Australian Biography: Charles Perkins
In a life of exceptional achievement, Charles Perkins (b. 1936, Alice Springs, NT), soccer star, university graduate, Aboriginal activist and Canberra bureaucrat, has often been in strife. In this interview he gives his own account of the personal experiences that fuelled his great anger against white injustice and his determination to fight for Aboriginal rights. He was interviewed for Film Australia's Australian Biography series in 1998.
Interviewer: Robin Hughes
Recorded: May 5, 1998
This is a transcript of the complete original interview conducted for the Australian Biography project.
My mother was a very strong willed, highly principled person. She was an Arunta woman, an eastern Arunta woman and she was born at a place called Arltunga, which is east of Alice Springs about 180 ks. It was the gold mining area in the early days. before the turn of the century. and she was born there and brought up there, and her mother was Errerreke Nellie, which means ... and Errerreke means 'the sun' in Arunta. And, so she was brought up in that sort of environment and it was pretty tough. She was working in the gold mine ... in the gold fields there when she was about twelve [or] thirteen, and she had to cook and look after everybody as well, so ... because everybody had to ... because it was pretty tough to survive in those conditions out there - with the heat in the summer and the cold in the winter. But she was very, very much a person of the land, she was very much a person of the culture and her mother kept an eye on her. And she had a lot of children of course - my grandmother. But Hetti, my mother, was the strongest one. You know. she looked after everybody - kept an eye on everybody. And my father, well he was a Kalkadoon man from north-west Queensland and they are a warlike tribe that fought the white people and finished up being just about annihilated at a place called Battle Mountain just near Mount Isa. A few survived and their descendants live around there today and he's one of them. So, it was a combination of two strong tribes. The Arunta is [not] warlike. Their more peaceful, more introspective, more deep into the culture and the other, the Kalkadoon people, are very strong and warlike and really never take a backward step on things. And so that's where my father came from, and a combination of the two - well I think it's a good mix.
Never met my father at all until just before he passed away. And my mother never told me about him until I was about thirty-five-forty, and by that time he was getting on a bit. And it was really sad that, you know, I never knew who he was. I never really asked too many questions either. Didn't really want to know at an early age, because you're living a life and doing all sorts of things when you're a young bloke. But then later on you think, well you know where did I come from, where ... what stock do I belong to, and I think that's the lot of a lot of Aboriginal people today. You know, different fathers, different mothers, and it's good to sort of find out where you're roots are and then to make a connection, because there's a lot of family at the end of the line, in terms of your father. You find out they've got brothers and they've got sisters and so therefore you've got more aunties and uncles and then you've got cousins and then you've got brothers as well and sisters. So I had a whole family there waiting for me to discover them all and I discovered them all late in life and we're pretty close now. But it was a bit unfortunate I didn't know [them] earlier in life. But my father came to Alice Springs and had two children: one was my younger brother and the other was myself. And I was told he left me standing on the table when I was about two years old and he walked out of the house and I never saw him again. And I think that's the way it is in Aboriginal Affairs. It's a bit tough.
Oh, you know Aboriginal people they chase employment, work all over the place. You know it would have been very difficult in those times for Aboriginal people to get any sort of job, apart from being stock men and you know stock men's wages were fairly low anyhow. You know, tea and sugar and a few bob in your pocket but you work seven days a week from sun up 'til sun set. And so, you know, wherever you can chase employment even if it was that hard, well you went for it. And so Aboriginal men, particularly, moved all over the countryside you know and had relationships with Aboriginal women or other people, and that happened in my case.
Yeah, I had eleven brothers and sisters. And most of them have passed away now. But they were much older than me and they were all into various things. Some were in business. Some got into business. They were all pretty smart, quite frankly, and none of them had an education - not a skerrick of an education really. And it's unfortunate, you know, because they were really smart people in their own right - the girls and the boys, and if they'd had that education goodness knows what they would have done. And my eldest brother, of course - the eldest one he set up his own contracting firm in the Northern Territory. The first one. He used to build stock yards and run transport companies and put in wells and bores and so on and he couldn't even write his own name. My other brother managed a cattle station for nearly twenty years: managed it and he couldn't read and write either. And just imagine if he'd had an education because he was a very smart man and he still is and he's still alive. And the others, well we just took our chances. My sister and my youngest brother, well we had a reasonable education but what education you got when you're brought up in a ... as I was, born in a police compound, just outside of Alice Springs and I couldn't read or write until I was about ten, so it's not a very significant start in life from an academic point of view.
It was just about a mile north of the current Alice Springs. But the original Alice Springs, where I was born, and there was a spring in fact in the creek bed of the Todd River ... now it's called the Old Telegraph Station but before that we used to call it the Bungalow. It was a compound that was controlled and patrolled by the police and we all had to live in there and we weren't allowed to go out of there except on a Saturday night or a Sunday morning but we all had to be back by sunset. We weren't allowed in the town of Alice Springs. As the sun was going down we had to be out. And we weren't allowed to go anywhere outside of that compound unless by police permission. I was born into that, in a dormitory, and of course in my early life I was always in the women's dormitory all the time with my mother, and my younger brother, and my sister. And so all we knew was dormitory life. The men's dormitory, the women's, the girls' dormitory and that was the sort of situation we were confined to that, and this is Australia. Not South Africa.
No my grandmother was not allowed to come near the place.
Well that was the rule. That was the law. They separated everybody. Separated the part-Aboriginal people from the full blood people and they weren't allowed to mix. Part-Aboriginal people weren't allowed to speak the language. You weren't allowed to participate in the culture and, you know, the white people had those laws at that time. The welfare system operated and it divided families. I used to go and see my grandmother down at the wood heap a lot - you know, outside of the compound, and she was a woman of the bush. She could live in the bush no problem at all. She lived in the bush and was comfortable in the bush, but she used to want to come and see us. And she used to come and see her daughter, Hetti, which is my mother, and I can remember she used to sing out from the hills: 'Hetti'. I could hear that voice coming across the hills, calling out for Hetti, and my mother used to go and see her there. Sneak out and go and talk to her you know, and then have to come back.
Oh well, that was against the law. Sometimes she'd go and see her when she was obviously there, but didn't want to hang around too long because the police would have you ... would have her removed and you would be brought back to the compound. And as for me, well I used to just watch it. I was so young I really didn't understand it all. But you know, she used to come along and look at me, and look at the other two, and she used to know who I was. But she wasn't allowed to pick me up or talk to me or hold me or anything, my grandmother. It was against the law.
Well, I can recall you know being brought up there up to about seven or eight or nine, whatever it was, and I could remember the big spring in the water hole, that was created as a consequence of the spring in the Todd River. And we used to swim in that. That's where I first learned to swim. And we used to ride donkeys up and down the creek bed. I used to remember the dormitory we used to sleep in all the time. It was locked at night. You were locked into the dormitory at night. And I could remember the food we used to eat, which was pretty basic stuff. There was dripping, syrup on damper, corned beef - very elementary foods you know. Potatoes. And I can remember the army trucks coming past on the highway. We used to sneak out sometimes and go and watch them. I was a bit too young, but they used to throw tins of food off the army trucks and we used to pick them up and eat them. Like tins of jam. You know, they'd cut open a tin of jam and toss it to us and we'd eat half a tin of jam, or bully beef or what ever it was. I can remember all of those things. And I can remember, you know, having some fruits we weren't supposed to have and they used to give us a spoonful of olive oil. Line us all up. I can remember the army trucks that came and took away big numbers of the young people to Darwin, when the war started, when the Japanese were starting to come into the Top End. And they were all taking them. As ludicrous as it may seem, they were taking them to the war front. They were taking them from Alice Springs up to Darwin where the Japanese where landing or supposed to [be] going to land, and it just boggles the mind when you think about it now. I can remember them going off in the truck and I remember giving my pen ... I had a pen, and I gave it to one of the boys on the truck by the name of Joe Croft, one of the men, one of the young men. I told him, 'You can have the pen provided you write me a letter or something'. Well of course he never wrote a letter. Kept the pen, but I met Joe later on in life, and he's a relative of mine and so on, and most of us were relatives in that compound. And so those are the only memories I have. And the big date palms that are in the compound there I remember those - eating a lot of the dates. But it wasn't too bad an existence. You know, I was protected because I was a young child and everybody used to carry me around all over the place or look after me, as was the ... is the custom amongst Aboriginal people: you look after the young. The young never get left alone. They've got to be looked after and if they're not looked after and they get injured, well then you get injured for not looking after them. And that still is a custom today and it's a good one.
Well I used to always be frightened of white people and I'm still a bit frightened of them in a sense. Not so much that they scare the daylights out of me now but I still have some ... I'm apprehensive of them and I've a sort of ... They unsettle me sometimes. I don't know how to handle them. And because the white people used to come to the place. They were mainly government officials and they used to be dressed all in white: white shorts, white socks and black shoes. And that was a standard dress. They used to think they looked magnificent. Well they did, they used to scare the daylights out of me. As soon as they come, we all took off. We went around and hid. Got out of the road in case they were going to take us away to prison or remove us from our mothers or do all sorts of things. And we just didn't know because people kept disappearing from the compound for one reason or another and we never saw them again. Maybe there were good reasons, we don't know. But ... and so everybody said, 'Look out. The white people are coming again'. And so when that signal went up, everybody disappeared and went and hid somewhere and so did I.
Oh, there was a school. There was one room and I often go back to the old place now and have a look at the school - the room that was the school. But all I remember about the school, and in the early days there was no pre-school of course, when you've supposed to have some education when you get to grade one or two ... well I never had grade one or two, even though I was in the room for schooling. All I could remember is that the teacher being chased around the room by some of the bigger boys and people throwing things around the room, and some people scribbling things on the board, and me just walking in and out, as other people did. So schooling was just non-existent and we just learnt nothing there. There was a facade of course and nobody got any education at all. I think that the principal or the teacher might have tried but there was no discipline and nobody really cared. You know, the authorities didn't care. I mean they were able to say to other government authorities, 'Well look, we've got a school in the compound'. It was called the Bungalow actually, but there was nothing.
My mother was in charge of the whole compound, in terms of the men and the girls, you know. She was a sort of ... the real strong person and could keep the discipline amongst everybody, particularly amongst all the women and the girls, you know.
By strength of character and she could fight. You know if any one wanted a fight, she'd say, 'Right'. Men or women - she'd strip off to the waist, get a nulla nulla and they'd get into it, men and women. She didn't care. And she could fight and she was that sort of a person. She'd say, 'If you want to talk about it that's all right. If you want to fight, well let's fight'. But once it's all over, well everybody makes up and that's good about Aboriginal people. We all sort of have our disputes but we usually make up afterwards. And I think it's a good Australian trait quite frankly. But she was the one that was sort of like a matron of the whole area. She organised the meals and cooking. She organised discipline in the dormitories, cleanliness and all of that and really ran the place for everybody. Didn't get paid for it. Just got food and looked after us as well. But she was a very principled person - never drank or smoked in her life. And never really ... to my knowledge, never did anybody any harm. Always did them a good turn in preference to doing them a bad one.
Yeah. 'If you're not too sure' she always said to me ... Well you know, she used to sometimes put money on the table. Later on in life she'd put a penny on the table and that penny's got to be there, next week, the week after, the week after that. If it's not there, then you've stolen it. Well why do you want to be a thief? Just leave it. It's not your money. And, don't take what doesn't belong to you. And the other one she used to always work it out and I'll paraphrase her in this sense, she used to always say, 'If you're not doing the right thing you must be doing the wrong thing'. You know, that sort of stuff. And she always said to me, 'Well you know, you got to always speak your mind, say what you think'.
Yeah I think it is a problem when, you know, boys don't have a father figure or some father round the place, or somebody, you know, apart from the women ... you know, to have some man around the place that you can relate to a little bit more, and I think you feel that effect later on in life. You know, and I think it's important that you have ... that people can have a father in the home, well it's a good thing. You don't want them if they're going to cause problems and so on, but if they're reasonable then I think it's a benefit. And I felt all my life that ... you know, that I would've liked to have had a father to relate to and I'd had nobody. And, you know, the only people I'd had to relate is to boys the same as myself, and who were struggling to find answers to all sorts of problems and growing up and we all grew up together and helped each other. But when you're seeking advice and consolation and guidance from your peer group well it's not real good because they're making the same mistakes as you. And, you know, when you've make some mistakes some of them are fundamental and there's no going back. And some of the boys, like in the boys' home I was with, they made them and it took them right up the track and it's easy to make mistakes which can cost you your future. And I think with a father in the home perhaps those opportunities to make those sorts of mistakes are not very frequent you know. You're put on the right track early.
Yeah, yeah. My mother and I were very close, always, on everything. And that's why when I was sent down to ... taken down to Adelaide, to the boys' home down there, you know I think she really felt that very much, you know. Because she was in academic sense uneducated. She didn't have any skills apart from cooking and, you know, looking after house and washing clothes, and cleaning up house. They were the skills she had, in an employment sense, and you know, she was finding it very difficult but she felt she wanted to give me an opportunity for another life, you know, another situation. And so she denied herself my brother and myself, so as to help us get on the road [and become] much stronger and take opportunities she never had.
Well, you know, she was often thinking about it because she used to work in the cafes in Alice Springs you know. And at the picture theatres there and so on and a lot of the troops used to come in, and I was only a babe in arms in a sense, just a little kid walking around. But I used to sleep under the table when she used to be doing the cooking. And then she'd carry us, my brother and I, back home after it all. We'd walk. She'd carry one and the other walking. And so it was a pretty tough life and, you know, we [were] sort of bought up in that environment, living in Alice Springs with her cooking and cleaning and then us going to this tumbled down old house in the middle of Alice Springs.
Well, the bungalow was ... They sort of started to close it down and then we were allowed then into Alice Springs. And we were allowed only into a certain part of Alice Springs which is called Rainbow Town, which is just about a mile out of Alice Springs. As you go through Alice Springs, it's on the ... it's through the gap, through the Heavitree Gap into Alice Springs. The cottages, as they used to call it, was on the right hand side. They don't exist anymore, and that's where we were and the rest of the town was about a mile further up of course. And we weren't allowed into town again. But then gradually that was relaxed and you know more and more people allowed into to town to work and other things, but basically we had ... we all lived, all the part-Aboriginal kids of all colours, and that's why everybody calls it Rainbow Town - the white people as was well as ourselves, because we were all colours living there, on the outskirts of Alice Springs, in what they call the cottages. And they were just big cement houses, you know, and so we allowed to go there. And then later on we were allowed to go into Alice Springs more and I finished up being put in the hostel, the Church of England hostel in Alice Springs, with my brother, and that wasn't too bad, but it was, you know, an institution. And that was the beginning ... not the beginning but that was a different type of institutionalisation that I had to endure. It was okay, but my mother felt that was doing us a lot of good by being in that sort of a place. Then the Church of England priest, Father Smith, asked us to ... asked my mother, would the two boys like to further their education down in Adelaide, at a home he was setting up down there. And of course my mother thought it was a good idea and we thought it was a good idea but for other reasons, you know. We thought we'd go and have a look at the sea. I didn't think it was going to last any more than a week and I was going to come back again, which was a very silly thought in my mind. But I wanted to see the sea. I wanted to see a boat. But my mother said, 'No that's okay, let them go down there', and perhaps they can, you know, have more opportunities in life than she had. And so that's how we finished up down in Adelaide.
She saw your future as being with the white people. She felt that she really couldn't give you an Aboriginal heritage and so it was best for you to be educated for the white life. Was that how she felt?
No not so much. You see, the law was still strong then about being ... speaking the Aboriginal language, mixing with the Aboriginal culture. You know you just weren't allowed to, you know, the law was there. The restrictions were still there. The police were dominant. And they were then taking part-Aboriginal kids away from their mothers all over the place, you know. So the police were the power in ... as far as Aboriginal people were concerned. And they would just exercising that power at their own discretion. And so, she felt that, well, there would be opportunities down south and there wouldn't be so many in the Alice Springs. Because the only opportunities we had in terms of work was wanting to be a stockman, or be a railroad worker, and you know perhaps she thought there could be something else. And so that's why she allowed us to go down. And well, we didn't know any different. We thought, fine we'll go down there you see. And it's good in one way and bad in another. It took us away from our home, even though we didn't have a father in the home we had a mother, and that was good enough for me. But, you know, to move from Alice Springs to Adelaide, well there was for and against, and people have argued about it, and I've thought about it often, and I've asked my mother a lot but she said, 'No, it's a good idea. It gives you a chance for a good education'. Nothing to do with Aboriginal culture. She thought, I could pick that up later on. It's always there for me. It's part of my heritage anyhow. I can pick up whenever I want. I never lost it by going away from it because when you come back it's yours for the taking.
Oh, Father Smith, the Church of England priest, took a lot of us down there, you know, and established the boys' home. First of all in Adelaide in Norwood there, then later on down at Semaphore, in a big place that was a grand old hall and we called it St. Francis House, or he did. And the Church of England set up the big boys' home there. But much to our regret, Father Smith left after a couple of years and other people took over and then the Church decided they would close it. They didn't have enough funds to keep it going. Which was a real tragedy because it was producing some good results from a lot of the kids that went down there, even though you know they were separated from family and home. It did give them an opportunity to gain employment skills and education, which they wouldn't have got in Alice Springs. So that was all the ... that was one way of looking at it and the other was that they were separated from family and home.
Well, in any institution for any kid it's not very good, black or white. And, you know, all my life I've lived in institutions, been brought up in institutions, so I'm not part of the Stolen Generation in terms of physically being wrenched from my mother's arms, but the same thing: the principle is the same. You're taken away from your family, you're disorientated, you've got to sort of fend for yourself and we really had to fend for ourselves down there, and we had to fend for ourselves in the other places too, that we were in. But in the boys' home it's tough. You know, you've got people in charge of you. Some of them were good, some of them were bad. I mean I used to get a flogging with a rubber hoses, small chains, big sticks and all sorts you know. Once ...
No, not him so much, not him, but the other ones. And they were priests, and others were not priests. They were just men of the church you know. And they used to ... Well I used to get a lot of hidings. I don't know why, but I used to say things and do things that they objected to. And ...
I was. I used to say things to them and I never ... you know, I used to never cop any shit from them, and they used to object to my attitude. I always said things to them that they didn't like, you know, and nor did their wives. I wasn't submissive as they wanted me to be, and I really didn't want to be submissive. I wanted to sort of be my own person, and say what I wanted to say without trying to be discourteous to them, and it just got me into a lot of strife. I often regret that. [But] well I thought that was inevitable - that had to happen, you know, and that's the way things were. They finished up ... at the boys' home, at the end of it all, at about fifteen and a half, or yeah, about fifteen-years-old, they put me out on the road with a suitcase. No money, nowhere to go and they told me to get, to get going down the road. And I said to this priest, I said, 'Well where do I go?' He said, 'Well we don't want you here, you're too cheeky, too smart, you won't ... you're too disobedient. We don't want you in the home. You're causing problems'. And so I started walking down the road with me suitcase: nowhere to go. Very hard. But in the home itself, you know, the food was sometimes very bad, the common sleeping, well you can sleep and that was okay. But in all institutions there's no sort of great sort of comfort about it, there's no sort of privacy, there's no ... certainly no luxury. It was as institutions always are: very basic.
Well, when I first went down, I didn't. I used to wander the streets of Adelaide, eating stuff out of the gutter. I used to pick up grapes and half eaten apples and I used to go through the bins. Seems strange, doesn't it? And some of the other boys used to do the same. You see, they give you a good meal at night but it sometimes is only a plateful, and when you're a growing lad, you eat a lot. You know, when you are a growing lad you can eat a hell of a lot. And I used to be hungry after that, and I used to just go down the street and look for food. Well I had no money so I used to eat what I could find, wherever I could find it. I used to steal fruit off the trees in back yards, or if I see it in the front garden, I'd steal it and take off. Mainly nectarines and apples and oranges, or whatever. And if I see bread on a front verandah, I'd steal that as well. I used to do that and not many people know about that. But that's how I used to sometimes get full, because I was very hungry. I never used to complain to the priest in charge, but that's the way it was with me. It's very funny to eat a ... grapes, you know, like people had thrown in the bin or on the gutter. You go and wash it and it really tastes quite nice, especially when you're hungry.
Yeah, I was hungry a lot. Yeah.
