984. Throughout his career he was a strident critic of Australian Government policies on indigenous affairs and was renowned for his fiery comments. Prime Minister Bob Hawke once said of Perkins that he "sometimes found it difficult to observe the constraints usually imposed on permanent heads of departments because he had a burning passion for advancing the interests of his people". Perkins served as Secretary until 1988. A year later he became Chairman of the Arrernte Council of Central Australia.
In 1993 Perkins was elected commissioner of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission for an area of the central Northern Territory. In 1994, he was elected Deputy Chairperson of ATSIC.
On 7 April 2000, Perkins suggested that 'Sydney will burn during the [Sydney 2000] Olympics.' The comment sparked outrage from many quarters. In May 2000 Perkins declared that the Australian Football League and the Australian Rugby League were racist, suggesting that the AFL "acts in a racist manner at the highest level."
Perkins began playing in 1950 with Adelaide team Port Thistle. In 1951 he was selected for a South Australia under 18 representative team. He went on to play for a number of teams in Adelaide including International United (1954–55), Budapest (1956–57) and Fiorentina (1957).
In 1957 he was invited to trial with English first division team Liverpool F.C.. Perkins ended up trialling and training with Liverpool's city rival Everton FC. While at Everton Perkins had a physical confrontation with the Everton reserve grade manager after being called a "kangaroo bastard." After this incident Perkins left Everton FC to move to Wigan where he worked as a coal miner at the Mosley Common Colliery alongside Great Britain rugby league player Terry O'Grady. Perkins played two seasons for leading English amateur team Bishop Auckland F.C. between 1957 and 1959. Perkins in mid-1959 decided to return to Australia after trialling with Manchester United.
In 1961 when Perkins moved to Sydney to study at university he played with Pan-Hellenic (later known as Sydney Olympic FC) in the New South Wales State League where he became captain/coach. He later played for Bankstown and retired in 1965.
He later served as president of former National Soccer League team Canberra City. He was appointed Australian Soccer Federation (a forerunner of the Football Federation Australia) vice-president in 1987 and was the chairman of the Australian Indoor Soccer Federation (later known as the Australian Futsal Federation) for ten years until his death in Sydney in 2000.
Awards and honours
Perkins was awarded Jaycees Young Man of the Year in 1966, NAIDOC Aboriginal of the Year in 1993 and an Officer of the Order of Australia in 1987. Perkins was inducted into the Football Federation Australia Football Hall of Fame for services as a player, coach and administrator in 2000. In 1998 Perkins was awarded an honorary doctorate of letters by the University of Western Sydney. Shortly before his death he was awarded an honorary doctorate of law by the University of Sydney. Perkins was named by the National Trust of Australia as one of Australia's Living National Treasures.
In 2001 The Dr Charles Perkins AO Memorial Oration and Dr Charles Perkins AO Memorial Prize were established in his honour by the University of Sydney. In 2009 The Charlie Perkins trust instituted two scholarships per year to allow indigenous Australians to study for up to three years at the University of Oxford.
Film and documentary
- 1993: Freedom Ride by Rachel Perkins, Ned R Lander – Australia – 55 minutes
- 2009: Fire Talker
- 2009: Remembering Charlie Perkins 56 minutes 38 seconds
Freedom Ride is part of a four-episode documentary by Rachel Perkins and Ned Lander. It tells a chapter of Charles Perkins' life. The Freedom Ride was a bus load of concerned white and black people, most of them university students, who visited several towns in rural and outback Australia to elevate public awareness of racial intolerance in Australia.
Fire Talker: The Life and Times of Charlie Perkins
This film by Ivan Sen uses archival footage from early 1960s to 2001 and builds an intimate and honest portrait of Perkins life bound inexorably with the most dramatic political shifts in Australian Indigenous policy.
Remembering Charlie Perkins
Perkins died in Sydney on 19 October 2000 of renal failure. During the 1970s Perkins had a kidney transplant and at the time of his death was the longest post-transplant survivor in Australia. In the period immediately following his death, he was known as Kumantjayi Perkins, Kumantjayi being a name used to refer to a deceased person in Arrernte culture. His body was returned to Alice Springs a week after his death.
- Read, Peter (2001). Charles Perkins: a biography. Ringwood, Victoria: Penguin Books. p. 351. ISBN 0-14-100688-9.
- Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) entry for PERKINS, Charles Nelson, Canberra, Australia: Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, 26 January 1987, https://www.itsanhonour.gov.au/honours/honour_roll/search.cfm?aus_award_id=872479&showInd=true. Retrieved 9 March 2015, "AO AD 87. FOR SERVICE TO ABORIGINAL WELFARE"
- Perkins, Charles (1975). A Bastard like me. Sydney: Ure Smith. p. 199. ISBN 0-7254-0256-3.
- Henningham, Nikki (27 February 2012). "Turner, Patricia". The Encyclopedia of Women and Leadership in Twentieth-Century Australia. Canberra, Australia: Australian Research Council. Archived from the original on 20 April 2018. Retrieved 15 August 2018.
- "Papers of Charles Perkins (1936–2000)". National Library of Australia. April 2002. Retrieved 20 January 2007.
- Perkins, Charles (5 May 1998). "Charles Perkins - Tape 3". Australian Biography (Interview). Interviewed by Robin Hughes.
I used to clean the toilets, down at South Sydney, and I used to do such a good job they said, 'Why don't you take this on full time?' I used to make them sparkle - all the public toilets round the place, and the one at South Sydney Depot, right down Redfern. And I used to clean them, I had no problem. Any job is a good job. And ah, you know if anybody else can do it I can do it.
- "Charles Perkins". University of Sydney. Retrieved 18 December 2012.
- Cockerill, Michael (20 April 2001). "Australian football loses a trail-blazer". FIFA. Archived from the original on 12 March 2007. Retrieved 20 January 2007.
- ""Immigration Nation: Part 3",".
- Benns, Matthew (7 August 2015). "Deported: Nancy Prasad was the little girl who helped bring down the White Australia policy". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 16 December 2016.
- Nicholls, Glenn. "Deported: A History of Forced Departures from Australia".
- "Charles Perkins – Obituary". The Times. The Times Magazine. 20 August 2000. Archived from the original on 21 April 2012. Retrieved 19 July 2008 – via European Network for Indigenous Australian Rights.
- "AFL: Charles Perkins brands AFL and ARL as racist". AAP. 24 May 2000. Retrieved 17 December 2008.
- Perkins, Charles (5 May 1998). "Charles Perkins - Tape2". Australian Biography (Interview). Interviewed by Robin Hughes.
- Jupp, James (2001). The Australian People: An Encyclopedia of the Nation, Its People and Their Origins. Cambridge University Press. p. 248. ISBN 0-521-80789-1.
- Funding for Indigenous Oxford scholarships (ABC News)
- "The Australian Football Hall of Fame". Football Federation Australia. Archived from the original on 7 January 2011. Retrieved 9 December 2008.
- "Dr Charles Perkins AO Annual Memorial Oration and Prize". University of Sydney. Retrieved 18 December 2008.
- "List of Treasures". National Trust. Archived from the original on 10 February 2007. Retrieved 18 December 2008.
- "Aboriginal resources > Movies > Freedom Ride".
- "Message Sticks, Australia's only Indigenous film festival celebrates its 10th anniversary" (Press release). Sydney Opera House. Archived from the original on 27 March 2012. Retrieved 9 March 2015.
- "Gordon Briscoe Remembers His Friend Charlie Perkins". Big Ideas. 6 November 2009. ABC News 24.
- "Hetty Perkins discusses kidney research fundraising". PM. ABC Radio. Retrieved 8 October 2009.
- "Should you name a dead Aboriginal person?". Creative Spirits, Jens Korff. Retrieved 18 December 2008.
- Perkins, Charles (1975). A Bastard like me. Sydney: Ure Smith. ISBN 0-7254-0256-3.
- Read, Peter (1990). Charles Perkins: a biography. Ringwood, Victoria: Viking. ISBN 0-14-013280-5.
- "Charles Nelson Perkins". National Archives of Australia. July 2004. Archived from the original on 28 August 2006. Retrieved 20 January 2007.
- "Charles Perkins". Australian Biography. Australian Government. 2004. Retrieved 25 October 2010.
- Classroom resources on Charles Perkins: Institutions, Freedom Ride
- The Charlie Perkins Trust for Children and Students
- Portraits of Charles Perkins in the National Portrait Gallery
| Secretary of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs
1984 – 1988