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Fact Sheet 225

Charles Nelson Perkins

Indigenous 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, and on his return to Australia with Adelaide Croatian and Sydney club, Pan-Hellenic.

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 Indigenous people 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 a Deputy Secretary within 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 Straits 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 identify many of these records by conducting searches for items using the RecordSearch database, available in all reading rooms and on our website. Examples of the types of records held are listed below.

Title or description of records
Series & item no.

Enquiry by Mr Charles Perkins regarding a position with the Department of Territories


A452, 1961/761

Familiarisation visit to the Northern Territory by Charles Perkins prior to his visit overseas


A452, NT1967/2371

Special Overseas Visitor’s Fund – visits abroad – Charles Perkins


A1838, 574/3/91

Charles Perkins – representations on policy and administration in Aboriginal Affairs


A463, 1971/1328

United Nations – human rights – Australian Aboriginals and other minorities including Charles Perkins


A1838, 929/5/3 Part 4

Interview with Charles Perkins re his life and his autobiography [ABC Radio sound recording]


C100, 92/7/167

Resource information database sheets (Broome) – media – C Perkins ‘Charles Perkins on Beckers Broadside, ABC Radio’


D1452, 768

Charles (Charlie) Perkins


D4082, WB86

Request for Kormilda College teaching assistants – for public discussion with Mr Charles Perkins


F1, 1968/4700

Enquiry by C Perkins – re assistance in native welfare


F1, 1973/461

Photographic records

The Archives also holds many photographic images of Charles Perkins taken by the former Australian News and Information Bureau (later the Australian Overseas Information Service). These can be identified on the Archives PhotoSearch database, available in all reading rooms and on our website. Searches using the keyword term ‘charles perkins’, will identify relevant photographs. Some examples of the photographs held are listed below.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are advised that records in the Archives collection may include the names and images of Indigenous Australians, some of whom are now deceased.

Photographic records relating to Charles Perkins

Title or description of records
Series & item no.

Charles Perkins speaking at Aboriginal demonstration outside Parliament House during Queen's visit, 6 March 1974


A6135, K7/3/74/12

Personalities – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander – Charles Perkins, Department of Aboriginal Affairs


A8739, A16/7/74/3

Winners of shield and Charles Perkins, Rugby League Carnival, Cairns


A8598, AK31/1/80/151

Personalities – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander – Charles Perkins, Secretary Department of Aboriginal Affairs at Aboriginal Embassy Anniversary


A6135, K29/1/82/35

Personalities – Bob Hawke – with Clyde Holding and Charles Perkins


A6180, 5/4/84/9

Other sources

Further information on Commonwealth records relating to Charles Perkins can be found in the Archives guide, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People in Commonwealth Records: A Guide to Records in the Australian Archives ACT Regional Office (compiled by Ros Fraser, AGPS, Canberra, 1993), which may be consulted in all National Archives reading rooms.

A collection of personal records of Charles Perkins is held by the National Library of Australia (see Fact Sheet 2 – Addresses of other Australian archival institutions for contact details).

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updated July 2004

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