What was the ... what was the difference for you as a bunch of part-Aboriginal kids going to an institution compared to say ... I mean a lot of white kids are sent away to boarding school and so on. What was the difference with your experience, coming down from Alice Springs to Adelaide as a group of Aboriginal kids?
I think it's tough for white kids in boarding homes, in institutions. I think it's basically the same I suppose. But for us we had that additional factor of, you know, we were sort of identifiable as being different. And, you know, and coming from a place with family and friends, down to another place like Adelaide where we knew nobody, none of the kids. But when I saw the sea, I walked into the sea, I thought this is lovely, I like to see a big pool bigger than a swimming hole up in the Alice. I thought the sea was a big pool. I don't know what gave me that idea. And I walked into it with me shoes on, and I tasted it and it was very salty, and I said, 'This is not a swimming pool. This is ... This smells'. It had seaweed all over the place and it stunk, you know, and the water was very salty. I was disillusioned right from the word go and I thought, now the only thing I've got to see now is a boat and I'll go home. Well I was down there for a bit longer than a couple of days, and I ... It began to dawn on me later on that, you know, I was there for quite some time. And so we started to sort of fit in as much as we could. We went to school there. But I remember one time, I was walking down the street, with a couple of lads, and I heard these young white kids behind us say, 'Let's get the niggers', and I thought, who are the niggers? Must be somebody else around the place. What's a nigger, you know. And they started throwing stones at us and I heard the same again, 'Let's get these niggers', you know, and I thought, that must be us. And then we started to run because they were big boys and they were throwing things at us and everything, and wanted to belt us up and so on. So we took off and that's when I realised that I was pretty different to other kids, and we all were, and we've got just to be careful. But that was the first time I heard the word 'niggers' and I was bit astounded by it, and when I realised I was the one that's being chased it was a bit of a shock. And from then on I thought, well, you keep an eye out, and watch people. And like the girls at the school, when we used to go to the schools and we used to meet the girls at school and so on ... and the primary schools ... and we used to have girlfriends, you know - boyfriend and girlfriend and so on. Well they were not boyfriend and girlfriend to me, and for some of the other lads in the daylight, but only in the pictures, when the lights went out, you know. They would only sit with us when it was dark because they didn't want to be seen with us in the light, which is a bit sad when you think about it. We didn't mind of course, because we enjoyed their company and so on, but as soon as the lights come on they'd walk away from us and we'd have to walk away from them.
Putting yourself back into that period of your life, can you remember what it was like for you inside your head, how you were reacting to racism and racist taunts and racist behaviour among your school mates?
Yes. I ... my childhood, from the time I left Alice Springs 'til the time I was about twenty-two, I hated every minute of it, and that was in the prime of my youth. I hated every minute of it. The only consolation I had was the fellowship and the comfort of the boys in the home. But being chased down the street as a nigger when I didn't even know what a nigger was; to be never invited, as I never was, to a birthday party of any of the kids in any of the schools - in primary school and in secondary school, as many of the other boys weren't invited; to never really have a girlfriend who would meet you in the daylight, talk to you in daylight; to be never invited to anybody's home, ever, as a friend; to go to school without with even a pair of sand shoes at times ... I played in the semi-finals of the tennis tournament at the technical school, high school, with bare feet 'til somebody loaned me a pair of sand shoes and a racquet, and I'd never played tennis in my life and I got to the semi-finals. To never have a decent lunch at school, where nobody is prepared to swap with you, because your lunch was so bad, and to have not really any good clothes that you feel you can go out with, anywhere, well that scars you for life. All of those experiences. And I always declare myself not a bitter person and I don't think I am, because I think bitterness churns you up and makes ... distracts you from, you know, your goals and the reality and your relationships, but I never forget. And I really can't forgive Australian society, and I know lots of other kids were put in the same situation, that's ... and I don't deny that. But I'm only talking about myself and my experiences, and I carry the scars and I will carry them to my grave. But it makes you feel inferior, that every day you feel, you know, that people are putting it on you and they are trying to put you down, and I always felt, no, no bastard's ever going to put me down, and I'm not going to take no shit from nobody. And if I don't agree with anything well I'm going to tell them. And I always felt that right from the very beginning of my life, you know, that that is the way it was going to be with me, and I got into all sorts of strife, and I got more hidings than I can recollect. I got denied meals at night, told to go to bed without having a meal, weren't allowed to go to pictures or outings because I was insolent or disobedient. Insubordinate, was the word often used, and I was. So all these things created a youth for me, a childhood and a teenage and a young person's life that ... that leaves me with no good memories. I have no good memories. Somebody's taken ... I feel white Australia's taken my life from me.
Given that you were punished so much for this spirit that you maintained, why didn't you do what so many of the other boys I think did, which was to just give up and surrender to their way and learn to say, 'Yes sir, no sir three bags full sir'. Why didn't you do that?
Well, I think the boys adapted in different ways. I adapted in the way that I knew how, that I felt was the way to go, and they did it ... they didn't really agree with it either, but they sort of went around it, and worked the system out to suit. And they didn't sort of ... not all of them submitted to it all and just gave up. No, quite the contrary they sort of, you know, they decided they weren't going agree with that but they were going to handle it different than me. And they did, and quite successfully so. But they had a different nature to me, you know. Everybody is different and we handle problems in different ways. Well, my way of handling it, which is not necessarily any of the other boys' way of handling it, was to say, 'Well, look stuff it, you know. I'm not going to cop this'. And I used to look the priest or the superintendent in the eye, and I used to get it as a consequence. And I used to get my chest poked in all the time with their fingers and they used to take me in the room and belt the daylights out of me with a big stick, just because I wouldn't say 'yes' to them, I wouldn't say 'yes sir' to them. And I think that was a bit unfair. But that's the way it was.
Nothing. A waste of time. I never learnt very much at all. I failed everything, every class I think. The only time that ... the only reason I got from one grade to the other was, as they say, the saying goes, your eye outgrew the seats. But I just got the basic pass and then went on to the next level and went on to the next level. And I was a miserable academic because I didn't ... nobody really encouraged me to learn anything, I couldn't see the point of learning. Nobody ever said to me, 'Now listen, learn all of this because this is what you'll get as a consequence of achieving good academic scores, or having this information in your mind about you know the way things operate'. You know, there was no father figure around you see - nobody you could turn to. Now the priests were all good at, in that sense they did what they had to do, particularly Father Smith. He was good you know. He helped you with your homework and so on. But when he was gone after two years, and before that, there was nobody you could turn to, to say, 'Listen, why should I do my homework? Am I doing my homework right?' so there were times when I hardly did any homework and I never took an interest in the studies at all. And I was always down the bottom of the class because I just didn't know what it was about.
Oh yeah, well everybody had an expectation of that nature about us, that you know, we were good at sports: we could fight, we could run, we could jump, we could kick a football, we could do everything. And we could. We could fight everybody in the school and belt them all up. Not me, because I wasn't a great fighter but the other lads could, and they could run fast, play football good, any sport, and we were good at all of that you see. So we got our satisfaction out of that, but in the academic sense none of us did very well at all, because nobody really took an interest in us in terms of academic achievement, which is ... which is ... you know, shows up today, because I'm an uneducated person and most of us haven't got a really good basic education.
Well, it came to us naturally. You know, we just played sport, and when a bloke says, 'Kick a football', you just grab it and you kick it, and you kick it further and better than anybody else. And somebody says, 'Where did you learn that from?' and he said, 'Well I just kicked it'. And the same with soccer. When I ... soccer's been my ... Aboriginal Affairs and soccer have been my passions, have been where I could work out my problems, through both of those two things. Soccer because I could relate to the ... to all the ethnic groups and migrants, where I got my relationships, where I got my fellowship, where I got my satisfaction, where I developed my lifestyle. Not with the ordinary Australians. I hardly knew any ordinary Australians. You know they didn't want to know me so I didn't want to know them. But the migrants usually did. And then soccer was where I got my other great satisfaction from, my fulfilment. Previously it was Aussie Rules, I was good at that ...
Aussie Rules, Aussie Rules was the one. Yeah, well I was good at Aussie Rules. I could have played for Port Adelaide. I could have been a good Aussie Rules player. My nephews and my cousins were all ... played for the top teams. And you know, we could play any sport. Every type of sport we played rugby union, rugby league, Aussie Rules, we beat all the white kids hands down, no trouble at all. And it just came to us naturally. And I was sitting one day, when I was about fourteen at the boys' home, and we were on a big stone fence just in front of the house - about twenty or thirty of us sitting and watching these lads, and somebody said to me, 'They're playing soccer. And you know watch what they do, they hit it with their heads. In a minute they put it on top and hit it with their heads'. And we waited for that and we thought it was really funny that these people bounce the ball off their heads. And then they were playing with the ball and I thought geese it looks interesting to me, and I ... They came over to us and said, 'Listen, we want to play with someone. Would you boys form the other team for us? We're the under-eighteen team'. They were, and we said, 'Yeah, we'll play'. So we played them, and they were the state under-eighteen team, all ready, trained ready to go, and so we formed a team and I said, 'Well, where do we stand and what do we do?' They said, 'You get the ball. Don't touch it with your hands, and you kick it in the net'. 'Oh', we said, 'That's easy'. So we beat them about eight nil. And they said, 'You know that's so easy'. And I enjoyed the game. And I said, 'Well, look, what else do we do?' They said, 'Well you can go now because we want to get on with our training. You're not supposed to beat us, we're the top team'. So our lads were good, and I said ... from that day on, I said, 'Well, I'm not playing Aussie Rules anymore. I'm going to playing soccer', because I really enjoyed it. And from then on, the next year, I played in the juniors and the year after that I was the youngest person ever to play in the first division in South Australia. And I enjoyed it. It was great. But it brought me into the migrant community, where I found great satisfaction and no prejudice, no history of bad relations, no sort of embarrassing conversations, no derogatory remarks, and they just welcomed me into the fold and I've been there ever since.
Oh Port Adelaide was the team, Port Thistle, in the Port. And I grew up in the Port you see, in that sense, and that's why I'm a Port Adelaide Aussie Rules supporter, and I still am today, after all these years. Once you're in the Port you grow up in the Port, you stay with the Port, you know, the Port area, and Port Adelaide. It's a tough area, very tough, you know, but we sort of made a lot of good friends there, you know, in amongst the white people and all the people we went to school with. They're all pretty good to us and we're good to them, and we relate to each other in a sense. And, so I have a great feeling for Port Adelaide and for anything that comes from Port Adelaide and that's where I started my football career - soccer career.
I'd finished school then I think. I must have been a bit older. Must have been fifteen. Must have been in my first year of my apprenticeship, yeah.
As a fitter and turner.
Well the teacher at school told me. He said, 'Charles', he said, 'Charlie Perkins', he said, 'Come here I want to talk to you'. He said, 'Look, you're pretty dumb'. He said, 'You're not very good at school. You're marks are very poor because you haven't got much brains'. This is what he said to me. He said, 'You all ought to do some trade'. Everybody was told to do a trade in those times of course. He said, 'But you won't be able to do some of the high level trades because you haven't got the intelligence for that', and I was going, 'Yes, yes that's right. Yeah. True', you know. I was agreeing with it all. I thought well he must know, he's a teacher, I'm not, and he knows my marks are very poor, as I knew they were, so he said, 'We'll see if we can get you in as a fitter and turner'. So I went. They communicated with the priest and the priest took me to one of the industries there and they got me in as a fitter and turner, but after a lot of hard bargaining, you know, to get me in, and I hated every minute of that trade, that I was put in to. Every minute, I hated. Now, I don't want to ... I'm not rubbishing the firm or the other premises that I worked with or the people in the factory, but it wasn't me, you know. I mean why wasn't I asked to be an artist, or an airline pilot or a dentist, or a sweeper in the streets or something else, you know, but I was put into something that I obviously disliked. But I did it though, I did the whole five years. But when they turfed me out of that boys' home, it would have been in the first year of that apprenticeship, of a five year apprenticeship. And I was earning about three and a half pounds a week and I had nowhere to go. So I walked to the bus stop and I thought will I go to the left or will I go to the right, so I went to the right. And I went to a place called Rosewater, which is still in the Port. And there was a big boarding house there. So I knocked on the boarding house, [looking for a] room, and I knew there was an Aboriginal lad in there and I thought, I'll see if I can come in with him because I know he's staying here. So I went in there and the lady, a pretty rough lady, pretty rough boarding house ... they were mostly all drunks, so I said, 'Can you give me a room?' and so she worked out to take three pounds out of my three pound ten shillings a week, and so I had ten shillings a week to sort of get my lunches and all the rest of it. So I had to cycle nearly seven miles to work and to cycle seven miles back. And I hated what I went to and I hated what I came back to. So what an enjoyable life! And ...
No, only in soccer. Only in soccer. Nothing else. I find ... and the white Australian girls, I didn't like them at all. I thought they were ... when they get good looking and they've been successful, they get really snobbish, you know. And that's why I still think ... they are the same today, I think. I haven't got much regard for white Australian girls.
In the sense of ... in the sense of, you know, I can relate, I can talk, I can appreciate them, but I keep going back to those years when I was a young person, between the ages of fifteen to twenty-one, twenty-two, and I'll tell you why in a minute. They ... they treated me, and all Aboriginal kids and people very badly indeed. Maybe they treated everybody else the same, I don't know. But ...
Very rarely, because I didn't have any money. I used to walk nearly three miles to go to a picture theatre, but I couldn't buy any drinks because I didn't have any money. And, you know, I was an apprentice and I only had ten shillings, so I used to go out once a week and I ... I remember celebrating my birthday with a bottle of coke and a packet of sultana biscuits by myself on the bed. And you know, so all of my life, between the ages of ... I'd say between the ages of twelve and twenty-two, has been taken away from me by white Australians. They took it from me. There was no happiness in all that. And being in that boarding house was a real unnerving experience. If it wasn't for my ignorance I wouldn't have been able to put up with it. But you know, when you're ignorant, you don't know, you put up with things, don't you? In your ignorance, and it's a great saving thing quite frankly. And so in the boarding house most of them were drunks and so on, and this lady used to lock the fridge up. If you weren't there at a certain time you'd get no meals. So you can't buy anything because you haven't got any money, so you'd just go without. And when you've got a broken-down old bike and you've got to travel seven miles to work and seven miles back, often it's raining, and if the bike tyre punctures, and you got no money to buy an extra tyre, you walk. So it's pretty hard. And who do you turn to? There's nobody to turn to. None of your family or nothing there.
Well, I don't know really. I've often wondered about that. I thought, why shouldn't I pack it in, but I felt you know obliged to follow something through. I thought this may be my ... this may be helpful to me later on in life, to get the trade. Everybody was saying, 'Get a trade, get a trade, get a trade, then you can go anywhere'. And I thought, well why not, but nobody was able to tell me 'Well don't get a trade because you're no good at it anyhow and you don't like it. Why don't you take up soccer full time, professionally, because you're good at that and go overseas to England now when you're sixteen or seventeen. Go over there and try your luck out', which I should have done. That's what I should have done. And nobody told me that until later on when I was finishing my apprenticeship, an old man by the name of Bob Hall, said to me, 'Charlie', he said, 'You should have been over in England three years ago, four years ago. You can still go over there now, but you should have been over there three years ago'. I said, 'Bob, I should have met you three years ago'. And he was a great old Scotch man, he was. I had a lot of Scotch friends you know. Most of them that I mixed with were Scotch and English and Irish. I never mixed with Australians. You know they didn't want to know me and I didn't want to know them. I didn't like their attitude to Aborigines you see. Even, you know, different ... the sporting clubs they treat you differently. When I was playing cricket for a club in Adelaide - I won't say the name of the club - but it was a just an average district club you know with ... where you have a number of good teams in the district. It wasn't at the highest level. I was the best cricketer in the team. I used to score all the runs. I used to bowl everybody out and so on. But when we used to go to the hotels, and I wasn't a drinker, you know, I was too young to drink in many cases I, they'd serve me through the window. Everybody else was inside drinking up, but they wouldn't allow me to go in because I wasn't allowed to go in because I was an Aborigine. So I had to stand on the footpath and they'd hand me a glass of lemonade through the ... with the publican's permission, through the window and I wasn't allowed to come in the door. And you sort of ... It gets at you a bit after a while, you know. Sort of annoys you a bit. But I sort of think, I thought, oh well that's the way it is, I don't want anyone into trouble, but then I didn't turn up to that anymore. I just said, 'I'm not going to go and have a drink. See you later fellows'. So I used to just play cricket with them and they'd go one and I'd go the other. We lived in different worlds.
They weren't allowed to because it was against the law. You know, that was the law, and at that time you had to carry a passbook with your photograph and your fingerprints and two recommendations - one from a policeman, and one from priest, to say you can walk the streets. That's not South Africa, this is Australia. That's why I always say to people, and they really annoy me, is when they say, 'We're not going to have this black arm band history carried into the future', like John Howard says and a few others. It's all right for them to forget about history because they've never had that. They don't have to worry about it. They can pick it up or leave it as they choose, but we had to live that you see, and you get started with all of that and you can't help but carry some of that with you today and possibly into the future. It was very difficult.
When you're describing the difficult things that you had to endure, there are two elements to them: one was the part that had to do with you being an Aborigine and being restricted and limited because of that, the other was the extreme poverty which, of course, you shared with very poor whites as well. Of those two, which hurt most?
I think they both hurt the same. One sort of was heaped upon the other. You know, it's an indignity for anybody to live in poverty stricken circumstances. It's much more difficult when you're a young person, striving for something and you're restricted by funds, from exposing your youthful potential in whatever direction you want to. And you just ... so you bury your youth with the expectation, well all things will come to you when you've finished your apprenticeship, or you're into the twenties, or whatever. And so you waste those wonderful years between the ages of twenty to twenty-one. And lots of people have probably have had that same experience. So it's a lost youth. It's all gone for what? Really for nothing, for nothing. And you know, to have the experience of people relating you ... to you in an inferior way, looking down upon you all the time, and being embarrassed by your company, and talking to you in a derogatory manner, you know why do you have to put up with that? You know, and we had to put up with that in Australia because we didn't know any different, and white Australians didn't know any different, because that was the way, that was the way it was, and they thought, well what's different, why shouldn't we? He's only a nigger, or he's an abo, or he's a 'boong', so we've got to treat them in a certain way. Don't invite them to birthday parties. Don't be seen with them in public or, you know, don't take him into your own home because it will be embarrassing for you. That was a way of life, and you know, but if I had somebody, a father, or somebody that was older that could talk to me, that was an adult, that was my friend, he could have just said to me, 'Don't worry about this. Go to England, go to Europe, go to Africa, go somewhere else, go to South America, and then be yourself'. And what I regret most of all is not allowing myself to come out, you know, to be what I want to be, to experience things in my youth that would have guided me in my adult life, and put me on the path earlier. Who knows what a person could have been. One of the things I regret most of all, is that never having a good education. I'm not an educated man, a very uneducated man, but I regret not having a good education, because I love the power that education gives you. I think it's great and that's why I went to university because I felt that I couldn't express myself. I didn't understand concepts. I didn't have ... I couldn't associate ideas. I couldn't talk to people eyeball to eyeball. I always used to look on the ground most of the time and shuffle my feet, because I felt I wasn't a competent person. I felt what they were trying to make me all the time was an inferior person, and so I had to act in that way. So I played their game to suit them and not myself, whereas if I'd had somebody to come to me and say to me, 'Listen here's your ticket, go to South America and live there for a year and then you'll see, you'll discover yourself', I would really have appreciated that.
I did. You know it was a bit late. I should have ... I should have broken off my apprenticeship. Maybe I should have gone years before. I should have said, 'Stuff this, who wants to be a fitter and turner?' Sure lots of people did. Good luck to them but not me. I'm not good at it anyhow. And I should have gone. But I met a lot of Scotch and Irish people, Ferguson, McCabe - they were really good to me. They didn't have anything themselves but what ever they had, we shared, so I found fellowship and comfort within them, you see. And they were good to me. They treated me as an equal. They just treated me as they found me which I loved, you know. And that's why I still find that I mix mainly with Irish and English and Scotch people because ... and migrants, because they treat me as they find me. And I think that's good. But when you mix with white Australians they qualify the relationship all the time. It's always qualified, they know. You can feel it in their minds, you can feel it in their vibes. It's there in the air. It's there in the words. It's there in too much kindness, too patronising or too abrasive or too stand-offish, RSL stand-offish, you know, 'We rule the world and you know, you'll all do as we say'. And so that was the sort of atmosphere which I was brought up in which is very unhealthy. And you know, it's not healthy at all. It's not good. But my saving grace was, two [things]: one my ... my soccer and then mixing in the migrant world.
