Reading 8D: Charles Perkins

Charles Perkins 1936-2000

Charles Nelson (Charlie) Perkins was born at the Alice Springs Telegraph Station Aboriginal Reserve, NT. His parents were Arrente and Kalkadoon people. At the age of ten he was removed from the reserve and sent to a home for boys in Adelaide, where he completed his schooling. He qualified as a fitter and turner in 1952. A talented soccer player, Perkins played as a professional with English club Everton, and on his return to Australia with Adelaide Croatian and Sydney Pan-Hellenic.

While studying at the University of Sydney, Perkins became active in the Indigenous rights struggle and co-founded the group Student Action for Aboriginals. Inspired by the American civil rights movement, he led the 1965 Freedom Ride to NSW country towns, where he and fellow students protested against racial discrimination. That year Perkins was the first Aboriginal person to graduate from university.

In 1969 he joined the Commonwealth Office of Aboriginal Affairs. In 1975 he published his autobiography, A Bastard Like Me. By 1984 he was deputy secretary of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. A well-known and controversial national figure, Perkins resigned in 1988 after a clash with his Minister over allegations of financial mismanagement that were later dismissed.

In later years Perkins lived in Alice Springs. His lifelong love of sport led him to mentor several Aboriginal athletes. In 1993 he was elected to ATSIC, serving as deputy chairman (1994-95). He was honoured as one of the Bulletin's '100 Most Influential Australians' in 2006. Letter to the Editor I would like to enlighten E.J. Smith, who asked in a letter to The Australian on March 27 why part-Aboriginal people such as myself identity as Aboriginals.

Macquarie Pen Anthology of Aboriginal Literautre
Edited by Anita Heiss and Peter Minter
Allen and Unwin, 2008

 

Letter to the Editor

I would like to enlighten E.J. Smith, who asked in a letter to The Australian on March 27 why part-Aboriginal people such as myself identity as Aboriginals.

Firstly we were usually born on Mission Stations, Government Reserves or shanty towns. We received aid only as far as it was convenient for the white people. We were therefore identifiable to ourselves as well as white people as 'the Aboriginals'.

Secondly we were related by kinship, blood and cultural ties to our full¬blood parents or grandparents. This tie can never be broken merely because the degree of 'blood' may vary, or if white authority or individuals wish it so. An example of this is the NorthernTerritory where before 1956 an Aboriginal was any person with one drop of Aboriginal blood in his veins-the definition was reversed by law only some ten years ago. Very convenient for the law¬makers, but imagine its effect on the Aboriginal family. Aboriginals are not like white people. They love their children, whatever shade. Generally, in the past, the white people never really wanted us. When they did it was usually on their terms for sexual, economic or paternal reasons.

Thirdly many thousands of our people were forced to carry passes-much like passports-if ever we wished to mix in the white community. This carried our photograph, plus character references. We were labelled as fit and proper Aboriginals to associate with white people. I was one of the few Aboriginals in Adelaide who refused to carry a pass or 'dog ticket' as we called it. All my life, before I graduated from the University of Sydney, I was categorised by law and socially as an Aboriginal. Now that I have graduated I am suddenly transformed by people such as Smith, into a non-Aboriginal.

This conveniently puts me into a situation where I must, according to official assimilation policy, forget my people, my background, my former obligations. I am now 'white'. I therefore am not supposed to voice an opinion on the scandalous situation Aboriginal people are in nor am I entitled to speak any longer as a 'legal Aboriginal' . All this because I have received my degree and am in a position to voice an opinion. Or could it be that I, and others like me, could influence the unacceptable social-racial status quo in Australia?

Fourthly there can be no real comparison between a nationality and race.A nationality is a mere political or geographic distinction between people. Race on the other hand goes much further into the biological (colour) and cultural (kinship, customs, attitudes) field.

The Aboriginal people in Australia today-full-blood and part blood-do not want the sympathy of white people with an attitude such as Smith's. We have had enough of this in the past.

What we want is good education, respect, pride in our ancestry, more job opportunities and understanding.

It seems people such as Smith carry a guilt complex of past mistreatment, and would want to now stop the truth from being revealed, and hence control Aboriginal advancement.

If Australians would delve into our social history in a truthful manner they would be horrified at the result of the investigation.

The story is not a nice one and Aboriginals have suffered as a con¬sequence.

All our lives Aboriginals have lived in a secondary position to the white Australian.

I no longer wish for this situation. Therefore I, and approximately 250,000 others like me, claim our ancestry. We are Aboriginal Australians-proud of our country and our race.

1968

Macquarie Pen Anthology of Aboriginal Literautre
Edited by Anita Heiss and Peter Minter
Allen and Unwin, 2008