The Guardian October 25,2000


Caution: Some Aboriginal people may be offended by the use of the
name of a departed person and may wish to avoid this tribute.


A FREEDOM FIGHTER DIES

In May this year Charles Perkins was still the passionate activist as he 
heckled the Prime Minister in the Opera House, repeatedly shouting "say 
sorry!".

Dr Perkins, one of the most influential Aborigines of modern times, died in 
Sydney on October 17 aged 64.

He spent his life seeking justice and was a pioneer who made a significant 
contribution to the advancement of his people.

Charlie Perkins was born near Alice Springs in 1936 to an Arrernte mother 
and Kalkadoon father. He was taken to Adelaide by an Anglican priest to get 
an education. He was a member of the stolen generations because it was, as 
he said, "an offer my mother couldn't refuse".

He trained as a fitter and turner but his love of sport took him to England 
to play football for Everton from 1957 to 1959. He turned down a first 
division place with Manchester United and came home to play for Croatia. "I 
was homesick", he said.

In 1965 he led a busload of student on the Freedom Ride, inspired by the 
American example. They exposed segregation and racism in NSW country towns, 
the most notorious being Walgett and Moree, facing abuse, threats and 
violence as they picketed local pools, sports fields, hotels and cinemas 
demanding an end to the race bar.

Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation Chairperson Dr Evelyn Scott says: 
"The Freedom Ride changed Australia's comfortable self-image and played a 
part in building the pressure to hold the historic 1967 Referendum."

Dr Perkins graduated in 1966 from Sydney University, the first Aboriginal 
university graduate, and worked in many influential positions. From 1984 to 
1988 he was Secretary of the Federal Department of Aboriginal Affairs, the 
first indigenous person to head a government department.

He was a trail blazer, always outspoken, often controversial, always 
fighting for his people.

Dr Lowitja O'Donoghue said: "He has made a difference and contributed to 
making Australia a better and more just nation  and for this he will not 
be forgotten."

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