I finished my apprenticeship. I think I was about twenty-two when I took off for England, but it was under circumstances that weren't very good. Everton Soccer Club invited me for trials over there, paid my way over by boat. By the time you get over there it was a month, you know, you're not fit. So I got over to England when I wasn't fit. I didn't know anybody in England, but I said to my friend Bob Hall, who by that time had gone back to England, I said, 'Meet me at the London railway station'. Well the London railway station - there's fifteen of them and they're all huge like Central Railway Station only more: fifteen or twenty or whatever. So we had to work that out when I got off the boat and travelled there. I had all my ... I had most of my bags stolen in Paris, by some Arabs. They said, 'Oh, we'll help you across the road', you know. And I said, 'Oh, what good blokes'. I got across to the other side but nobody else was there. You know with the busy traffic. I had my first experience of, you know, don't trust everybody. So they took off with all my bags, which wasn't very much anyhow. They didn't have much to share amongst themselves. I only had one shirt and it had only one arm, a white shirt with one arm, so I had to keep my coat on all the time.
Yeah, the sleeve had come off. I'd lost it somewhere or other. So I was pretty badly off and when I got to Liverpool, when they took me up there, I didn't have proper boots. I didn't have proper training gear, and when I got to the training ground, they were all super fit and I wasn't. So I had to get fit. So I ... I really ... See there was nobody there to advise me and that has been the story of my life. Nobody's been able to say, 'Excuse me, don't go to England until you get fit', or 'Don't do this', or 'Make sure you get a good education', or 'Don't go in to be a fitter and turner, do something else. Go and be a rock climber or, you know, a park ranger or neurosurgeon or something else'. And so when I got to England I was unfit, and I started training with the boys there and so on, they were all Scousers you know, Liverpool Scouse, and they were a pretty tough lot, and I was working on the Mersey River, you know, in the shipyard, on a boat called British Justice of all things and that's what they never gave you: British justice. But at least I was there, and they didn't care and when I said, 'Look I'm an Aborigine'. They said, 'Well what's that?' Nobody wanted to know about it and nobody knew what it meant. They said, a couple of them were talking and they said, 'No, that's them people from New Zealand, they call them Maoris'. I said, 'No, I'm not a Maori. I'm an Aborigine'. But you know it was too hard for them, they just didn't understand. So I just didn't bother. And I used to work for them there and they used to drop ... when you have a welding rod, you weld until just a little bit of it is left in the ... and you break it off and you get another sort of stick in there and you weld away again, if you follow what I mean. And they used to drop it on me, when I was down below, playing games. So I said to them, 'If you carry on like that, you know, we're going to have an argument here', and it's a good thing we never had an argument because they would have given me a hiding, because they could all fight you know. But I was prepared to stand up for myself. I wasn't going to take that shit from, doesn't matter who they were. And so we come to an arrangement. But with the soccer, when I was training with them, when I finished work and all, it was a bit hard, because they were all pretty well full time pros and I got friendly with most of the first team lads and I used to train with them more often during the day time. But their skills were far better than mine, you know, because I was never coached in my life in soccer. I just picked it up naturally. You know I just played and they said, 'Kick it in the net', and so I kicked it in the net and nobody said, 'Do it this way because it's easier or you do a dummy', and all that sort of thing. I never had those coaching techniques that were shown to me. But there in England ... but what happened to me was I was playing in the second team one day against Birmingham City, I think it was, and the coach from the side line was yelling out to me and the ground was bogged. It was just a quagmire, and I ... he was yelling out to me, 'Come on you kangaroo bastard'. He was yelling at me all these sorts of things you see. Kangaroo something and kangaroo this you know, making a gig out of me. So you know, while the game was still going on I just went over to the side line, and grabbed him by the collar, and I said, 'You say another word and I'm going to flatten you'. Well you never do that, in those times it was 1960s, you never did that. Nobody ever did that. When the ... they call them gaffers, you see, bosses. You never answer back. You never say anything to them that will cause them any displeasure and you certainly don't threaten them. Well I grabbed him by the collar and I said, 'You sit down and you shut your mouth, or I'm going to belt you one'. So he sat down and shut his mouth. But he dobbed me in to the big manager called ... a bloke called Ian Buckham, so when we went back to the Everton, Guddeson Park in Everton, he called me and he said, 'What are you doing?' And I said, 'Look nobody talks to anybody like that. I'm not going to take that crap from him'. You know I said, 'That's not right'. I said, 'I'm just getting ... well going now and it will take me another month before I'm fit'. He said, 'Oh you'll have to apologise to him'. I said, 'I'm not going to apologise to him'. I said, 'I'll flatten him again if he wants to carry on with it'. So the bloke came up and I said, 'You just behave yourself, talk nice to people. If you want me to anything I'll do it'. So he apologised to me. And you know that was a bit new. Nobody had ever had that happen. So he said, 'Look I'm sorry about that'. And I said, 'No that's all right but, you know, you tell me what to do and I'll do it, but don't carry on like you were doing out there'. And so Buckham said to me, 'We'll give you a term. You can play part time'. And I said, 'Nah, I'm going. I don't like you people'. I said, 'Not after how you've treated me here'. I said, 'I don't like your attitude'. But the attitude was the same everywhere, only I didn't know. So I said, 'I'm going,' and they said, 'Where are you going?' and I said, 'I don't know'. I didn't know no bastard at all. I didn't know anybody. And so I said, 'I'll just leave'. So I grabbed my gear, got out of the people's place that I was lodging with, near that racecourse, Aintree Racecourse in Liverpool and I took off for a place called Wigan. And I bumped into a coal mining family there and they asked me to come and live with them, so I went and stayed with them. And they were really wonderful, wonderful. They lived in a humble little cottage with rows and rows of coal miners houses, you know, with no verandahs, just doors about ten yards apart, you know and about sixty of them and sixty on the other side and another seven streets like that. Well I used to keep going to the wrong one all the time, and I used to come home at night and I'd open the door and walk in, and I'd say, 'What's going on here?' And they'd say, 'Well who are you?' and I'd said, 'Well where's Mr Tilly's place?' 'Oh well they're three streets over'. They used to get used to me walking into the wrong place because it's dark a lot you see. It's dark and misty and foggy and you'd get mixed up. And so as to make sure I used to look up the street sign and then I'd be right, but they all looked the same to me. They're all the same houses, all the same curtains on the windows as well and they all polished their doorsteps, you know. And I used to always remark that they're really clever, kind, clean people, who keep cleaning the doorsteps all the time but I used to skip over it. But they are wonderful people and I love the English people. I just ... I mean a lot of people in Australia denigrate the English, you know, but look, the English were the first people that gave me the hand of friendship when I was over there. They didn't worry about Aborigines, didn't worry about who you were. They just took you as they found you, and I ... that was the first time in my life, when I went over there, regardless of the football, that I felt you know, I'm myself. I met Charlie Perkins.
Well I was a fitter and turner. I, you know, had qualified and [was a] welder, and so I was able to find employment in the shipyards there on the Mersey River at Camerlads (?), and so I found that sort of employment. But then, when I moved to Wigan, after leaving Everton Football Club, I worked in the coal mines, Mosley Common Colliery (?) near Manchester, between Manchester and Wigan, and that was a new experience for me. But ...
Not that I can remember, no. But there was another Aboriginal person there at the same, Wally MacArthur, one of the boys from the home. So I was able to relate to him, but he was living in a place called Lea. And you know I was living in Wigan. So we sort of related to each other, but he definitely did work in a coal mine and he played top grade rugby league over there in England for about ten years. He was great, a wonderful athlete. A world class athlete. But to work in a coal mine is an experience that you only have to have once in a lifetime and the shorter the period the better, preferably one week. You know a year's too long. It's just ... it's just so different.
Well, when I used to go down the pits I'd do nothing, because my mate and I - he's passed away now, a fellow called Terry O'Grady. He used to play on the right wing, on one of the wings for England, for Great Britain. And he's toured over here in Australia several times. He used to work in the same colliery and same for a fellow called Frank Griffin. He was a top grade rugby league player. Well Terry O'Grady and I used to go down the mine and we used to just do nothing, as little as you possibly can. Everybody else was working. And sometimes we'd just huddle into a corner, switch off our lights and have a bit of a sleep. That was the easy part, that was the good part. But when we were up on the surface of course you had to really work because you had the, they call them the gaffers up there, and watching you all the time. But it wasn't the place to be. And naturally my heart wasn't in that sort of work any how (car horn sounds). It was dirty, filthy, driven high winds driving coal in your face all the time, embedding it in your skin, and you know, in winter time it was freezing. And when you get down in the pits, right down below it's warm, and then, you go down when it's dark and you come up when it's dark in England. What sort of a life is that? And the money wasn't that good, and often times it was dangerous. But we played our part. I played my part there, but, you know, I didn't like the experience.
Well, I got on very well with them. As I said before I found the English people, and particularly the Lancashire people, they're very friendly - the young Lancashire people. And the Yorkshire people and the Geordies. We'd drive to Newcastle. But these people in Wigan, in Lancashire, all round there ... As I said the Scousers, you know, around Liverpool, they're not so friendly. You've got to get in with them for a long time before they accept you. But Lancashire people are generally very good indeed. They're very earthy people, very friendly. They just take you as they find you, you know and they're not that wealthy. They sort of ... you have what they have and if you can put up with that and cop that and you accept that, well then that's fine, and you go along with it. And I did. I was able to move amongst them very easily and I used to go to all the dances all the time, and I used to go to the pubs with all the blokes even though I wasn't a drinker. And I used to sing along with them and enjoy it. And nobody ever came and asked me did I have a ticket to be there, or you know, nobody ever called me a 'boong' or a nigger. They always wondered who I was. I was sometimes taken for a dark Greek or Italian or Maori and so on, but nobody really bothered with that. They didn't want to know. They knew I was an Australian. They were very pleased with me being an Australian. They liked Australians. So they were lovely people, lovely people, and I stayed, as I said before, with Mr. and Mrs. Tilley in Wigan, and they just treated me as a son.
I had dozens of them, and the English girls are very nice, not like Australian girls. Australian girls don't seem to have any class, and they don't seem to you know ... they just something ... sort of not so much reserved, but they're not natural. They don't sort of fit it and work around and want to enjoy themselves. They don't have to be promiscuous or loose, but they're just sort of ... With English girls you can have a good time and enjoy yourself and they're very friendly. They invite you into the home and you can have a meal with them and, you know, with people, and enjoy that and it's great. I couldn't do that in Australia. Not once did I do that in Australia. In fact when I was in Australia I went to a dance. I used to go sometimes to the dances, but I used to stand outside the halls, because you know, the girls didn't want to dance with an Abo, didn't want to be seen dancing with an Abo.
I did. On one occasion I was at the Town Hall in Port Adelaide and the room was full of all these girls and blokes. All the blokes were up one end - the usual old way it is to carry out these dances, and all the girls were seated round the edges. I went to every girl in that dance hall just to make the point and ask them for a dance - every one of them. And every one refused me. And you know I thought that, something I've never forgiven them for and I'll never forget. And ever one I just said, 'No I'm going to ask every one of these girls here'. And I knew what they were going to do, and I went to ever one, right around the dance hall by myself, and everybody was watching me. It was very embarrassing. But you know I said, 'I'm not going to let them put me down'. I asked them and then I went home. But I never went there again. And I never danced with an Australian girl again. Until I met my wife.
No, I had that many girlfriends, I had that many girlfriends, I got sick of it all. I couldn't stand up, and I used to stay out later and later at night enjoying myself, I could hardly go to work the next day. They were beautiful. The girls were beautiful. Friendly, you know, and they didn't sell themselves to you or anything like that or sell their souls to you, they just enjoyed your company, and you enjoyed theirs and nobody slung off at you or anything like that. Nobody asked you what you were, they just took you as they find you. You know, it was just beautiful and the dances were really fun and enjoyable. And I used to go with the lads, you know, and I was one of the boys amongst a big company of people, and it was a new experience for me. No embarrassment being in their company, and that was really good for me psychologically.
Oh, the soccer, well that wasn't reaching any great heights. I ... I was more over there to sort of live and learn and when I got ... cottoned on to that lifestyle, which was new for me, I was enjoying that a lot. People being friendly with me, you know, for no reason than, you know, they wanted to be friendly with me. And me sitting at the same table with them, which seems funny me saying that, but it's true: to sit at a table, you know, with a lot of white people, you know, and not be embarrassed, was a new experience for me. Now that, you know, seems impossible for me to say that because, you know, I've sat with all sorts of people: queens and princesses and emperors and heads of departments and prime ministers and all that, but in those days, you know, it was a difficult exercise. But in England, it was nothing. It was beautiful.
Yes. For all the time I'd know Father Smith, he was good to me and good to the boys, and his intentions were always good. And the same with Mrs Smith, obviously. And they were always trying to teach us, as raw as we were, the elements of, you know, good living, social graces, good manners, and we learnt, we learnt a lot from them and it stood us in good stead. And so that was very helpful.
With the soccer, one of the things that the English play did, was it was a much more sophisticated game in England than it was here, wasn't it? Did you learn much about your soccer while you were in England?
Oh, yes. You know I learnt a lot: how to play the game, how to really dictate the play as well. How to sort of control the play and how to be the hard man of the game. I used to always play the game to win. I never played to lose. I think coming second is never been involved. That's for nobody that. And I always played to win, and I've always played that way in my life as well. You know, I don't like losing, so when I got on the soccer field there, when I first landed in England and started playing there, I was taught a few hard lessons about how to play the game. Play it direct, keep it simple and go for goals, you know, go straight for the goals, don't mess around on the fringes in front of the beautiful and run around the edges because that's not where the goals are. The goals are up the other end of the field and so I learnt that pretty quickly, and how to play the game quickly and how to think quickly and how to sort of dictate the play and that stood me in very good stead, so that when I came back to Australia I was put straight away in the State team, you know, and I was made captain and coach of the team, that brought me back from England ...
Well I ... I was playing there for a while in England and then, you know, as I said before with Everton, and I left Everton and I went to Wigan. I played with Wigan for a while but then a talent scout saw me from a place called Bishop Auckland, right up near Newcastle. Now they had ... they had a top amateur team in the world, you know, certainly in England. But amateur team at that time was in many ways comparable to all the professional teams. They were getting paid the same money, only amateurs were not supposed to get paid and the professionals were. But it wasn't much money anyhow. And I was asked to go up there for a trial, and I played that well I took the place of the England's left half. And I took his place and we had a really good team. And one of my team mates went to play for a first division team like Tottenham Hotspur and so on, and Chelsea. And ... but I kept playing for them, and just before I decided to come back to Australia, and I'll say the reasons in a minute, I had a trial with Manchester United, and they wanted to sign me on. Matt Busby was their manager at that time. He wanted to sign me on. A fellow called Taylor was the chief coach, and I had a trial at Trafford Park, at the ground there, the legendary ground with all their legendary players as a matter of fact. And I played well and they said we'll sign you up part-time for a start, and then we'll take you on full time later on. I said, 'No, I've got to go'. I said, 'I'm going'. And they couldn't believe it because most people would have given their right arm to be involved but I was sick of the weather. You didn't see much sun, you know, and really I should have waited for while because when you get in to part-time playing with them, and then you get full-time, well you see all of a sudden they'll sign you on. But working down the pits in the coal mines, and then in the shipyards, it was sort of hard going. Dark when you leave and dark when you come home, and you know a lot of this sort of weather: rain and cloudy, and a bit nippy, and then the snow and the sleet comes. So I said, 'No I want to get back. I'm homesick for that. Besides I want to do something else'. And then I had this offer so I left them, and I had this offer from Croatia in Adelaide. They said, 'We'll pay your fare back. Come back and we'll set you up, you know, in South Australia'. And I said, 'Well that would be a good idea', and so I accepted their offer, and a fellow called Ferguson, my good friend - still is a good friend, even though we don't meet each other much these days - he was the one that negotiated that arrangement for me. Got me back to Australia and I decided to come back, but I had the other thought in mind, not only of coming back to Australia but to go to university. I decided in England, when I played a game with Bishop Auckland against Oxford University. We played at Oxford and we played at Oxford University, and we beat them that day, and I was watching all these Oxford University people, you know, these university graduates and undergraduates, which I presume they were, playing against us, and the surroundings at Oxford. And I thought yeah, this is it. I am going to go to Sydney University. I mean, it was an impossible dream because I didn't have my matriculation. I didn't have a good education. But I said, 'That's what I'm going to do'. So I made my mind up when I was playing that game at Oxford University, that I would go to university because I wanted to ... you know, I felt I was not educated enough to be able to ... and articulate enough to put across the message I wanted to get across in Aboriginal Affairs to people. Because when I first spoke with Don Dunstan at Adelaide, when he invited me to speak, I spoke for about a minute and a half and ran out of words, and ideas. I thought, I can't have that happen again. And I thought I've got to go to university because when you do go, people listen to you, and you know what you've got to say anyhow. So at Oxford I decided that day, that game, during the game, that I would go to university. So when that offer came, I grabbed it, [and] left the Manchester United offer behind me, left all my girlfriends behind me at the railway station in Wigan, and took off for Australia. And you think, you never know whether that was a good decision or not.
I think I was about twenty-four, twenty-five, so you know, young enough to do anything. And silly enough to do anything. And ... but I had that dream in my mind then and I went back to Adelaide and I played a season or two there, so I must have been about twenty-three, twenty-four perhaps. I played a season there, and we did well, we won everything with Croatia and so on, and I decided to leave. And I said, 'No I'm going to pursue a career now at the University of Sydney', and I played professional ... played soccer to the highest level in Sydney. And so I went back there and met my wife there at a hotel there, at a big soccer dance.
In Adelaide. This bloke, who was trying to go out with her, invited me to the dance. So I went along to the dance and I pinched his girlfriend and married her, which is a bit strange.
Well, it was at a soccer dance you see, and I forget what clubs were involved and she was there, and she was there with another girl, who'd had come along with another fellow, and she just made up the party, you see. And so we just met and we started talking and I thought, oh well, she seems pretty nice. You know different to the other ones, and doesn't mind me at all. And so we sort of cottoned on from there, you know, and went on from there. She was very good, and I met her family afterwards and they were all really nice. There was no sort of prejudice there in the family. An old German family she comes from as well, you know, that sort of established South Australia, the vineyards, and the wheat and the sheep and all that. They were the original settlers, the Lutherans.
Oh, they had no problems, you know. I never had any problems with that family at all. Not on her side. Some of the in-laws I did have, you know - other Australians, you know, and they were a little bit apprehensive, but they were good too. They were really good, and they've all been very good really.
Oh she didn't want me to marry a white girl. She didn't think it was a good idea because of prejudice and because she thinks there's too many problems and, you know, you get mixed up with all the other white people in the family and so on, and there's just going to be a lot of heartache. And she didn't really trust too many white people, you know, and so ... but I said, 'Oh no - this girl's white', so I brought her up to meet Eileen, and she liked Eileen, and you know we used to stay in that little old house that she had, which is a really poverty stricken shack. It was ... it was a housing commission fibro home, you know - wooden stove, cement floors and so on, and Eileen stayed there with me, and she, you know ... They liked each other then. And so they got on well. She knew Eileen wasn't really, you know, like the other Australian girls.
She's backed my ambitions all the way along, on anything, and, you know, to go to university certainly, and she sacrificed a lot for me to go to university because she's smarter than me, and she could have gone to university and got a decree easy, no problem at all. But, you know, she thought it, well, it would be better that I do it and for all the reasons, the cause and all that, and so she supported me in it and submerged her own ambitions, you know, in that direction, to allow me to succeed.
