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.

Records relating to Charles Perkins held by the National Archives

The National Archives holds many records relating to Charles Perkins, and in particular his years as a government employee. You can search the collection to identify records.  Examples of the types of records held are listed in the tables below.


Title or description of record Date range Series number
Enquiry by Mr Charles Perkins regarding a position with the Department of Territories 1961–62 A452, 1961/761
Familiarisation visit to the Northern Territory by Charles Perkins prior to his visit overseas 1967 A452, NT1967/2371
Special Overseas Visits Fund – visits abroad – Charles Perkins 1967–68 A1838, 574/3/91
Charles Perkins – representations on policy and administration in Aboriginal Affairs 1971 A463, 1971/1328
United Nations – human rights – Australian Aboriginals and other minorities including Charles Perkins 1971–77 A1838, 929/5/3 part 4


Title or description of record Date range Series number
Interview with Charles Perkins re his life and his autobiography [ABC Radio sound recording] 1991 C100, 92/7/167


Title or description of record Date range Series number
Resource information database sheets (Broome) – media – C Perkins 'Charles Perkins on Beckers Broadside, ABC Radio' 1989 D4152, 768


Title or description of record Date range Series number
Charles (Charlie) Perkins 1961–62 D4082, WB86
Request for Kormilda College teaching assistants – for public discussion with Mr Charles Perkins 1968 F1, 1968/4700
Enquiry by C Perkins – re assistance in native welfare 1961–73 F1, 1973/461

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.

Photographic records relating to Charles Perkins

Title or description of record Date range Series number
Charles Perkins speaking at Aboriginal demonstration outside Parliament House during Queen's visit, 6 March 1974 1974 A6135, K7/3/74/12
Personalities – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander – Charles Perkins, Department of Aboriginal Affairs 1974 A8739, A16/7/74/3
Winners of shield and Charles Perkins, Rugby League Carnival, Cairns 1980 A8598, AK31/1/80/151
Personalities – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander – Charles Perkins, Secretary Department of Aboriginal Affairs at Aboriginal Embassy Anniversary 1982 A6135, K29/1/82/35
Personalities – Bob Hawke – with Clyde Holding and Charles Perkins 1984 A6180, 5/4/84/9


Other sources

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