Charles Nelson Perkins

Leader and public administrator (1936–2000)

Charles (Charlie) Perkins was born at the Alice Springs Telegraph Station Aboriginal Reserve in the Northern Territory in 1936. His parents were Arrente and Kalkadoon people. Removed from the Reserve at the age of 10 he was 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. On his return to Australia, he played with the Croatian club, Adelaide and the Pan-Hellenic club, Sydney.

While studying at the Sydney University, Perkins became increasingly active in Indigenous rights issues. In 1965 he gained notoriety by leading a group of fellow students on the Freedom Ride – a tour of rural New South Wales centres to highlight the discrimination that existed for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in many country towns.

Perkins joined the Commonwealth Office of Aboriginal Affairs in 1969. His career grew with the Commonwealth’s increasing role in Indigenous issues. By 1984 he was Secretary of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. A well-known national figure who often attracted controversy, Perkins resigned his post in 1988 after a clash with his Minister over financial mismanagement (the allegations were later dismissed).

In his later years Perkins returned to live in Alice Springs. He was elected to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) in 1993 and served as Deputy Chairman in 1994–95. He also served as a mentor to several of Australia’s Aboriginal athletes.

Photographic records

The National Archives also holds many photographs of Charles Perkins taken by the former Australian News and Information Bureau (later the Australian Overseas Information Service). Explore Recordsearch using the keyword term ‘charles perkins’ to identify relevant photographs. Some examples are listed below.

Other sources

A collection of Charles Perkins' personal records is held by the National Library of Australia.