The best. Sydney was the best. All the white people in Australia said Sydney's the best. So I said, 'Righto', like the big bullies - knock the bully out and everybody else takes notice. So I said I'll go to Sydney University and I'll graduate from there. All dreams of course, because I didn't have the academic or the scholastic background for it, but I thought I'm going to go to Sydney University anyhow. But first of all I had to get my matriculation, which I didn't have to get to Sydney University. So I went to a college here in Sydney called the Metropolitan Business College, down at The Rocks down there. I don't know whether they're still there now, just off George Street right down there on the right down a lane. Now out of forty-five in a class, myself and one other person were the only two to successfully get through. And a lot of them had, you know, went to the best schools in Australia, I can tell you that. I worked six o'clock in the morning 'til eleven o'clock at night: hour on, I worked two hours, an hour off, two hours, an hour and a half off, two hours, an hour off, for a whole year. And during that time I played soccer, so soccer ... you know, being fit, it really complements your study. Makes you study better, you know. It's a diversion. You can relax, good therapy. And then during the breaks, Eileen used to work, where ever she could find part-time work to keep me going. And I played soccer to win because we had no other money come in really, and if we didn't win, we had no ... not much money to buy food. We lived mainly on mince meat and rice.
Sydney Olympic. I became the captain and coach and I was the only ... at one time the only Australian in an all Greek team. But the Greeks - they're beautiful. They're beautiful people. I used to ... what I used to do to keep going at university, because there wasn't any great scholarships at that time, you know, I was sort of a front runner ... I used to work for the city council. I used to clean the toilets, down at South Sydney, and I used to do such a good job they said, 'Why don't you take this on full time?' I used to make them sparkle - all the public toilets round the place, and the one at South Sydney Depot, right down Redfern. And I used to clean them, I had no problem. Any job is a good job. And ah, you know if anybody else can do it I can do it. It's not demeaning at all and I used to take great pride in making all the toilets sparkle and then the other things I used to do was to take the rubbish, and do lawns, like a lot of students do, and I used to work at stacking boxes you know at some of the sports stores, loading trucks.
Oh, it was it was pretty small in comparison to today's figures. Well, everything was then, you know, not too much ... there wasn't much money in it. But it was only part-time and it was good enough money to keep us going. You know it paid for our food and our rent and then I got money on the side that helped me to do other things.
Yes, oh you always do. Nobody pays losers. Who wants to know a loser? Nobody - in anything. So when I'd win ... when we'd win and win big matches, I'd, you know, find in my clothing ... I'd find you know, thirty, forty, fifty pounds, 100 pounds, a couple hundred at a time. And so, you know, everybody loved us when we'd win, especially the Greeks. The Greeks are bad losers. They hate losing you know. The world collapses when they lose on anything, but certainly on soccer. They're fanatics. But I love them for it, you know, because they're just great. And I never used to ... for years and even now, I can go into Greek restaurants and delicatessens, and I don't buy any milk shakes, or don't buy meals. They still remember me. You know, the old Greek families and so on. And the same with the Croatians. They're really generous people and they ... they've got good memories. If you do the right thing by them they'll do the right thing by you. And when I was on the field playing for them, I played my guts out, you know. I gave everything, everything.
I played hard. If anybody gave me one, I gave them one back. I gave it to them pretty quick and I gave it to them real hard. So they ... but I was regarded as a bit of a hard man on the field so nobody really interfered with me too much. I was what they call in soccer circles 'the enforcer', you know, in the middle of a field. I had to look after other players but I used to, you know, try to keep the game flowing and I used to make ... try and create the game in the middle of the field but often times I used to play in the centre forward position, kicking goals as well, which I did fairly frequently and ... and ... but I played, you know, for the team, not for myself. I'm a real ... I'm a team person but I like to play to win.
Yeah, I'd ... I got a pretty bad temper sometimes but I'd never lose it. I'd never lose it that much but I have got a bad temper, yeah. It takes a lot of controlling. But on the field I used to sometimes lose my temper, yeah. I've been sent off a few times for booting players and so on. I took a couple of players off with me when I was injured you know. I took the best player off with me. I kicked him and then he kicked me back and we both got sent off. Ah in fact, he's a coach of Australia at the moment, Les Shinflue(?) and you know, him and I ... I took him off the field a couple of time because he was playing too good and I was injured. So I said, 'Right, I'll take Les with me', so I deliberately fouled him and he kicked me back and we both got sent off. And he didn't realise until we were walking off the field what I did. And we often laugh about it now.
Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. If you left him on the field ... and I wasn't a bad player you see. If I went off, I'd take their best player off, so I took him off with me so we were equal then. And he didn't like that at all. He thought, it wasn't wasn't a good joke at all. We have a laugh about it now because he's coaching ... he's a coach of the Australian team of course.
Everything was. Everything that I did from the day I entered University, or the matriculation school or the day that I left England was in preparation for what I've done since. Every bit of it: all the lessons, all the people I met and all the experiences I had. It was like water on a sponge.
From my mother. Strength came from my mother, yeah. And from the ... and from the hatred of the system and from the ... not the hatred so much but the burning resentment against white people, you know. I don't have that today but I had it then. You know, it was a flame that kept burning away in me, you know. You've got to do it, you've got to get in there and you've got to succeed. You've got to ... Otherwise you know these things will go on forever and you've got to get your education so you can say certain things, you can do certain things. And people will listen. And you know, you can get organised yourself and you can organise others and university I thought it would be the answer to all of my prayers, which it really doesn't for anybody, but it does learn you to discipline yourself in your mind and to put things in sequences, you know, that are understandable, and make logical choices out of options.
You were also working to a very disciplined tight schedule and that isn't really something that we tend to associate with Aboriginal culture where things flow in a very different sort of time pattern. That is quite striking about you Charlie - that you were able at that relatively young age to pull yourself together into that kind of disciplined work.
Well, my wife was a great help, you know. I mean, she was a great help. Everything I have ever achieved is because of her. But what, you know, we decided then, when we'd have to do that and just do it - there was just no other options that we thought were worthwhile - to achieve that objective, you had to have that discipline. You had to organise yourself. Because I'm a fairly free-going, easygoing type of person and I mix in in lots of companies I think pretty easily and I get on with most people and I like to enjoy myself and have good times and so on but I thought no, you're going for something, go for it. And you know, don't sit around thinking about it, do it. And you know, I like to sort of set myself an objective ... objective and then really organise a strategy to get there. And the strategy involved disciplining yourself physically and mentally and, you know, organising your finances and your lifestyle to suit and we did that. And we thought that was the way to do it. And it was bloody hard, you know. In those early days not many people were doing it you know, especially with Aboriginal people, you know. It just wasn't thought of in those days. And ... but it had to happen. And the Reverend Ted Noffs was my mentor at that time, which made it a bit easier for me because he was the first time I had a guiding light outside of my family. And he was my guiding light, Ted, and he has past away since, but he was one of the three great people in my life. And ... there were three people I respected most of all in my life and he is one who sort of put me on that road: you can do this, you can do that. Don't go for this, go for that. You know, he raised my vision to the highest level and organised, you know, me in such a manner that I set myself those targets and felt that I could achieve them. You know, he gave me the confidence and his wife Margaret Noffs. That's where ... I met him when I first came to Sydney and he was the one that sort of sent me on the right path really.
A lady called Mrs. Knox, Knox, Mrs. ... Mrs. Cox. She's passed away now. She was a wonderful lady and she was very good on Aboriginal Affairs - a bit paternalistic, but lovely. She was ... she wanted to do something for Aboriginal people, wanted to sort of get people to realise our ... you know, how Aborigines were a disadvantaged group in Australia, in society, and she was one of the first white people I thought to myself, What's she doing, that white woman? Why is she sort of interfering? I mean why is she caring when none of the other people are caring you know? And I met her when I came to Sydney here and she ... she rang me up as a matter of fact, introduced herself on the phone to me, you see, because I was playing soccer then and and I said, 'This strange person, this white woman who wants to help Aboriginal people. She must be silly'. And ... and I got to know her then and you know she was a bit paternalistic but she was a very nice person. She really wanted to do something. She put herself out and then said, 'I'd like you to meet this fellow called Ted Noffs, you know. He's the minister at the Wayside Chapel down in, down in ... (Robin: The Cross) No, down in Castlereagh Street before Kings Cross. I helped him set up the Kings Cross Chapel. So I said, 'Well I'm not really great in going to the church you know'. Because all the church people really ... church really exploited Aboriginal people and deprived ... and, you know, dispossessed us. And she said, 'No, you go and meet Ted Noffs. He's a different sort of person'. So I went along to meet Ted Noffs and I just found a man who set me alight. He was really good. And he got me to speak at the Lyceum Theatre, which it was at the time in Castlereagh Street, with all the Methodists - you know all the mad Methodists coming every Sunday. Thousands of them. You know, they sit in there, fill up the whole Lyceum Theatre. And Alan Walker was talking then. That Alan Walker is a great man. And Ted Noffs was his right hand man at the Chapel. Not at the Chapel, at the Methodist Mission, the Lyceum Theatre, Castlereagh Street. And they asked me to speak with Sid Enfield you know: Marcus Einfield's ... Justice Marcus Einfield's father. He was speaker and so was I. Well, I mean, he just got up and spoke and spoke and spoke. You know what these politicians are like and he was good. And then they asked me to speak. Well I got up and stumble stumble, humming and ahhing you know. Got myself all mixed up and said something about Aboriginal rights and so on and sat down and thought, geese, what'd I say? You know, what a mess. And then Ted ... but Ted felt that I could do more and encouraged me to do more and away we went. He was just ... He was a father figure I never had. He was good.
Well I think he gave me confidence as he does with everybody. Like Ted ... Ted was a man that looked after everybody. He ... he sort of ... They never called him Ted. All called him Mr. Noffs but I call him Ted now. But he was a man who looked after everybody, you know - prostitutes, drug addicts, no-hopers, alcoholics. The good, the bad and the ugly he looked after and he took an interest in me, as he did in them and he wanted to do something in Aboriginal Affairs because he was disgusted the way it was, because he was a minister of religion, minister for the Methodist at Wilcannia for a number of years and he just couldn't believe the pitiful conditions Aboriginal people were living under. So he wanted to do something about it. Him and I formed an alliance and out of that I was able to benefit with his wisdom, experience and his advice, you know, and to go on and do things and he gave me the confidence to do them. And you know, he pointed me in the right direction. And all I had to do was to keep going and just discipline myself.
I'd thought out for some time what subjects I wanted to do at university. But I really concentrated on them after I discussed it with Ted and a few other people, that I'd want to do Government I, II and III, in depth [and] Political Science. I wanted to know how governments work and why and so on. And so International politics. And secondly I wanted to Anthropology I, II and III which involved linguistics, archaeology, basic anthropology and Psychology I, because I wanted to understand people and groups and how they react and why. And I didn't want to go too deep in that because you get into, you know, too difficult areas like logic and all the rest of it, which is too hard. And then I did Social Theory II and III, which was, you know, how you deal with problem solving in the community with groups and families and organise, you know, societies to cater for those things. Plenty of Aboriginal people are involved in all of those four disciplines. And just every one of them was interesting to me and was like, as I said before about other things, like water on a sponge. It just came into me and it just flowed into me and stayed with me. It wasn't an exercise in academia. It was just something that I wanted to do, because it was going to benefit me in my future work and I planned it all that way. That's why I made it such a determined effort to learn. The only difficult subject for me was Linguistics. You know, I think you've got to have some intellectual capacity for that and some interest in it and it was so boring. And I didn't have that intellectual capacity for it and it was just too hard. But I did it all right. It was part of my studies in Anthropology. But those subjects were very interesting to me, and were definitely relating to what I was going to do afterwards. And they were. When I went to the Foundation for Aboriginal Affairs in George Street as the manager after that, then when I went into the Federal Government later on, I couldn't have studied better subjects. But I would have liked to have studied other subjects as a matter [of interest] if I was not an Aboriginal person. I'd have liked to have studied English at that time, I would have liked to have studied ... anyhow, but I just didn't have the time. I had to sort of control my time, do those subjects, because I didn't have a good academic background, you know, poor education and I wanted to just stick to my limits, what I can achieve, and not get too extravagant or glamorous, or my ego get carried away with myself. But for example, I thought I was ... I'd like to have done English, because I love the power of words and that's been my great regret.
Charlie, given that you had done that intense matriculation year, but you hadn't, as you say, had much of a broader base education, how did that affect you when you came to sit in classes at university? I mean did you ... did you have difficulty just coming to grips even with the language that they were using?
Yeah, I did, yeah. When they spoke a work to me, you know, said a word to me and I didn't know, I'd write it down and I love it, because I'd just go home and I'd read it and I'd look it up in the dictionary. Then I'd start using it in my language. Like me learning, you know, again. And I'd use it. And when I'd get amongst the Aboriginal community I'd use some of these big words, you see. And oh, they love it too, you see. And I'd say, 'Well that's irrelevant', and everybody would say, 'What does that mean?' I said. 'Well this means you know ... or hypothetical', you know, and everybody said, 'Oh, that's another good word', you know. So we sort of enjoyed these words because we were sort of thinking, you know, that sounds pretty good, you know, never used them before. And I still do that in the black community. I still bring up some pretty fancy words which we all enjoy, you know. We have a laugh about it. We say, 'White people use those words, and you know, isn't it good that we can, you know, get a kick out of them?' So it was really funny that we used to look at it that way, but my basic educational levels was pretty poor, coming from primary, secondary school and then nothing. You know, not reading any books or anything. And then I do, in one year, whack, I'm into Shakespeare and all of that. And it was hard going but I loved Shakespeare, I loved his plays, I loved the philosophy that was incorporated in all of his plays. I used to ... you know I used to get them and I used to think there was so much wisdom in a lot of ... you know, in a lot of the discussions they had. And I thought, gee, whoever wrote this is just, is a really smart person you know. A lot of deep meaning in them and I think relevant, and you know, just sort of threw me into another area of consideration in terms of my relationship with people, how I look at people and judge situations and so on. So I enjoyed Shakespeare. I'm not saying I'm an expert or anything like that, or very good at it. But I love a lot of the sayings. In Julius Caesar for example. I used to read that because I used to like what, how they related to each other and how they were so smart and how they did certain things. But then when I was in the class on many occasions they'd say things to me, or to us all, and I didn't know what they were talking about, so I'd write it down like a said before. But see, with me, I .. with me, when I went to university and when I went to the Metropolitan Business College, I didn't know what a noun or a verb was. And you know, I'm not very good at any of that. Adjectival phrases and nouns and verbs. And I'm still not very good at it, to tell you the truth. And the teacher got up once in front of all these pupils, and they're all fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen year old kids and I was twenty-four and captain of pan-Hellenic or Sydney Olympic and so on, and I'm sort of very much an adult person in the class. 'Charles Perkins, bring your book up the front'. So I'd trot up the front. She'd be marking and I'd be standing up there like some fourteen-year-old kid, you know, and she'd mark it. 'This is wrong, that's wrong. Right, you got ten out of twenty', you know, or something like that. And then I had to put up with all of that. It was a bit humiliating you know. But that's all right. That was good to discipline me, you know. I felt you had to have that. It's good for the ego to be trampled on a bit. And to pull you in line and be humble and be humiliated in that way. It was a good ... good experience. So I put it in that context for me. But then one time she asked me, 'Is that an adjective or a noun?' to me, in front of everybody. I said, 'Well, it depends on how you look at it'. [Laughs] So I used to get out of it by that, saying, 'Well I didn't understand what you said there. You were meaning this phrase', but what I was trying to avoid was her question, which I didn't know the answer to, because I didn't know the difference. And the same with me when I went to university. And I mean I was such a dumb-bum, you know, in lots of things when I used to go there, but I was so eager to learn, you know, I wouldn't mind that. I'd sort of go on and people would excuse me, they were very generous. Or they didn't show it. I mean for example I went to see Godott ... is Godot or Godott ... Beckett's play.
Godot. And you know, I didn't know how to pronounce it. Still don't know how to pronounce it. I went to see it and I'm waiting for him to turn up. Well the whole idea is he doesn't turn up. There's no turning up. And I said to my friend, I said, 'Well, that's a bloody stupid play'. I said, 'No bastard turned up at the end', I said, 'What the good of that?' He said, 'Well it's ... that's not really what it's all about'. And like, I didn't understand him, but you know, he thought I knew what the play was all about and I didn't. But there was another thing. I had to learn later on. So all of the university experience for me in that ... in the big discussions we had when we had the Freedom Ride at the Union. We had a big debate on the Freedom Ride: should we get in the swim or not, when we broke into the pools at Moree Baths, you know, and opened them up for everybody to swim. Where they had the kids, Aboriginal black kids, who were allowed to swim during classes, but then they were tossed out about 3.30 and only white kids were allowed to swim. There was a ban on swimming by blacks in the pool. And so the debate topic was: should we get into the swim. That was the Union, Sydney University Union. So everybody turned up, hundreds and hundreds and thousands turned up to the debate. Couldn't get in the place. Couldn't get in myself. Well I took it literally. And of course I was arguing the point in a literal context all the way through the whole debate, and they thought I was very clever. And Kirby said to me ... Justice Kirby now, he said, 'Either you're bloody dumb or you're bloody smart', he said, 'Which is it?' I said, 'I'm not telling you, Michael, you work it out for yourself'. I realised what I'd done. I was arguing in the literal sense: should we get into the swim. Oh, it was ridiculous. But I won the debate, so it didn't really matter. And everybody thought I was so clever that night, and I wasn't really at all.
Really good, yeah. We formed this Student Action for Aborigines. It was a time at the university. In the early sixties and the seventies were the time of revolution. And since then they've died on the vine. But at that time there was a lot of energy. It was just needing it to be released. And I helped it along that way, as did other people like Spigelman, like Kirby, like Peter Huston and John Hewson and all these people. There was lots of ... and all these other people that I could name. There's a list a mile long. Very exciting people with great intellect at the university at that time. And extreme radicals in the political sense, extreme radical in the artistic and the intellectual and it was just an exciting time. And I didn't realise it. I thought this was way all universities were but I think it only comes to universities one or two decades in the century. And I think the sixties and the seventies were the two decades for Sydney University, and probably for Australia. It was out of that sixties [that] came the revolution in terms of Aboriginal Affairs, in terms of the Vietnam situation, in terms of women's liberation, in terms of the Arts, in terms of freedom of speech. And Walsh and all of those people. And I think it was a great time, and I think, for Australia as a whole, you know, and we were just fortunate to be there at that time in that time in history to be at that place, with those sorts of people, who had that energy and that vision and then Noffs ... Ted Noffs, being the catalyst to release all of that energy to allow us to do things like take the Freedom Ride to where it went.
There's a number of people contributed to that. Ted Noffs was one of them, and all of us were thinking ... Kevin Martin was another, Bill ... can't think of Bill ... from Sydney University.
Bill Ford. He was another one. And there was a few others there that really wanted to do something. Jimmy Spigelman, who's now the Chief Justice as I understand it, of New South Wales: radical Jim. He was at that time anyhow. He's more conservative now, and quite rightly so. But he was a brilliant mind, a brilliant intellect. And you know, being Jewish, I thought, well, you know, what is ... I was you know, I wasn't really of understanding these things. I didn't know what a Jew was. I just didn't know. I thought, well, what does a Jew mean, what does Jewish do, what do Jewish people do that we don't do? You know, that sort of thing. Really stupid stuff. And I thought, well they wouldn't be interested in our affairs and yet there was about six Jewish students who were on the bus. And they were the ringleaders. They were really right up front, and I didn't think they'd hang in with us very long.
