Charles Perkins


Early life

Charles Perkins was born in 1935 in the South Australian town of Alice Springs, to an Arrente mother and a Kalkadoon father. He was born into a big family, with 11 brothers and sisters. Although he was not part of the famed "Stolen Generation", he was removed from his home at Alice Springs Telegraph Station Aboriginal Reserve when he was 10, though not forcibly, and moved to St. Francis House, a school established by Father Percy Smith in Adelaide to educate young Aboriginal boys. Thus, he spent most of his childhood away from his parents and family. Charles Perkins had an unhappy childhood, and suffered from racial discrimination from his peers, and was treated as a inferior citizen or "second-class" by his peers and alienated socially. He was initially trained to be a fitter and turner at St.Francis House, but later discovered his talents for soccer and became a soccer player for the English professional club Everton in 1957, and then on his return to Australia with the Adelaide Croatian and the Sydney Pan-Hellenic Clubs. He would later marry Eileen Munchenberg in September 1961, and would have 2 children with her.

Education/ Early Career

Charles Perkins was educated at St. Mary's Cathedral in Alice Springs, before he was moved to St.Francis House in Adelaide at the age of ten. After that, he went on to study at the Metropolitan Business College, Sydney and the University of Sydney, where he graduated with a Bachelor in Arts in 1965, the first Aboriginal ever to graduate from university in Australian history. While studying at university, he also worked part-time cleaning toilets for South Sydney. Perkins also worked as an apprentice fitter and turner for the British Tube Mills company in Adelaide between 1952 and 1957.

Public Life


In 1965, he became famous as one of the leading activist involved in the "Freedom Ride", a bus tour around New South Wales protesting against Aboriginal discrimination. He was one of the leading activists of the group, students from Sydney University who called themselves the Student Action for Aboriginals. They aimed to heighten public awareness of the discrimination of Aborigines in society, and to expose discrepancies in living, education and health conditions and standards among the Aboriginal population. The Freedom Rides targeted the country towns of New South Wales, e.g.Walgett, Moree and Kempsey, where they hope to expose the blatant acts of discrimination.

In Walgett, a local RSL refused to allow entry for Aboriginal ex-servicemen who had served in two World Wars, not even on ANZAC day.Another example occurred in February 1965 when Perkins and some members tried to enter a swimming pool at Moree where the local council had banned Aboriginals from entering ever since its construction 40 years ago. For their actions, several hundred white community members pelted them with eggs and tomatoes in retaliation, and the members were even faced with physical opposition. The group ensured that all of this was broadcasted to the public audience through the television, radio, etc. and under public pressure, the Moree Council finally lifted the 40 year ban on Aboriginal swimmers.However, as soon as the Freedom Riders left the Moree Council retracted their decision, but the activists appealed again and the council finally lifted the ban permanently.

Charles Perkins was also instrumental in the 1967 referendum, as he and his company Foundation for Aboriginal Affairs advocated a "yes" vote in allowing the inclusion of Aboriginal people into the census and allowing the Parliament of Australia the right to make legislation only concerning Aboriginals, thereby granting them the rights of full Australians. The referendum became the most successful in Australian history, with 90.77% of the Australian community voting "yes".

In the post-referendum era, Charles Perkins first went on a Senior Research Officer with the Office of Aboriginal Affairs in 1969. However, in 1972, as a public servant he called the Liberal - Country Coalition government in Western Australia 'racist and redneck', and was suspended for alleged improper conduct.

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's policies on indigenous affairs and was renowned for his fiery comments. Australian ex-Prime Minister Bob Hawke once commented that he (Perkins) : "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 held the position of Secretary until 1988.

In 1989, In 1989 became Chair of the Arrente Council of Central Australia. In 1993 Perkins was elected Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission commissioner for an area of the central Northern Territory. In 1994 he was elected Deputy Chairperson of ATSIC.

There were also some controversial and inflammatory comments he said during his career, including that "Sydney will burn in the Olympics". This sparked outrage from many different quarters in society. Also, in May 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.

Due to his outspoken and passionate nature, and a slack regard to rules, Charles Perkins never stayed in one job for long, but he was aiming for one ideal, an ideal which we should all aim for, which is an unbiased Australia.

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