Having Charlie

Tim Rowse

  • Charles Perkins: A Biography by Peter Read
    Viking, 352 pp, $30.00, October 1990, ISBN 0 670 83488 2

There is no birth certificate to give a precise start to Charles Perkins’s story. The only Aboriginal Secretary of Australia’s Department of Aboriginal Affair’s entitles his 1975 autobiography A Bastard Like Me, turning his unofficial auspices into a metaphor for his irascible, unsettling presence within Australian political life. Stood down as Secretary in 1988, four and a half years after his appointment, his effrontery remains undiminished. As a consultant to the New South Wales Government, he has been implicated in debate over that State’s recent amendments to the 1983 statute giving Aborigines limited rights to land. Some New South Wales Aborigines have accused him of misleading the Government into supposing they would accept the amendments. Because his Arrente grandmother had children by a white miner, his family were known as ‘half-castes’, and were thus subject to officials’ improving efforts, which removed them from the influence of traditional ‘full blood’ Aborigines. Perkins’s mother Hetti was ‘dormitory girl’ in an institution, the Bungalow, dedicated to that purpose in Central Australia. Administrative fiat made most of the inmates adherents of the Church of England, and an Anglican priest, Percy Smith, saw a future for Charles other than as a stockman. Charles and several other boys would be saved by being sent to school in Adelaide.

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