Well, the Freedom Ride is a copy of really what happened in America, where people wanted to go out, get in a bus, go out there and go to towns and cities and expose discrimination and prejudice wherever it may be. And racism. And that's what we wanted to do, all of us students. And we thought, well we'll go into the country towns of New South Wales. It was the blind leading the blind. We didn't know where to go. And we were a mixture: there was Jewish students there; there was about three or four communists there; there was Presbyterian lay preachers there. All sorts, you know. As I said, a really motley crew of all sorts of things, but we all had the one common objective, and that was doing something, get out there and do it, do the Freedom Ride, whatever it meant, let's do it. And Ted Noffs was the sort of instigator. 'Well, yes, it'd be good to do it', and encouraging us, 'You go out and do it'. Even said a prayer for us all before we left. And we all thought, well if any time we need the prayer it was then. Because we were setting off into the unknown with an unknown schedule and not having any idea what the reactions to our people would be: you know, our efforts. But to people ... the newspapers were really anti us - the Sydney Morning Herald and all the rest of them very much against us, writing up editorials: these stupid mad students going out, and so on. So to cover our tracks and to make them feel a bit comfortable, we said we're going to do a sociological survey, take answers to questions and all that, you know, which is really all bullshit, because we were going to do that only because they wanted us to do that. But really we were going out there to see what we could do, and we really didn't know what we were going to do. So we set out in the bus, and we said, 'Where will we go?' so we headed for Wellington. 'We'll go to Wellington'. Anybody says, 'Anybody want to go somewhere else?' Nobody had any ideas so we set off for Wellington. It was just ridiculous - the whole thing. But we had one burning desire and that was to expose racism and by whatever means we had available to us - whatever that was. So that was pretty good - a pretty good principle upon which we were operating. And away we went. And there was only one Aborigine apart from myself on the bus, Jerry, Jerry ... gee, his nephew married my niece. Anyhow, Jerry. And he was from one of the River Murray towns in South Australia, and he thought he was coming along for a holiday. He jumped on the bus because I invited him to come along and he thought he was on a, you know, bus holiday tour. He realised he wasn't when he got to Moree and the tomatoes and the stones started to fly. Then we went to Wellington, and then finished up going ... and there was discrimination there, but you know, we just felt, oh that's a start. The next one was Walgett and then it hit the fan at Walgett. That's when it all started. And we confronted this great sacred cow of Australia: the RSL. That was when the great sacred cow, I think, started to go downhill from then on, in terms of public prestige and credibility. And we just said, 'No, stuff 'em. We're going to stand in front of the RSL and they can go and get nicked'. And we did that.
Only on Anzac Day. That's returned soldiers only. If you were a returned soldier and you fought in the war as many of them did in these country towns, they were allowed to go in the RSL on Anzac Day, march down the street, RSL on Anzac Day, get drunk with everybody else, but don't come back.
Well, we walked into the club, and we said to them ... I said to them, 'I want to go into the bar'. They said, 'Aborigines are not allowed in here. Get out, or we'll have the police remove you. And take your friends with you'. They called them some names, you know. Some of our student friends weren't really what you called respectable looking. They had long hair and, you know, pretty daggy old clothes on and so on. So you know, he said, 'Well throw one out, throw the lot out'. So they said, 'We're going to call the police', and I said, 'Well, call the police. We're not going'. So that same fellow who told me that, when I went back seventeen years later to the RSL, to the same club, he was sitting at the same table, I walked in and I said, 'Can we come into the club?' He said, 'Eh, I know you'. He said, 'You caused trouble here before'. He said, 'You're barred'. And I said, What!' He said, 'You're barred', he said, 'You caused trouble here, seventeen or eighteen years ago'. And I said, 'That's right, I did'. I said, 'Here, shake hands mate', I said, 'You're a genius'. I said, 'The only bloke who would have the mindset to remember one person seventeen years ago and bar him again'. I said, 'I congratulate you, and I leave this place without any trouble'. I couldn't believe it. And he said, 'Right, you're barred and so are your friends'. And he carried on writing. I said, 'Nothing's happened in all that time? In all those years?' Whole decades ... two decades have come and gone, and he's sitting at the same table, he sees me walk in the door, and within ten seconds he's told me I'm barred. Can you believe that? I couldn't believe it. We walked outside, and we were all going ... [opened mouthed] and I was with a group of Aborigines on the second occasion, you know. And some were members there. And I thought, god, and I said, 'How can you ... what can you do?'
The world had changed around him. He hadn't. He's in the same desk in the same ... going into the club there, same pen and paper and everything before him. The world is different. He is the same, and the same mindset, you know. And he remembered me, of all people, to come in there. Anyway, on the day seventeen years before that occasion, or eighteen years before that occasion, being barred the second time, being barred on the first time, we went outside. We said, 'Righto, we're going to demonstrate against this club'. So we said, 'Okay, let's get some ... what'll we do?' and somebody said, 'Let's get some placards out. Who's got a pen?' So we got a pen out and got some paper. Put it on the paper. What'll we write up? Everybody's saying, 'What'll we write up'. I said, 'Write what you bloody well like. Whatever you want to write, write it up'. So I said, you know, 'RSL are racist'. Somebody said, 'Oh, that's a bit strong'. I said, 'Well, that's mine. You make your own'. So you know, we got our own placards up and stood there. Well, you couldn't believe the reaction of the RSL club members. They were ... you know, they're rednecks, a lot of them, and they thought, you know, they're God's chosen children and they are born to rule. And they ... and they were ruling. And they sort of come to the club, saw this, and were they hostile! Absolutely hostile. They were spitting and everything, you know. 'You're scum of the earth! What are you doing here? Go and have a haircut. Go and have a wash. You're not going to have the blacks around here, are you?' And then the Aborigines on the other side of the street, [are] watching all this. And I was watching them and they were watching us, and we were sort of looking at each other and it was for them, you know, mainly. The whole Freedom Ride is not so much for white people, on my mind. My ... my deeper objective was for Aboriginal people to realise, hey listen, second class is not good enough, you know. You don't have to always be first class, but don't always be second class. And don't cop shit, you know, when you don't have to. And you don't want to have to live on river banks and in shanty huts and at the end of a road where there's rubbish tips. Live in town. And you don't have to have cocky white men sneaking around pinching Aboriginal women at night, you know. And the women not being able to say anything. And all these other things that went with it. Sitting down the front of picture theatres; not being able to sit in a restaurant, because nobody will allow you as an Aborigine to sit in a restaurant. That's not on. And you know ... and the timing was right. If I didn't do it, somebody else would have done it. And other people have done it in a different way. They've said the same thing. So it wasn't nothing genius on our part or my part. It was just the timing was right, and we were there: the right people at the right time in the right place. And it had to happen. It was going to happen. And Renshaw ... the Labor Government was in and they thought it was horrible [that] all these students - mad, radical, communist agitators [were] getting around the countryside doing these things. It was all in all the papers. And boy, did this hit the fan. The media came from everywhere, all over. And we were sitting in the boiling sun. In Walgett it gets bloody hot, bloody hot, and we were standing there. And we were all just about fainting with it, you know. And the RSL bloke came out, their president, with a big case full of drinks, big noting himself. 'Here, I'll give the students a drink to show the RSL's not against Aborigines or against the students and so on'. I said, 'Excuse me, can you go away?' I said, 'We don't want that'. I said, 'Why don't you stick it up your arse'. I said, 'We don't want your drinks'. I said, 'Nobody's going to drink any'. I said, 'Nobody drinks this drink from this bloke here'. I said, 'Go on, take it back inside'. So he said, 'Oh, is that how you feel, eh? You're smart arses'. I said, 'No, no. We don't want your drink, mate. So get inside with it again'. And did we need a drink. We could have drunk the whole bloody case. So we ... and somebody said, 'Gee, that was a silly thing to do. I'm bloody dying of thirst'. I said, 'Yeah, but that's right. We'll get our own drinks. We don't need his drinks'. And so we went back inside, and they got a new respect for us. You know, they came out and they treated us better and they started talking to us. And I said, 'Listen, you know ...' I was saying my thing and other people were saying their thing to the different RSL people. Some were still wanting to be a bit violent in their rhetoric to us, you know, but most of them were starting to say, 'Hey listen, you know, something's on here. There's social change in the air. There's something happening here'. There's a revolution somewhere or other, and it might be here. And all the Aboriginal people were thinking the same, you know, because I could hear them talking. And then they'd come over and talk to me, see. Because they never seen me before. I was ... they'd heard of me before, like playing soccer, you know. 'There's that soccer player over there. Playing with that Greek team in Sydney, you know'. That sort of stuff, you see. And so we started relating to them. And then the night came on and we said we were a bit tired, so we broke it off and we went into the church. And the church allowed us to come in the hall, but then after we did that, they didn't want anything to do with us. Oh no, the church leaders got together and moved a resolution that we get booted out of the hall.
Yeah, and they booted us out. But before that happened we were in the streets talking to everybody, you see. And a couple of blokes, a couple of white blokes, come over and they said, 'Excuse me, could you come round the corner with us. We just want to have a bit of a yarn with you'. Because they wanted to bash me up, see, round the corner. I said, 'No, brother. If you're going to talk you talk here in front of everybody'. I said, 'If you're going to take me round the corner', I said, 'you can tell me what you're going to tell me right here. And then I'll tell you what I think right here'. 'No, come round the corner, just a little chat between us three', or two, you know. They're going to knock me out and all sorts of things. So I never went. And you know, a couple of eggs were thrown and a bit of language, a bit of spitting. But then the Aborigines started on the white people. They all gathered in the streets, hundreds of them, see. A lot of Aborigines just watching and listening, a lot of kids. And I see a lot of them in Sydney today. They were listening, you know, to all the conversation back and forth. And then the women started on them. 'Don't you tell me, you white bastard over there. You're sneaking round, coming round to our house all the time down the shanty town, and making off with all the Aboriginal women in the dark. Why don't you tell your wife what you do at night?' Oh, he took off. And a couple of others took off as well. So it just broke up the whole bloody town: you know, the relationships were all being exposed to one and all. And then you know, it just tore them apart. They couldn't handle it. So it was a whole unravelling of, you know, all of those relationships. And a realisation that they have to re-establish a new set of relationships. Aborigines, one, were not going to cop that situation any more. And the white people have to decide ... have to decide ... have to think again about how they view their relationship with Aboriginal people, you know. We're not in the deep south. It's Australia and so on. And it was just, it was just ... that I think was a catalyst for social change. In my mind, Walgett, Moree too ... but Walgett was the beginning of the social change for Aboriginal people in Australia, which allowed the referendum in 1967 to be successful. Because it got massive publicity. It laid the ground for, you know, shit, that's not acceptable. Racism is not acceptable. Disadvantaged positions for Aboriginal people in Australian society is not acceptable. Women not being able to buy dresses and try them on in shops - just once they touch them they got to buy them. That sort of stuff's not acceptable. Not being able to sit down at a restaurant, you know, in a delicatessen, whatever, or a restaurant in a country town if white people wanted a seat, is not acceptable, you know. Or not being allowed to sit down anyhow. You can only have takeaways. Only being served in one bar in a hotel and not the lounge or anywhere else. Not being able to sit at the back seats of picture theatres, only in the front. This all happened in Walgett. Walgett was Australia all over. And so it started there and from there it just flowed everywhere. The social change was on, the revolution was on. We were evolving into another sort of society.
Yeah, through other places as well, like you know, but Moree was the next one, yeah. That was mainly revolving around the Town Hall and the swimming pool. And the swimming pool was, you know, a traumatic experience to say the least in terms of Aboriginal kids were just not allowed to swim after school hours in the pool because the were Aborigines. That was the rule. It was in the books. They weren't allowed to swim at all. But only in school hours. In school hours they were allowed to swim. Not on weekends or any other time. It was just silly. And all the Aboriginal people knew that. Some white people did as well. But that was the rule written in there by council. As it was into the terms of the Town Hall in Moree, the Aboriginal people weren't allowed to go into the Town Hall, in certain areas of it, you know. It was just the regulations and everybody accepted them. They were stupid regulations. Very racist. And you know, they had to be educated. So we went down, got the bus, went down the mission station, picked up young Lyle Munroe and half a dozen other kids, and said, 'Righto, are you going to come with us?' because a lot of the parents were a bit hesitant. They didn't want it, because you know, it was disrupting a well accepted pattern of relationships. Even if it was secondary one, it was comfortable, you know. At least you knew where you stood. Well, that had to be all torn apart. So these kids said, 'Yeah, we want to go down there. Let's go down there. We'll back you up'. So I said, 'Righto, jump on the bus'. So we went away, jumped on the bus and took off to the swimming pool. Didn't know what we were going to do. So we got to the swimming pool and everybody said, 'Well what are we going to do?' I said, 'Oh, well, what if we just bar everybody going through. If we don't go through, nobody goes through'. Well, that was it. So we grabbed hold of the turnstile. We grabbed hold of the turnstile and I said, 'That's it, nobody's going through. If these kids aren't allowed to go through and we're not allowed to go through, nobody goes through'. Well you know, that just ... Imagine, everybody wanted a swim. It was a hot day. So they all gathered and everybody was coming with their towels and everything. 'What's going on?' 'Oh them bloody blacks are blocking up the entrance here'. 'Get rid of them'. So they called the police. Well the eggs started flying, stones started flying, then bottles. And the pub just across the road, or near across the road, all the drunks were coming over, you know, with the usual Australian sort of big-noting bullshit and redneck bastards, you know, coming across and having their say. And we were giving it back to them as well, you know. And they wanted to fight us all. And I got a punch in the back of the neck, and I got an egg squashed in my face and another one down here and sand poured down the back and pushed. No retaliation. I said, 'You know ...' Everybody was saying, 'Don't retaliate. Just, when you get removed from the front you go to the back and you come down and you get removed again'. And the silly mayor, who was doing it all, didn't realise that he was circulating the same people 'til we'd been about three times around. Then he realised, hey, I just threw this bloke out about ten minutes ago, I got him in my hands again, you know. Couldn't recognise ... couldn't but recognise the fellow, Paddy Dawson, who was about six foot four with blond hair. Paddy's been in all the radical movements, you know, but he sort of cut his teeth with us on that as we all did. So he said 'We've got to get the police', so the police started to do it all then. But we kept going. And we just jammed it all up. And then they said, 'All right, everybody in'. So everybody got in. So that was that at Moree. Later on they put the bar on again. We came back again. They even got more violent, you know, but ... and then we finished going away from there. But what it did, it just highlighted through the media and so on the stupid, disgraceful racist situation out in Moree. And you know, a couple of white people helped us. A bloke called Bob Brown. And he is just ... it destroyed him and his business. They smashed his windows, punched him up, abused his wife and all his family. In the street they spat in his face. He copped it, you know, for supporting us and he was a white person. He didn't have to. I said, 'Listen you don't have to support us'. He said, 'I'm with you all the way'. And I couldn't believe it. I thought this bloke is definitely mad. Why do you want to support Aboriginal people if you're a white person and you've got to live in the town. If you're from some other town, why not, if that's how strong you feel about it. But in the same town you got to be, you know ... you got to be a saint to do that.
Yeah, I just didn't believe white people had it within them, and I didn't believe some of the religious groups, like the Jewish people had it within them. And nor did I believe some of the Uniting Church people had it within them. They all stuck firm all the way through. It surprised me, I must tell you. It was an education for me. And I thought, you know, I started to begin to say, well perhaps all white people aren't you know that racist.
Yeah, you change as well. It was an education for me all round. It was an education for all of us. But certainly an education for me, and I can only speak for myself in that I began to look at people differently, white people. And I began to understand, you know, white people a bit better and be sort of more open minded. And I lost a lot of the hate - just sort of drained out of me a bit. And so yeah, I think it was a good education experience for me. Psychologically it sort of allowed me to readjust.
No, they did not. Like at Walgett they never did. They ran us off the road and nearly killed us. Ran the bus off the road, you know, which is well recorded. And in Moree we ... you know, we got harassed all the way as well. And the Aboriginal person who came with us, Jerry Mason was his name, Jerry Mason, from Berry on the River Murray, he sort of, when we landed at the pool, he took off for a walk around the town, and he come back and the whole place was, you know, erupting in a huge, not a race riot, but it was on the verge of. And he wondered what was going on. And you know, people were starting to ... when he got in the bus and was sitting in the bus, they were throwing eggs at him and spitting at him and throwing sand at him and trying to get at him through the door. And he said, 'Hey, Charlie', he said, 'I've just come for a ride', he said. He said, 'I didn't know people were going to do this'. I said, 'Jerry, it's not a ride mate. It's something else'. He said, Yeah, but', he said, 'I never did anything to anybody out here. Why are they getting angry at me for?' He was such an innocent. A nice person. He just didn't have any, you know, racism in him. He just loved everybody, you see. And he just didn't understand the politics of it all. He was such a kindly person. And he just ... he just got caught up in it. But he recovered from that. But he couldn't get off the bus quick enough.
Yeah, he was a fellow called Darcy, Darcy ...
Cassidy. Darcy Cassidy. And he was really good. You know, I sort of thought, well what do we need a person recording all of this for, you know? It'll be over in three or four days, but as it started, the trip started to bite, you know, and started to become sort of very important and we started to see the issues arising up before us. Well you know, he was very useful and he taped it all the way along, and he was excellent, you know, as a person that was taking all this information down and getting it out to the media. Because the media in the beginning were not interested in us. They thought, oh, we're just a bunch of radical students going out there and causing problems for everybody about a race issue that does not ... racism that does not exist, prejudice that doesn't exist. Perhaps a little bit, but not ... it wasn't deep seated. Aboriginal people weren't at a disadvantage. They liked living in humpies and on the riverbanks and at the end of the road where the rubbish tip [was]. They liked that. They liked a second class position in Australian society. Well, then it all started to come up that the Aboriginal people didn't like that and that there was a lot of racism and prejudice, you know, and then the media started to focus in, especially after Walgett, and Darcy was the person that stimulated all of that. You know, right from the beginning he was with us and right to the end he was with us. And he's got some valuable information on what happened on that whole trip.
Oh yeah, I think, you know it was an educational trip for all of us. And it educated Australia, it educated all the people on the trip including myself. It changed my perceptions of white people, quite frankly. It took a lot of the bitterness and a lot of the hatred out of me about white people. And you know, I realised there was quite a few white people that really wanted to do something that were powerless to do it, or were caught up in the system themselves. And what they thought was okay was not okay, you know. Now they'd been shown something different and they're not going to go back to that again. And you know, so it was good for a person like myself and I can only speak for myself about that, where it sort of gave me a different vision of where Australia should be going and what we've got to do about it. It gave me an understanding more clearly about the depth of Aboriginal disadvantage in Australian society and the need for psychological change within the Aboriginal community, so we can confront the issues. Then with white people, it sort of enabled me to see them in a different light, a more understanding light, and a much more sensible way of viewing the predicament they're in and why they say the things that they do and why they act the way that they do. So it was good education for me.
It wasn't the only public activity that you took place ... took part in during your undergraduate years. There was also an incident, wasn't there, with a little Indian girl that was being deported. Could you tell us about that incident and how you got involved in that.
Well I was sitting at home once, and you know, we were against the White Australia Policy, which was strong at that time. Hubert Opperman, I think was the Minister for Immigration at that time. And we were sitting around there at home, just near the university, Sydney University there, and somebody came and said, 'Hey, they're deporting that Nancy Prasad out of Australia, because she's Indian. You know, that's very racist. We've got to do something about that you know. We're a Student Action for Aborigines, but we're a student action against, you know, all forms of racism, aren't we?' And I said, 'Oh I suppose we are'. And somebody said, 'Yeah, well why don't we do something about it?' So a group of us - and some of them are now eminent doctors I might add, and psychologists in Australian society, and legal people - decided to go down there and do something about it. Demonstrate. So we all jumped in different cars and took off for the Sydney airport. And they were actually in the process of transferring her from a car to the counter to despatch her out to the plane which was waiting out there. So we blocked the entrance off, so they couldn't get through. And we had our placards up as usual, you know, against the White Australia Policy, which was before anybody else ever took it up I might say, in this dramatic way. I hear, you know, are rewriting history quite frequently, about how they brought about changes in the White Australia Policy and nothing's ever mentioned about the students from Sydney University. Anyhow, so Nancy Prasad was on the arms of this big, six foot four, burly policeman. And you know, he was carrying her through. She was only a light little thing. And he managed to get through the [checks] and I was on the inside, myself and two students. And I said to him, 'Well look, I'll hold on to her for a while, while you just organise her tickets and you know, save you carrying her and all her belongings and all the rest of it'. He said, 'That's a good idea. Just hold on to her for a while and I'll get rid of these other things here and we'll get through this crowd. And come with me and we'll put her on the plane', see. I wasn't going to go on the plane with her, but I was going to take her to the counter to get the tickets. So I said, 'Righto', so I got hold of her. He gave me her, believe it or not. So we just turned around and took off with her. And he went to the counter. He goes, 'Well where are these students? Hey, they're gone'. So you know, we saw him there looking around saying, 'Where the hell are these students?' and by that time we'd shot through, three or four of us, and we dashed out through the building. And the rest of the students came from the outside to the inside and blocked him off then, and everybody else from coming outside 'til we got into the cars. So then we all jumped in the different cars, and I got in a silly little Volkswagen, you know. There was about five of us in there with this young girl and we were all crowded out, and could hardly move, could hardly breathe. And the bloody thing would hardly go. It wouldn't start. So we took off in this battered old Volkswagen for my home. Well, that was it. All hell broke loose again, [on] the television and radio. I got back to my place there at Forest Lodge, which is just alongside the university, and we were in the lounge room, and we had Nancy there for a while and ...
