Charles Nelson Perkins – Fact sheet 225

Charles Perkins, Department of Aboriginal Affairs, 1974
Charles Perkins, Department of Aboriginal Affairs, 1974 (A8739, A16/7/74/2)

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 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 recordDate rangeSeries number
ItemInterview with Charles Perkins re his life and his autobiography [ABC Radio sound recording] 1991C100, 92/7/167


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). Search the collection using the keyword term ‘charles perkins’ to identify relevant photographs. Some examples are listed below.

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

Other sources

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

Copyright National Archives of Australia 2019