No, she was quite all right. She was happy. I said, 'Don't you worry about anything, sis', I said, 'We'll look after you'. She said, 'Oh no, I'm all right'. And I said, 'We're not going to have you going overseas. You're going to stay in Australia with us'. She said, 'Oh, that's good'. So we calmed her down. We reassured her. Then one of our people took her from my place to her uncle's who had abandoned any idea of doing anything about it. He took her to her uncle's place. And then we all sat down there and we were just having a cup of tea and a few drinks and watching the television, and on it come: 'This man is wanted for kidnapping'. There was a big photograph of myself on the TV and all the rest of it. And they said, 'Hey, that's a charge you know. You can get twenty years' gaol'. And I said, 'God, could I?' I didn't realise the implications of it. And so you know, it was on. 'This man is wanted. If you've seen this man please report him to the police, you know. He's so high and so big and so wide and dark complexion, etcetera, etcetera'. And it was on the radio all the time: 'Charles Perkins and the Students Action for Aborigines is wanted for kidnap of Nancy Prasad'. And we heard it on the air and we said, 'Gee, what have we done?' and of course, you know, began to realise, well what we had done was what we wanted to really have done. You know, to sort of expose the White Australia Policy for what it was. And the next minute, knock, knock on the door. It was the police. And they said, 'Mind if we come in?' We said, 'Yeah, come in'. They said, 'We're looking for Nancy Prasad. We believe that you people here kidnapped her'. And we explained ourselves. We were against the White Australia Policy and all the rest of it. 'But search the house if you want to search the house'. It was an old house I had, an old little terrace place. You could get three people across and you'd fill the room up. And so they searched the house. She wasn't there. And so, 'We don't want you to leave the country. We want you to stay here'. And I said I had no intention of going anywhere. I said, 'We haven't got any money anyhow', and so he took all of or names and so on and so on. And that was it. And that was all that ever happened. And then we got on to radio and television and publicised the fact that it'd happened, but no action was ever taken against us. But Opperman had to explain it and then soon after that the White Australia Policy was broken. And the Student Action for Aborigines never got any credit for that at all. It was other people who have a tendency to write history, rewrite history in their favour, that claimed all the credit for that. And that was the catalyst for it all. It had massive publicity. It had never happened before. It was under difficult circumstances, because we could have got charged with kidnapping, as would have been technically the case. And Opperman soon lost his, you know, his Ministry over that. And he apologised later on for it, you know, and amended the policy.
Oh yeah. My studies were all going pretty good. I did all of that while I was studying, as everybody else did. And in fact, it stimulated me to sort of work harder. But I always ... what really made me work hard at university was an experience I had right at the beginning when I sat with 800 other students in the first month of Anthropology, to do an Anthropology test. And I finished it in the space of ... well, half the time and I was going to get up and go, but I thought, gee I must be brilliant. I must be real brilliant. Everybody else is a dumb-dumb. And I thought, this is going to be a breeze this university. Look at me, I've finished this test, and nobody else is even anywhere else near finished. So I waited and waited and waited 'til somebody got up and then I walked up with them, and I went over to my wife and I said, 'That was a piece of cake'. I said, 'Here I am, they're still ... there's about 700 or 800 of them back there still studying back there doing the exam, and I'm finished'. She said, 'Oh, you must have done well'. I said, 'Oh, of course I did'. I said, 'It's easy'. So I went to the ... about three weeks later I went to the board at the Department of Anthropology where they have [the results] up there and I looked at the ... not credits, what's above that? The distinctions. I looked at the distinctions. I said I should be at the top of the list. So I looked at the top of the list. I wasn't anywhere there. I wasn't on the merits. I wasn't on the credits. And I said, 'Oh, fancy getting an ordinary pass'. I wasn't even on the ordinary pass. And I looked in the fails: there I was. Smack in the middle of all the failures. I failed the test. I just didn't read it right. I, you know ... it was sort of ambiguous. I didn't understand the words and they were very cleverly written and I thought I was a smartie, that I understood them, you know. And it taught me a lesson. From that day onwards, I studied hard. It was the best thing that ever happened to me. I thought: you overestimated your capacity. You're not as smart as think you are. You're reading things as you want to read them and not as they are. You know, you've got a lot of work to do. So get into it. And I disciplined myself from that day on. [It] shattered me for about a week. I could hardly walk. And I was so ashamed of myself. But it taught me a lesson, and from that day I recovered then, and I said, 'Right, I will now discipline myself', and I did. Six in the morning 'til eleven at night, for three years. And taking the year before that, the matriculation, that was pretty hard. So four years, six in the morning 'til eleven at night. Every hour of every day, you know, two hours, an hour on. That's pretty hard to do.
No, she was there all the time with me, you know. And she sort of backed me up, when I broke she ... we had a cup of tea and a good talk. I mean you can't live in each other's pockets, you get bored with each other, you know. So it was good. We sort of had something to do. She managed the home with the scarce resources. Kept me motivated. We went out now and then, you know, to the pictures or something, and live a frugal sort of existence. But we were together and that's the main thing. And we were ... had the same objective and I think that's that way to go. And it was hard for me because I was ... you know, I just passed, even then. Just passed. If I didn't do that I wouldn't have passed. So it had to be that way: it had to be hard, it had to tough, it had to be disciplined. And you know, it had ... if it wasn't, I wouldn't have got through.
I believe I was the first Aboriginal person to graduate from [an] Australian university: the first one who identifies as an Aboriginal. There's been a few that have passed through before me, but they didn't identify as an Aboriginal. I was the first who said I'm an Aboriginal and I'm proud of it, and I got through university. And that's what I said. I was the first one to get a degree from any university. Right. And some people have said, 'No, you didn't get ...' but the records will speak for themselves. But I was the first one to proclaim. And you know, I was really proud of that, you know, not so much being the first, but having to get it anyhow. I was pleased to have disciplined myself over that time to achieve that objective. And I know if I can do that, well I can do anything. And I think that's the ultimate objective of anybody, isn't it? To go for something, to reach a goal and say well I've done that, so I can do other things as well. It gave me an enormous confidence boost. And it instilled a lot back into me of respect for myself, and for others as a consequence - a bit of dignity. And so I was able to hold my head up then and I'd say, 'Right, we'll go for it, we'll go for it'.
Not really. See, when I said to my mother I'm going to Sydney University, she said, 'Oh, that's nice. That's good'. But Sydney University didn't mean you know ... what's Sydney University to her? That's not her university. Her university is living, you know, out in the bush, in the country: animals, creeks, trees. That's the university of life. That's her university. That's where she was educated. For me, you know, doing that is something, that's not in her world. It's not of interest to her, you know. She said it's nice that I'm going there, but what are you going to, sort of thing. When I brought her down, that's the first time she's been out of Alice Springs into Sydney, she got in the jet plane and you know ... we sat down and then we were 35,000 feet up in the air, and she said, 'Where are we now?' And I said, 'Well, we're up in the air now'. And she looked out and she said, 'What happened to that airport?' you know. She didn't understand we had to get up off the ground like that, you know, and she didn't realise we were up so quickly and up so high. And when I brought her down to the MLC building down here in Sydney, she'd never been in a lift before. You know, never messed around with electrical switches of that nature. Got into the lift, I said, 'We've got to go into this room here'. So we went in the room, the lift, and the MLC building in Circular Quay was the highest building at that time in Sydney. It's now dwarfed. And right on Circular Quay as you know. And we went in there. We got up the top. I opened the door and she said, 'What happened to that room?' I said, 'Well, this is what they call a lift. You get up and you go up the top of the building'. 'Oh', she says, 'That's a good idea'. So it's just not her world you see. So we get up the top and looked around and she jumped back from the ... to see everything so small down below. So everything was new and exciting for her. And we went to Sydney University, she couldn't ... she was excited and pleased that I'd got there, and that everybody was, you know, saying that we'd done good things and all that. She was very proud and pleased with me but she couldn't wait to get back to Alice Springs. Alice Springs people are like that. You know, Central Australian people are like that. You take them away for one day or two days or a week, they can't wait to get back. If you turn your back they're gone. Gone by plane or train or something to get back. And my mother was the same. She enjoyed it all and the company of the kids and being there at Sydney University and seeing the wonderful buildings, and you know, the wonderful reception in the hall and the clap I got when I received my degree, and the photographs and all that taken on the sacred lawns in the quadrangle afterwards. But that was fine, yeah, she loved it.
I knew exactly what I was going to do with the degree. That degree was going to help me to do what I've been doing since I graduated: to sort of take a position in Aboriginal Affairs that was, I believe, principled and strong and aggressive and whatever the consequences, to go for it. And to attack racism and the disadvantaged position of Aboriginal people and rednecks and sacred cows and all these ... you know, all the inequalities that Aboriginal people face in Australian society, try to eliminate them. That was my, you know, general direction I was going in. All of those things I was aiming at. It was a sort of a shotgun approach to Aboriginal Affairs, but that's all you could do, you know. You know, attack governments of whatever political colour, state or federal. Attack the RSL, welfare branches, missions, churches, unions.
Never. I never, ever got involved. I was going to join the Labor Party one time, but you know, see they take the rigid stance, the political parties, on Aboriginal Affairs, you know. And if you don't agree with them, they don't like you. I felt it best to be flexible to pick the best out of whatever political party is in power or not in power at the time and I've stayed that way all the time. I've stayed that way. Some people think I'm more inclined to the Liberal-Country Party, which I'm not. I was a member of the Labor Party at one time, many years ago in Canberra. But I found the same there again. There was too many people talking a lot of nonsense, and two of them were Members of Parliament. One became a Minister, and I won't mention her name. But I got bored to tears listening to the rubbish they were talking about and so I just resigned from that, and I've never been a member of any political party since. But I think both political parties have got something to offer in Aboriginal Affairs, but they still offer it mainly as a secondary consideration to their aims and objectives. Aboriginal Affairs always comes second or third in the priorities on their agenda. And that goes for Labor as well as the Liberal-Country Party.
When you went to university you had this very strong idea that you were going there because you had a cause, because you wanted to prepare yourself for that. While you were there though, you must have realised that with a degree there were a lot of other options open to you. Did you find any of those alternative options at all tempting?
No. I only went to university for one reason, and that was the Aboriginal Affairs, and the Aboriginal people. And what I could do. And that still remains the same today, thirty-five, thirty-four years later. Never changed. I had no inclination to go into politics, which I could have done very easily, and been successful at it, I'm sure. Nor did I have any inclination to go into business, which I could have done reasonably well at. Who knows? I only went in there for one objective and that's for Aboriginal Affairs and Aboriginal people. And I've stayed with that all the time.
Because of what I am, being an Aboriginal, and because of the injustices Aboriginal people - and my people, which is ... when I say Aboriginal people I'm talking about my family - are facing, you see. And you can't ignore your family. You can't just say well I'm going to go and look after myself, if my family's not being looked after, you know. I mean what's life all about? That's not what life's supposed to be about. If their doing all right, then you can sort of do all right yourself. But if you're doing all right and they're not doing all right, there's no reason to live, you know. There's no reason for you to go on like that, if you can't look after your own people. So I felt that's why I'd go to university and that's why ... that's my cause and that was the burning fire in my belly all the time. And it always has been.
How did you find the right context to work in when you first graduated?
Well I searched around for a bit, but already the Foundation for Aboriginal Affairs was established, which was the first major organisation in Australia. And that was in Central Railway, in front of Central Railway in George Street, in an old funeral parlour, believe it or not, which Ted Noffs, myself and Candy Williams saw on the street and we decided to buy it. No money. Didn't have a penny in our pockets, but we thought we'll buy that, set that up as a Foundation for Aboriginal Affairs, which will be a focal point for Aboriginal people from all over Sydney and New South Wales. You know, talk about dreamers. And then we said, 'Right, now let's go and get the money'. But Aboriginal Affairs has been my cause all my life, not only as a cause that I pick up because it's, you know, a cause as some causes are that people pick up and let go now and then. It was my cause all my life because of my people and that's the way I am and that's the way, you know, I just saw no other. And I wouldn't like that to happen to my kids, you know, so much, because I think now's the time to sort of think of other options, you know, and I wouldn't like them to tread the path that I've trodden, because I think it's a bit too difficult. But when we first started off the Foundation in Sydney, that was really the first institution of its kind that was going to cater for the needs of Aboriginal people. And I think that was a revolution in itself as well.
Yes. I was on the committee, and I was in the fund-raising. We had a big fund-raising drive around ... and I can't think of the Lord Mayors now that were part of all of that. I can think of Mr. Lawrence, who was the Deputy Commissioner of Police, who was part of the committee there, [and] Mrs Bates, Thelma Bates ...
Harry Jensen was the Lord Mayor; Ted Noffs of course and a number of other people, Mrs. Cox, all played a big role in that. Kenny Brindle, the Aboriginal leader that passed away some time ago; Candy Williams and so on. These are the people that were involved. Col Hardy, Jimmy Little. And we finished up getting the money to buy it. But it was hard, because there was a lot of racism, you know, in Australia against Aboriginal people at that time, and so it was hard to get any money together. Most of the time ... and then when we did get established, we had to go on the street and sell old clothes and buttons and collect other things: you know, foodstuffs which we'd sell again to get money to keep the thing going. Then we'd have to send letters out to companies and so on to give us some donations and we got five pounds from some of the big organisations like Woolworth's and so on, who could afford millions, and they gave us five pounds. Then we had to have a button day once a year, you know. I sort of participated in selling buttons on the street. I used to sell buttons on the street. When I became the manager after I graduated, I used to sell the buttons on the street to get my wages. And so it ... when you reflect on all of that, young people today, especially young Aboriginal people, they think all of this has always been here, you know. When we started there was only about ten ... ten ... yeah, at the most - Aboriginal organisations in Australia. Now, when I finished up, when I started in the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, it was the Office of Aboriginal Affairs, there was about twelve or thirteen or fourteen. When I finished up being secretary, there was two thousand. So you know, it's sort of been a build up. But right at the very beginning in those early 1960s, there was nothing, nothing at all. And so selling buttons on the street was hard going to get your wages, but that's the way it was, you know. We didn't have any option. And when you sell a button to some white person who tells you to go and get stuffed, but using cruder words than that, [doesn't like] the blacks or the niggers, you really are hard pressed not to react. And they often used to say that to me, you know. And I'd say, 'That's all right, thank you very much'. Which I thought was a magnificent achievement on my part, not to lose my temper and hit them over the head with a tray full of buttons. [Laughs] Never did that.
Well, whatever I wanted to make it. Nobody knew what we should do. It was all new ground we were treading. Here was a Foundation for Aboriginal Affairs to help the Aboriginal people meet their needs and wants. What wants? What needs? Obvious ones of education, employment and housing and health and you know, all of that. And so I used to go and find employment for Aboriginal people around Sydney in the firms, and then I used to meet Aboriginal people coming in from the country, and I used to take them to the hospitals, and I'd take them to some other place or help them to go out to the prisons. Some people have forgotten all of this. And medical services. We used to take them to the hospital and then they had a medical service start and the legal service, you know. And ... but we used to run concerts there, and oh, they used to come in their hundreds from all over the place, every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night. Concerts and dances. And they were legendary, you know. And a lot of the blacks around Sydney and around New South Wales and around Australia have all been to the concerts. And they've met each other, got married there, and had kids and you know. They've set them up for life in that sense, and they all remember that. And so it was brand new in everything we did. I mean, you know, we'd get in one day and somebody would turn up with a big truckload of old toys. So we'd sort them out, fix them up, and bundle them up and take them out to families that didn't have toys for the kids. Well that was new. Then we'd look after families where the father or the mother was in prison and feed them for ... you know, for a long time. Give them money for food and take foodstuffs to them, or clothing and then go and visit their sons or their daughters in prisons, which in the early 1960s was unheard of, you know. When we used to turn up at the prison, they couldn't believe it, you know. Somebody's come to see me in prison. And the same with the parents, the mothers and fathers, you know. They didn't have anything. Some of them very old. They were pretty well destitute. We used to look after them. We used to look after the sick people in the homes, who nobody was caring for - the old people. We didn't do as good a job as we could have, should have done, because we didn't have the money, or didn't have the personnel. But we employed welfare officers. We employed Joyce Mercy, as she was then called. She's now Joyce Clagg and her husband's a fairly important person in a state Department. Now she was one of our first ... Welfare officers we called them. Welfare for what? So she went out and saw people, you know.
Yeah. And you know, and breaking new grounds and setting new rules and raising the vision and stimulating people and encouraging them, you know, and having a focus for Aboriginal people, you know. They were having a look to something, somebody.
Yeah, they were exciting times, yeah. But hard. I mean, I used to go to meetings and they would cut my wages back to really nothing. I was on about $32 a week or something. And I used to buy my own ... you know when I'd travel outside of Sydney and all that, we used to have to sleep in the back of the station wagon because they wouldn't give me any money for a motel or anything like that. Me and another Aboriginal bloke, we used to sleep arm in arm in the back, you know. A bloke called Boomanulla Williams.
No, absolutely not. Didn't have a chance to have a rort of one sort or another. No chance to exploit anything. And wouldn't even give me money to buy meals so we lived on pies and pasties all the time. But that was all right, that was ... we felt that that was pretty normal. But some of them were a little bit tough on us, making it hard for us. You know, they kept cutting back. And I used to work seven days a week for them, you know, early in the morning 'til late at night and concerts on a Sunday and dances on a Friday. Mum Shirl used to be our bouncer down at the Foundation and down at the Botany Town Hall, Mascot Town Hall. Another place we used to have them at Alexandria there. She used to be the bouncer. She said, 'No, don't need any men. I'll do it'. She said, 'I'll handle them both'. And she did. And so we used to pay her to bounce. And she was very good.
Did you ... Were you engaged at that stage in political activity to try to change the official line on Aborigines? I mean, in other words, as well as taking care of people yourselves, were you trying to get backing at State or Federal level?
Yes, we did. We continually lobbied Federal and State politicians as best we could. We campaigned for the abolition of the Aboriginal Welfare Board in this State, and the managers that controlled them, we believed they were acting in a dictatorial way to the Aboriginal residents. All of those things we campaigned. Not myself so much, but the people on the committee, like poor old Bert Groves and these sorts of people ... were the ones that ... and Kenny Brindle. They're the ones that spoke out and ... you know, and had meetings about all those issues. And I continually spoke to Rotary Clubs, Legacy ... not Legacy, what's the other club, not Rotary Club?
Lions' Clubs and all the rest of them, all round the countryside and I was on numerous television programmes and radio programmes all the time. Not really being as articulate as I would want to be, but you know just saying things about Aboriginal rights and some of the principles that we thought were important, that people should think about. And you know, just starting to have affect in the community we think. And I remember the time when I was on that Freedom Ride, I came back from Walgett especially, they flew me back specially to get on the programme. Bill Peach's programme. It was the early days of that. And I never saw that in the ABC when they reviewed the history of the ABC and the television coverage you know. That was a significant moment in race relations. But I got on the ABC and had that strong discussion with them about what was happening in Walgett and so on. And that got massive coverage. And I think all of those things we sort of played our part in. And I think all those things were very helpful. But it was early days for everything and it was very nitty gritty, very grass roots. And very stimulating. But very difficult too. And all on untrodden ground. And dangers were everywhere.
Well it started to spread from there. Right around Australia people started to pick it up in newspapers and on radio and on television what was happening in Sydney and what was being said by different people, especially with the Freedom Ride and the Nancy Prasad kidnap case there against the White Australia Policy. Those were just very significant events and people still remember them, you know. And it sort of changed the direction, I think, about race relations in this country, quite dramatically. But, you know, at the end of this time I think towards the end of the sixties I thought well, you know, the best place really to make a national contribution would be at the national level, and that means Canberra. How do I get to Canberra? Well, I met Harold Holt in the Waldorf Astoria in New York. I didn't know Harold Holt from a bar of soap, nor did I know Zara either. But you know, I was in New York at the time and I rang up and said I'd like to meet him, you know, to somebody. And they said well he's staying there and I said I'll go round and see him. They said, 'Well, who are you?' I said, 'I'm an Aboriginal leader, so-called'. I said, 'I want to see him, and he should speak to me', you know. Calling in great ignorance. And so I trotted off to the Waldorf Astoria, because I was staying down at some dive on the other side of New York, you know. But when I got to the Astoria I thought, oh gee, this is a big place, a nice place. And I rang up to see him and yeah, that's all right. Come up and see him, you know, such and such a time. Fine, so I went up to see him and we had a good yarn and I found him a really nice person. And Dame Zara come in and we had a cup tea. She made a cup of tea for us all and we all [were] chatting away, and I told them about this and that. And I said, 'Well, I'll write you something'. I think it was to him I did that. 'I'll write you something on Aboriginal Affairs, what I think should happen'. He said, 'You do that'. And so I took off and he went back to Australia or wherever. But soon after that he set up the Office of Aboriginal Affairs and I think I helped him a little bit in that direction. And I sent back my statement to him which got printed in the Quadrant, and Quadrant have got it ...
Well, the first big trip I made was, you know, right around to most of Europe and ... and to America of course, and that was the instigation of Paul Hasluck who was then the Minister of Foreign Affairs. And now we were ... we were very good friends in many ways because he ... he has an affiliation with the Northern Territory, as Minister for the Interior at some time and he's felt obliged to look to the people in the Territory and do what he can to help Aboriginal people, particularly, and he ... he was a bit of a father figure in a sense, you know, to me and we all knew him and he knew us and he knew our families and I think he just felt, well I'm going to send this person overseas because he had objections from the Department of Foreign Affairs. So he sent me right around to educate me on, you know, what the world's all about and I appreciated that initiative on his part. I always found him a good bloke. I didn't agree with everything he said about Aboriginal Affairs, some of his policies and so on. But he was a ... he was a product of his time like we all are and you know he ... we developed policies and that's where he was.
Well, I learned, you know, many things. I suppose just off the top of my head, was that how insignificant Australia is in world affairs. We're really nothing, you know, in comparison to the great powers and the great numbers of people that exist in other places. For example in China and how powerful that is and was and is and is going to be. America of course, you know, it was really the hotbed of everything, you know: finance, political movement, creative ideas and so on, and then in Europe, and I've always, was ... was enthralled by Europe you know, like Germany and France and England and so on, the old buildings but what I was looking at really was, was all decaying, going away something that was you know. Not a ... it was a type of has-been civilisation and was ... wasn't what we expected at the end of this century you know, to be the powerful forces throughout the world. And you know, the people are there and all that, but I was looking at history decaying in front of you, the old buildings and so on. But I enjoyed that but the people I met they were really interesting. They gave me some good ideas.
Well, I ... I was sort of shocked by America in many ways. You know I didn't like the ... the ... the black Americans too much you know. I thought they were very cheeky, a bit arrogant, aggressive and not much depth. And that was a very superficial judgement on my part. Later on, I began to appreciate them more and I began to meet more of them. But I met people like you know Jesse Jackson and Andrew Young and so on. And Jesse Jackson is just something again right out of this world. He's a great American. I met a lot of the white Americans too that were in powerful positions. They arranged interviews with me. I can't remember their names but. you know, I was impressed by them too. But I thought as I think with most white Americans, they're naive, you know, they live in another world. They sort of ... they sort of listen to themselves too much and they don't really attach themselves or their agents to the grass roots of the issues they are dealing with. Very technically great but in terms of sensitivities towards other people I don't think they got it ... They are very creative people, very energised people and come up with lots of good new ideas but somehow or other, there's nothing at the end of the sausage machine in terms of the reality. But, you know, it was good to meet them all and perhaps my judgement once again superficial on them and that's ... that's not fair to them.
Yeah. I learned a lot from Jesse Jackson. I ... one of the things I did learned was that, you know, go for it, don't stand back. Get up there and have a go. Say your piece, you know, and put it together so people can understand it. And Jesse Jackson always was and is today a man of the people. He was ... He's been condemned by the press in America on various occasions for this and that but he's always been basically true to himself and true to the cause, you know. Obviously, he's ... he's in the ... in America where publicity - personal publicity and general publicity - can make or break you, you know, but he sort of managed to survive all of that, beyond the Martin Luther King era and so on. But I think with what I ... with the trip itself right around America, I suppose, you know, I ... I really learned one, you know: we've got a long way to go here in Australia. We don't know anything about other countries. We're, sort of you know, very sheltered from other countries and the experiences they are having in terms of race relations, in terms of the economy, in terms of revolutions of one kind or another, physically or otherwise. And you know, we're not subject to new ideas as other people are. New ideas are being forced upon them. Here in Australia we can take it or leave it. Like it is now today with multiculturalism. People think that can sort of you know handle it now at their convenience. No, it's flooding in. Multiculturalism is flooding all around us. It's too late. It's a new ball game today. But 1960s, you know, we could sort of sit back a bit more casually. We can't do that in 1990s.
I did on later trips, a lot of indigenous Americans and I've made several trips to America since then and I met quite a few of them: the Navajos, and the Apache, the people further down south and some in New York City, you know, and others to the west of New York, I can't think of the places themselves but I found them very good, very much like the Aboriginal people, you know, being used and abused and exploited but some of them are starting to get on their feet a bit. In Canada, it ... it ... it's really rather sad there because the Aboriginal people or the Indian people that are living on reserves are status Indians and ones, their brothers and sisters, physically their brothers and sisters, living off the reserves, are not regarded as Indians and it's sort of ... they've divided the Indian communities and the Indians have ... have agreed with them and they are going along that. So I found that rather objectionable to my way of thinking. But I see very similar things between themselves and ourselves here in Australia. With the black Americans, there is some ... some similarities too but it's not so much tied with the land and tied with the culture. It's more with, you know, personal relations, race relations and ... and you know equality and society, human rights questions and so on, but with the American Indians it's all of that but it goes into land and culture, so it extends more. I think my ... what I learned from America, is that you know you can, you know, the ugly, and the bad and the beautiful all together in one and it's very easy to fall from one to the other and that really it's for you to create your own circumstances if you're able to and, you know, you've got to be very careful. There's temptations just around the corner, whether it be drugs, loose living or things like that. And I think it's not a very good society myself.
In respect of the leadership role that you are about to extend back here in Australia among the Aboriginal people, did you learn more from your contact with the black Americans or with the indigenous Americans? Which seemed to you to be most relevant?
Oh, I think they both had something to contribute to develop ... my personal development and my view of, you know, indigenous affairs and race relations. So I ... I was able to get from both, you know. They were both very helpful to me in broadening my vision of the world, what Australia is all about, how we should relate to white people in this country, what we should do for ourselves personally as a community of people. So all of the experiences and discussions I had with all of them are very helpful. You know the American Indians were tied to the land and the culture, as I said before, and the others were sort of you know talking about race relations and what could be done about it and what you can do in terms of legislation and so on, so it was beneficial all around but, you know, it just wasn't a place to live, America, to me. [INTERRUPTION - PLANE]
Oh, it was late in 19 ... in the 1960s and we'd set up the Foundation for Aboriginal Affairs and I felt, at that time, that I would put myself more on the national scene, that I ought to do more on the national scene for Aboriginal people in other States if I can possibly do that and that Canberra was the place to create a national agency or platform on which you can reach out to people in more remote communities in ... in the respective states. And that we can do a lot for New South Wales but what about every where else, you know? And I wanted to sort of stimulate Aboriginal people and white people to sort of reflect on Aboriginal people and what can be done about the situation, which was very bad at that time, on a national level and so the only place to go for that was in Canberra. Because the amount of monies they were spending on Aboriginal people in Canberra at that time was virtually nothing at all of any significance. And the attention they were giving to Aboriginal people was very ad hoc, you know, piecemeal and so on. There was no co-ordination. So I thought, well perhaps I can make a contribution to that.
Well, I was ... I applied for a job as a research officer when the ... in the newly established office of Aboriginal Affairs under Barry Dexter, Dr. Coombs and Professor Stanner and there were two positions going in the Office of Aboriginal Affairs. It was a very small office set up by Harold Holt, you know, and responsible to him. And I thought, well I'd apply for one of those positions and I was the manager of the Foundation for Aboriginal Affairs in Sydney at that time. I got interviewed for it like everybody else did. And you know there's not many jobs in Aboriginal Affairs, very few, very few and they wasn't many Aboriginal organisations either and I thought, well, I'll get in there and I can sort of deal on a national level, make some contribution there. And ... and I didn't get the job. They told me, 'No, you can't get a job', you know. Not that you can't get the job but we don't want to give you the job because you're qualified beyond what we really want. It's a liaison officer type position and I was very disappointed. And I thought, well, that's the way it goes. Then they said, 'But we'll offer you another one which will be a research officer because you've got a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Sydney so take that job', [which] Barry Dexter and Dr. Coombs had offered me. I said, 'Well, that's fine', so I took that job, you know, and I was very pleased to have that. But one of the things that really caused me to go to Canberra as well was the death of my friend called Boomanulla Williams. He's an Aboriginal bloke that was working with me at the Foundation for Aboriginal Affairs when it was really tough going, you know. We used to virtually have no money at all to do all the things that we wanted to do and the enormous needs of the Aboriginal people at that time but he's ... he's an Aboriginal fellow from Cowra and he was a good friend of mine and he got killed in a car accident and I thought, you know, what a great loss he was to me as a personal friend. So I felt something, you know, about Sydney. I didn't want to be associated with any more, which I would have gotten over of course but then I said, well there's an opportunity in Canberra as well, so that was just another underlying feeling that I had. But the bigger feeling was, get on the national scene. And then they offered me the research officer position and I took it. I thought that was fine.
Now at the Foundation, you'd had quite a lot of freedom to work out what needed to be done and to do your best to make it happen. When you went to Canberra you were in a great big Federal bureaucracy. Was that very different? Was there a real adjustment problem for you in doing that?
Oh yeah, tremendous adjustment. In the Foundation we really had not much money and we could do certain things and we helped Aboriginal people as we felt the need and we were fairly flexible. But in Canberra it was the bureaucracy. At that time in the sixties and the seventies, but certainly in the sixties ... and when I got to Canberra, the bureaucracy was the king. You know, you got ... there were certain guidelines. There were certain procedures and you got to do it this way and no other way. And they were very strict about discipline within the public service and who was going to speak out and, you know, who could and who couldn't. Well, obviously, most people couldn't and the only people who could did in a very restricted way: that was the secretaries of the Department. So it was all very much a tight ship and I went into that situation and I'm not like that, so from the very first day I walked into the office, I was in trouble because my mental attitude and my feeling and my character was just not compatible with the public service system. So I had to make some adjustments to, sort of, get used to the system first of all and find out what it was all about. And I think it was good for me to, sort of, have that experience. And I didn't like it at all: writing letters in a particularly way you know; not being so friendly to other people. Everybody, sort of, had an attitude to each other from the top to the bottom and ... and there were certain procedures you had to follow all the time in ... in not only letter writing but in, you know, talking to people and so on. And in meetings and so on. And I just didn't like it. But I was ... I liked it in one sense because it was ... it was dis ... it was bringing about some discipline within myself, which I thought was good.
There was. There was Margaret Lowry, Reg Saunders and Phillip Roberts. Those were the three other Aboriginal people and they were the research officers ... not research officers. They were the liaison officers for ... They were appointed as a consequence to that first advertisement for those positions and they were ... They were very good and they used to travel around and talk to Aboriginal people but you can imagine how in the whole of Australia it is just not possible to relate to everybody. So we were set an impossible task but I was in the office doing research work. Well, it was very good and the work I was doing we, sort of ... what were the needs of Aboriginal people, where were the greatest disadvantage and you know to prioritise them and just an enormous was facing us. I don't think we realised the ... the ... the ... what was in front of us at all. I certainly didn't.
Not really. We could do things, like we established for example such things as a sports ... the National Aboriginal Sports Foundation. We set about establishing Aboriginal Hostels Limited. All of those things and most of what's today in ... in ... with ATSIC and with the Department of Aboriginal Affairs arose out of those early years in the Office of Aboriginal Affairs. Because that later became THE Department of Aboriginal Affairs in 1972, of course under Whitlam. And everybody was absorbed in the Department and a lot of the thinking was done in those early years and they came to fruition from 1972 onwards.
When you were first appointed, Gorton was Prime Minister but Billy McMahon pretty quickly took on that role. During that period under the Liberals, was it an easy road for those people who were working in Aboriginal Affairs?
No, it was difficult, you know. Gorton couldn't care less about Aboriginal Affairs and Aboriginal people and nor could Billy, to his ... Billy McMahon but Billy did have some compassion now and then, providing, you know, it was brought to his notice by Dr. Coombs and Barry Dexter. And obviously he got on well with Dr. Coombs and Dr. Coombs was able to talk to him about certain things. But really if he didn't have to deal with Aboriginal Affairs he wasn't bothered at all and you couldn't blame him for that. I mean, he's a white person after all. He was Head of Government, who had Aboriginal Affairs right down on the bottom of the rung of the ladder and you know it was no, it was no political problem to them. It was no embarrassment to them. They couldn't care less you know. And so that's the way it was at that time.
Well I made it my business to go right around Australia as much as I can and let Aboriginal people know we got to do something about this. I tried to stir up their thinking, you know, to get them to think about their own situation, what're they going to do about it. To project on the national scene and not, sort of, be too inwardly looking into their communities, to broaden their perspective and that's ... that was like ... I'd tried to do that in the first five or ten years of my existence in Aboriginal ... in Aboriginal Affairs.
Oh, I was always in trouble. I was in trouble every week for one thing or another: speaking out, not talking to people in the right way, refusing to write letters that I thought were not correct, being aggressive and perhaps insulting to certain people, who I thought were racist or stupid or both - politicians as well as bureaucrats.
Well, Barry Dexter took ... had to do that you know. He had to do all of that and, you know, that was his job, and he was very good really. He gave me you know a long lead and I was able to sort of do lots of things but then ... then, now and again he had to pull me in because the politicians were complaining. You know here's Perkins running off and calling us racists and ignorant and stupid about Aboriginal Affairs, which they were, and Barry agreed with me but he's, sort of, had to perform his role too, which was to discipline you know bureaucrats within his ... in his office or within the Department and I happened to be one of them. And so I don't blame him for that. But you know, I had my role to play too and my role was to sort of stir up the Aboriginal people, or not stir them up but get them to, sort of, realise their position and let's do something about it. And you know ... and obviously as a consequence of my efforts and other people's efforts we had ... we began to develop marches and demonstrations and sit ins and objections to the system of government, whichever political colour they may be. And the bureaucracy and the way it was sort of very impersonal and arrogant towards Aboriginal people, as it was to everybody.
Yeah, that, that was hard. That was hard. And it's very hard when you see that there are needs that are not being met and you see the disadvantage Aboriginal people are being faced with. And you are actually seeing the results of policies that are totally inappropriate for Aboriginal people, where young black babies are dying with high ... because the high infant mortality rate and people are not focusing in on that at all. Mortality rates are high. You know, not enough housing and people are sleeping out in the open or in overcrowding conditions. And when you see all of that and people don't do anything about it or couldn't care less, well, you've got to say something and that's been my life. That's been my way and that's been my responsibility in all my life is to speak out and it's got me in a hell a lot of trouble. And I didn't want to speak out. I don't want to be aggressive to people. I regard myself as a pretty friendly bloke and a reasonable good natured person. And even though I have a bit of a quick temper but I'm not have any hard feelings or bitterness towards anybody but on a numbers of numbers of occasions over the years from 1968 onwards or even before that, I felt obliged to say something, to speak out and it got me in a hell of a lot of trouble. You know, disciplined by the bureaucrats, demotions, no promotion, sidelined in the office, writing letters to myself, nothing to do, people ignoring me, cut out of conferences and seminars, no travel, being banned from the Department for a whole year without pay, with three children. I had all of those and you know ... and then parliamentarians slamming me in Parliament and I no ... know I couldn't reply to them. And newspapers condemning me, and myself personally and my family. I had to put up with all of that but that's the way it is, you know. That's the way we were and that's the way we are likely to stay.
There was, during that period, that period under the Liberal Government before the Whitlam Government came in, there was the famous tent embassy. Who's idea was that and could you describe that whole initiative?
Well, I've seen ... well, I've seen reports and I've heard people making statements about the embassy in the last few years and I find it rather amazing. I thought it was my idea. I still think it's my idea to this day. I remember when I was on the kidney machine and I was on the kidney machine here and ... where I lost my kidneys and I had to go on to machine three times ...
... And I was there on the kidney machine at home and these people came and saw me: a fellow called Michael Anderson and Kevin Gilbert at different times and I said, 'Why don't we set up our own embassy in front of Parliament House. We'll just go and get a building or something, or at least why don't we put a tent up or a tin shed?' So that was how the concept came about and I thought I was the one who started that but I see that everyone else has claimed credit for it and well, perhaps they're correct, I don't know. But I know that right throughout the existence of the tent embassy ... the embassy, I was the one who fed them, clothed them and they all had showers at my place. I looked after them and everything, you know, but now some Aborigines are trying to rewrite history to suit themselves. And I find it rather disappointing.
Well everybody else has an embassy and we were a nation of people so why don't we have our own embassy? Then we could entertain all these guests from overseas. Then we could relate to all these other embassies in Canberra even though we had nothing. I didn't know where we were going to get the money to do all of that and who was going to work in it but I ... I thought well, if we had an embassy then we could do lots ... lots of other things which was, you know, a little unreal in consideration of what the responsibility of embassies are but we thought, the concept is good, let's try to do something about it.
That was the whole idea as well. The politics of it were very important and you know, lots of things flowed from us, from that, that we didn't think about you know but we ... the lads went along and did it and they - three or four of them - went along and put up an umbrella first of all and from that, it developed into a bit of a single tent and then into a bigger tent, which I still have possession of. And with all the names and all the things we put on it, and all the signs, placards and I've got some of those. But you know, the ... the political ... the politics of the tent getting erected I think were ... have been enormous and, you know, is still there today of course in another form. It's a more structured building. But, you know, the concept is very important to get across to people, well, there was a nation of people here before white people came. This is our embassy. Sure it doesn't look much but it's there anyhow and you've got to take notice of it.
Well, I think politically it had the best effect on the Aboriginal people, and I think that's always the best effect. You know, if the Aboriginal people are not interested in doing it, well it's not even worthwhile bothering with the struggle and that's what I've always told Aboriginal people, 'We've got to get off our black arses and do something ourselves and if we do it, then others will follow if we give the leadership'. And the politics of that, it was most important for our own people: hey, we're a nation of people. This is our focal point. Let's gather around and focus in on the embassy, you know. And the embassy was the focal point for demonstrations, sit-ins, messages to be conveyed to government, you know, getting world attention on our plight and all that, inspiration as well, you know. The psychology of the tent embassy was very important for Aboriginal people in my mind. The second thing was the physical presence of the tent embassy in front of Parliament House. No politician could go into Parliament House without turning around and looking at the embassy there and saying, 'Them bloody blacks, they're still there!' You know, but every day they've got to remember the blacks are there, the blacks are there, the blacks are there and they're not going to go away and that made them think and it disturbed them. They couldn't sleep at night - some of them. It, you know, disturbed their conscience and that's what we wanted and we made them feel uncomfortable and embarrassed. And they wanted us all to go away and disappear and we weren't going to do that.
There was an atmosphere at the time in which you were sort of running up to an election too, with McMahon, and Whitlam getting very close to winning. What was the relationship between the Opposition at the time and the tent embassy?
Well the Opposition and the Government were all worried about the embassy. Nobody wanted it. None of them wanted it there to be quite frank: Labor nor Liberal because Labor thought well, if we're not in power, well, we can be a little bit more friendly but when we do get into power, we hope the thing would just disappear you know. And so we realised ... we realised that and they knew that as well and so they played, you know ... everybody ... the political parties all played the game to suit themselves really. But we did get more sympathy and more understanding from the Labor Party than we did from the Libs. Some of the Libs came over, you know, and spoke to us and some of the National Party people did as well, but their visits and their support was very few and far between. Basically more from the Labor Party came over and ... but the support was mostly from the general public. The general public are the ones that helped us more than anything with their contributions, their words and so on. And other times some, you know some person was not pleased ... were not pleased at all with the embassy and they threw things at it, tried to burn it down a couple of times and, you know, tried to punch up people there and all sorts of things but, you know, you expect that. And I ... I received ... I must have received about, oh, thirty or forty death threats in that time which you know ... you expect.
From all around, all around the place.
I don't know. They ... they didn't ... they never signed their named these people, these very courageous people. You know, they ... you know cuttings of myself with a rope hanging around my neck and knives stuck in and saying, 'Your next Perkins' you know. Well, we can just throw them in the bin most of them. Others, I referred them to different people but you really can't trace that.
Well I think it was about 1970 that I began to realise that I was losing my kidneys, you know. Before that I knew it was a case because when I was playing soccer in Sydney, I wasn't ... doesn't matter how much I trained, I wasn't able to sustain myself for a full game. I was losing a lot of my energy and so my kidneys were gradually becoming non-functional and then early in 1970, it was pretty serious and so, you know, I lost them in fact. And I started on the kidney machine here first of all in ... in the ... at the Sydney Hospital, with Dr. John Stewart and they put the ... I forget the term that they use, but they fill your stomach with the fluid and it acts as a kidney and takes all the toxic fluids out of your blood system. Well, that wasn't really suitable and that couldn't last long. It was very early days in the treatment of people who lost a kidney, you know. And so then they developed this new kidney machine and they taught me how to use it. And then I took that with me to Canberra in the boot of the car.
It was really very, very difficult and it took a lot of discipline and it was really hard I can tell you that, in those early years.
That's right. I lost my kidneys after that and if it wasn't for my wife, well, I would have just done myself a long time ago on those, in that year actually. I wouldn't have put up with it.
Well, you know, to be on the kidney machine ... those kidney machines at that time, it was ten hours, three times a week and you ... my wife was taught to put the needle into me and she did that very well indeed. Your blood is pumped out of you through the machine and then it comes back into your system again. Well, sometimes the machine doesn't work very well. You don't set it up right or the needles might come out and that happened many times. And it's really ... it was really hard to keep going and I was very very weak and I could hardly ... I had to take two or three minutes to tie up one shoelace and put on a pair of trousers took me about ten minutes. So it was very hard but I thought, no, I'll keep going because I had my three children - you know my children, and I said, 'What I'll do is just battle on', and I said, 'I'll get over this', because I had this burning desire to do something in Aboriginal Affairs and I wasn't going to let this get over the top of me but it would have if I didn't have the support of my wife you know. I wouldn't have put up with it but she was backing me all the way so I thought, well, I'll keep going, the thought of the children and all that. And so I said I ... you know, I've got to do something for them. Then I thought, you know, the third thing was the cause, you know. I'm here in Canberra now, get up and do something, perhaps there's something around the corner for you, you know, that could changed things. And that's what did happen later on but that took a while. But to be on the kidney machine in that time was, you know ... in the early 1970s was really hard, really hard. I've had thousands of needles in my arm here and that's why today, and after that time, when I, you know, recovered and while I was on the machine, I said, 'Nobody is going to get over the top of me. Nothing is going to worry me. I'm frightened of no bastards, no governments, no politician, nothing. And I'll go straight in. If I've got to say what's going to be said, I'll say it, come hell or high water, without considering the cost'. And I said that on my kidney machine when I was lying there virtually bleeding to death when a couple of the needles came out and I had to have them put back in again, when my bed was covered in blood, my blood. When I woke up, and I thought, if I get over this, I'll go for it. And that's what I've done and that's what ... and that's why ... that's why I've been in trouble since, since I got off the kidney machine, all the time because I said, 'I don't want to just cause any problems for these bureaucrats. I don't want to cause any problem for the Government, but this is what I'm going to say, because it has to be said'. And that's what I've followed ever since that time that particular path, and that's why, you know, most politicians don't like me and I get into trouble with the newspapers and all the rest of them. But they can all get stuffed because I made that commitment then as you all make commitments. Everybody does when they are in dire straights, when they're in serious trouble.
Oh yeah, I thought I was going to die but I thought if I survived I'll make a couple of resolutions that I'll stick by. That was one of them.
Well, I was suffering that much, it was really hard and I thought, well, I'll go home and die in Alice, in Alice Springs. And I was on my way through to ... and we stopped off in Adelaide and we decided to set up there for awhile and they gave us a Housing Commission home that wasn't very good and the water quality in Adelaide ... the water that you need for your kidney machine was very poor indeed. There were lots of problems but I thought, no, I'll battle on a bit more to see if we can do anything and I wished ... we were staying in Adelaide, right next to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital there and I ... I was ... I was really finished. I decided then I'd give it a miss. And I don't know how I was going to do that but I was going to let the toxic fluid build up I suppose and then pass away in that way. I just had no idea. But I wasn't going to put up with it much longer. And I, you know, I thought, one day I thought, well, I'll write a little letter and just, and close it all off and ... but then the next morning I was thinking about all that. And the next morning I got a phone call, and they said, 'Come in, we've got a kidney for you. We want to do a transplant'. And I thought, it was Dr. Coombs or someone ringing me up to ask me about something or other. Here I was working, you know, in Adelaide at that time and there was ... it was just too hard working you know and being in the condition I was.
Well I was ... I was, you know, taken by surprise, of course, because I was working at that time in Adelaide and living in this Housing Commission home and was very unhappy with being on a kidney machine all the time. It was just so depressing because they were big machines and it took an hour to get on them, to set them up even, and an hour when you're finished. And I thought, yeah, are they joking or is this ... is this what usually happens when you go and have a transplant. You're just a phone call from a nurse in the hospital saying, 'Come up, we're going to give you a transplant', or what about some doctor dropping around and telling me or ... it all seemed so quick and, you know, not serious enough but, you know, certainly they were serious and yeah, that's the way doctors and nurses and sisters talk. They tell you the most serious things in the most ... in the plainest way and then I realised it was all for, you know ... for real. And got myself organised and went straight up there and within an hour or so I was on the mach ... on the operating table and the transplant took place and it was just ... it's an amazing thing really. And you know, I'm the world's longest living kidney transplant. There's no two ways about it. And I had a woman's kidney sewn in the right hand side in front of me, which most people tend to forget and well, I woke up from the operation, I sat up and I ... I ... I asked for a pen and paper and I must have written you know a lot of nonsense for about two or three hours. I ... I ... it just ... I just felt compelled to just write things down: policies about Aboriginal Affairs and administration, things about ... It just ... it was ludicrous, 'cause I must have been out of my brain. And ... but I could feel, I could physically feel and psychologically feel the toxic fluids draining out of my system and out of my brain with the new kidney ... started to function effectively pretty well straight away. I could feel it all and I was just as though, you know, I was coming alive. And I always remember that feeling. It was just the most wonderful feeling and that's why I got a pen and paper and started to write fairly indiscriminately about all sorts of subjects and threw the lot in the bloody waste bin but ... but it was just the feeling I had at that time.
Well, I carried on and then ... working and Barry Dexter asked me to come back to Canberra, away from Adelaide and they treated me very well I must say. The Office of Aboriginal Affairs treated me very well indeed and looked after me when, you know, in most circumstances I ... I would be just put out on the street in terms of employment. So, you know, I'm very grateful for that. But, you know, even though you're grateful for all that you still got to say things to people. And so I went back to Canberra and became involved more intensely in the bureaucracy and then later on, of course, other things happened.
Well, you know, Gough was a ... Whitlam was a breath of fresh air, not only in Aboriginal Affairs but for the whole of Australia. And you know, what he did was to establish the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, you know, as per the referendum which enabled him to do that in 1967, and so that in 1972 there was the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and he ... and it was just more responsibility by the Commonwealth in terms of the needs of Aboriginal people throughout Australia - taking it away from the States, which is a very good thing but it opened a Pandora's Box. You know, everything started to happen then. The new responsibilities and new relations with ... with the States, new ... a new and exciting and energetic and a[new] relationship with Aboriginal people so that really sort of released the lid on all that suppressed energy. And so Gough was responsible for all that and he was very good.
Well I think it always is the case in Aboriginal Affairs that, you know, you can have a Department of Aboriginal Affairs but the Aboriginal people have to be really willing and able to be part of it. And you can't race ahead of the wishes and the needs and the vision and the expectations and the abilities of Aboriginal people and so, you know, we had to energise the Aboriginal people first of all to be able to accept all these opportunities that were obviously there but the ... the policy of Aboriginal Affairs has always been made by government in isolation really to Aboriginal people. And we as administrators and bureaucrats had to administer that policy and that is always the case. That was always the case even when I became the secretary for the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. You know a lot of Aboriginal people think I was always there, everything is going to change, but we only administer what policy is laid down by white people and government, whether local government or state governments. And that's the major flaw in Aboriginal Affairs in this country.
Did you find that you could have more influence on policy within the Department by talking to your superiors, or by making public statements which you weren't supposed to do that got reported in the press?
Both. I felt that, you know, there is a conflict in me as a public servant speaking out but I said, 'Well bugger that, I'll get arrested and that', and that's why I got in a lot of trouble and I ... I really created the path for most public servants to speak out, I ... I think anyhow. I was the only one speaking out as a public servant. Nobody else was. And everybody thought it was horror, you know. This is ... this is unbelievable that a public servant could speak out at that time but I was obliged to. And I was counselled and written to and reprimanded on many occasions but Barry Dexter I think understood that, that I had to speak out because I was an Aboriginal, even though I was a bureaucrat. And ... but it was very difficult for me because you ... you're caught between two trees really. You sort of, you know, you like to have a job, you like to have the security and you like to be good in your job and do the things you want to do and focus in on it, but with an Aboriginal, certainly with myself, and I can only speak for myself, I had to do all of that. But then I had to speak out as well which caused complications in your job. So it was really hard and I don't think a lot of people realise how difficult it was, particularly for me, at that time, because I was speaking out all the time because I felt there was a need to. You just couldn't sit back and watch people dying all around you or suffering all around you, while you had a job as a bureaucrat, you know, in Canberra where you had a nice house, you know, bitumen roads, clean water coming through the taps and other people had nothing of that and they were your own people. So you had to speak out and that, that was my problem. It's been my problem all my life. You know, I could just sit back and enjoy things and I could have made a success of bureaucracy. I could have been whatever. I was offered positions at a very high level in, in the bureaucracy and then secondly, in diplomatic posts and much more than that I might add. Not only by bureaucrats, senior bureaucrats, senior bureaucracy but by ... not only by politicians but by Prime Ministers and I ... I know I chose the path that I'm on now.
Oh, I think my major running conflict was with Barry Dexter and Dr. Coombs but that ... they were very good people, you know, and they had to do their job and they were trying to do the best they could as well, as I was, but I had more responsibility than them because I was an Aboriginal person and Aboriginal people expected more of me and it was necessary I said that ... those things I did at that time. To show leadership and sort of say things and ruffle people up, stir them up you know and that's what I wanted to do: to stir people up, just all ... Aborigines as well, say, 'Hey listen, this is not right. What are we going to do about it and what are you going to do about it? And what are we going to do about it?' And you know, that ... those things need to be said at that time because if you wait another ten years a lot of people die unnecessarily, people suffer unnecessarily and you know, you shouldn't allow that to happen. If you can make a contribution to stop that happening to ... to greater or less degree then do it. But you know, I got into trouble with oh, lots of them - every ... every Minister of Aboriginal Affairs I got in trouble with and I've been with sixteen of them.
Oh, Senator Cavanagh, well, he just ... he, you know, wasn't particularly bright, as most politicians aren't, you know, especially when they've been union people ... union, you know, officials or secretaries in the Liberal parties and they promote them into Parliament of all places, you know. To get them out of the road perhaps. And that ... with say Cavanagh, he came through the union ranks, he was a plasterer, he used to plaster the walls of buildings and all sorts. Well you know you don't get much sensitivity about personal and international and national relationships plastering walls. And so we ... we came into conflict because I don't have a great appreciation of the unions. I don't think much of the union movement. I think they are very reactionary and conservative, protecting only their own and even then they don't do a good job of that and he was in that ... in that area and then he didn't have a great imagination. He didn't have a great intellect and he didn't know what it was all about, you know. And when I spoke out he was only wanting to protect the Government, which was his responsibility and he wrote to Bernice to ring up Barry Dexter constantly, 'Why don't you shut Perkins up? You know and why don't you write him a letter? Why don't you dismiss him? Why don't you send him somewhere else?' And poor Barry Dexter had all this pressure on him from Cavanagh, as he did with other Ministers and other bureaucrats, to sort of get rid of me or shut me up or discipline me. And Barry did that now and then, you know, as much as he could but he was always apologising for it you know, 'Sorry mate, I got to do this, you know. This is my job and, you know, you've really gone overboard this time'. And I said, 'Well that's that stupid Minister, or that stupid political party, but with Cavanagh we never got ... we never hit it off because we were just living in different worlds. I don't know what world he was living in but I was in Australia and, you know, I had my responsibility to my people and to my country and he had his to his union ... to his political party, I suppose.
I know, I ... I, you know ... I'd made a commitment to him and I promised him on a number of occasions, 'No, I'm not going to say any more, shut my mouth'. But that was not possible. It was just not possible. And I knew I was doing the wrong thing by Barry but I knew I was doing the right thing by my own people. And it was not only for my own people, it was for Australia, you know, and you know lot of people think you know what you're doing is for Aboriginal Affairs but it's for all of us and, and Barry, I think he understood that and I reckon he was very pleased with me doing that because he felt the same way. He was a very kind hearted person and he's a person who ... who believed in the rights of people and he believed in human rights and he believed that, you know, Aboriginal people were having their human rights infringed upon but he couldn't do it but I could you see. So I had to be ... in most of my life in the public service, in terms of speaking out and getting involved with governments and being in conflict, I had to be the bad guy. Well, that's ... that's the role I had to play. [INTERRUPTION - PLANE]
During that period of the early [and] mid seventies, there was a tremendously strong protest movement happening generally and the Aboriginal people were part of that and you were very much leader in that. Where did that lead you with this voicing of the protest at that time? What happened to bring you finally into complete conflict with the Government?
Well, it was a gradual build up. You know, with people like Cavanagh and ... and you know other people in the ... Bill Hayden and all them, you know, in the Labor Government. They all were on the outside for Aboriginal people but they didn't want anybody speaking out and disturbing the Government's progress, they were thinking about the next election you know and you can't blame them for that. So, you know, I was very unpopular in the Cabinet. And ...
That's right. Yes and of course there was a time I was banned for a whole year without salary.
I'm not sure. Well, we were all demonstrating you see in front of Parliament House and I was a public servant, and I was leading it. I must have led dozens of demonstrations when I was a public servant, even when I was the secretary of the Department I led them. And that sort of causes, you know, various governments heart attacks and, you know, uneasy ... uneasiness. But we were all there demonstrating about Aboriginal rights and so on, which some people tend to forget. And then all of a sudden the police come up and said, 'We want to have a word with you'. I thought they were going to arrest me, you see. They said, 'No, we want a word with you. We've got a problem back at the Woden Valley offices of AT - not of ATSIC, but the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. We'd like you to come back there'. And I said, 'Well, what for?' They wouldn't tell me so I jumped in the car with them and off we went. So I told everybody to carry on you know, I'll be back soon. So we went pulled in to the Woden town, in Woden Square there, and one of the officers in the Square ... it was occupied by certain Department of Aboriginal Affairs officials and so the police took me there and I realised that it was pretty serious. There were police all over the place and everybody was pushed out of the buildings and I thought, well there's something serious must be going on here. Well, it was, and ah, Frank Moore, Moore, and Jerry Long, through the senior officers were being held up by this particular person, who had a gun. Bobby Macleod. And so, you know, I didn't know that until they took me to the bottom of the stairs there and said, 'Look, this is the situation', and they explained it all to me. Apparently Bobby went there looking for Barry Dexter and he didn't find Barry but he found the other two, and so he ... we ... I went up the stairs and then I saw all the heavily armed police. They had all the stuff on them, in the front of them, you know, this padded clothing and so on, and repeater shotguns. And I thought, this is a really heavy scene. And, you know, the best ... the most I've ever seen was a 303 and a 22 rifle but these blokes had the latest weaponry and they were very serious and they're going ... they were standing outside the door and they were going to go in. And there were a few people in there and anything could have happened. There were some ... I reckon about two or three would have been killed, you know, before everybody realises who was who and ... but there was only ... so they ... I went up the stairs and they said, 'Who are you?' and I explained who I was and I said, 'There's a mate of mine in there, Bobby Macleod'. I realised it was him because he was calling out for me. He wanted only me to come in, you see. Nobody else. Bobby and I have been good friends all the time. I know his family well. And he's really concerned about Aboriginal Affairs and always has been, you know, but he takes it very deeply as he did on this occasion with a couple of the other Aboriginal people who were with him. And so I went and stood outside the door and I ... I ... The copper said, 'Well, we're going to go in'. I said, 'Well you just can't go in. If you go in now', I said, 'Somebody is going to get hurt. You know anybody could get hurt and you might kill somebody'. They said, 'Well, we're not waiting any longer. We'll give you two minutes, three minutes', something like that was said, but it was a limited amount of time anyhow, and I thought well, you know what can I do in that amount of time and so I had to knock on the door because they were going to shoot if anybody came in as well. So they said. And once ... if a bullet comes one way, surely they're going to start shooting the other way and so I yelled out to him and I said, 'Well look it's me, and I want to come in and have a yarn with ya', and he was really wild. He was very angry and very upset and he could have gone either way. And so he said, 'Come in'. And I was pretty nervous. I mean I'd just never been in that situation before. I don't mind getting in front of a crowd and pushing and shoving and yelling but when guns are involved well, then, you know, that's another matter. I'm not into that sort of thing. And so they opened the door and pushed me in and locked it again - closed it again. And there I was. The scene was: he had the gun to this bloke's head and into his mouth and so on, and he was very angry. And he said, 'If they come through the door, this fellow's gone'. And that's what would have happened. So we started talking and I don't know whether to put this down on this tape because it's a bit ... Nobody knows this so you'd better stop the tape for a bit, eh?
(Laughs) It could cause problems. How can you guarantee me that.
So we got in there and he had the gun and he would have blown his head off because they were getting a bit excited and if he wouldn't, another bloke, an Aboriginal would have shot somebody. He wanted to grab the gun and they wrestled over the gun and I said, 'Look, you can't ...', you know a few words - swear words here and there, so we argued amongst ourselves. 'Don't do this sort of thing. It's just not going to do any good for anybody. You've just got to do it properly and, you know, just let's argue the point but once you start shooting somebody', I said, 'Things get a bit out of order then and ... and other things can happen as a consequence'. But they were both ... two of them very angry indeed. They were right on the balance. And the stupid part about it was that the bloke who was involved, who could have got shot, was wanting to argue with them. And I said, 'Shut your fucking mouth. Don't argue with people who're going to shoot ya! Just shut your mouth'. And he wouldn't shut his mouth up. He wanted to tell them off for being there with a gun. For Christ sake would you believe? Every ... most people in the world would have been on their hands and knees and promising anything and been nice and friendly but no, not him, he wanted to sort of argue the point. And so ... you know, I ... I just couldn't believe it. Anyhow they calmed down and people ... the coppers were yelling out through the door, 'How long ... how much longer? How much longer?' so it was all getting a little bit tense and we weren't seeming to be getting anywhere in terms of disarming him and so on. And they wanted to come through. They said, 'We're going to give you another such and such a time', and I said, 'Wait, wait, wait a bit'. Because if they'd have come through, well, I could have got shot as well. And you know, I didn't think that was a good idea at all. And, you know, they wanted to come in the room and if they started blasting, well, anybody gets hurt then. And so we decided then, what's going to be our strategy. So the best ... we thought well, the best thing to do is to take the bullets out of the gun and then we could make it look though it was only, not so much a joke, but it was not as serious as people thought it was. It was an empty gun anyhow and they were just trying to sort of upset everybody. Bob's real objective was to make the point. That's what he wanted to do but it could have got out of hand. It could have. It could have tipped, you know, easy. It got to that point. It got to a point where he was really going to perhaps carry through with it. But really what he wanted to do was to tell everybody to wake up, how bad things were in Aboriginal Affairs. That's what he wanted to do. Because nobody was listening. That's why we were having the demonstration. Cutting the funds and not doing what they're supposed to do in Aboriginal Affairs and he felt obliged to tell everybody, 'Hey listen, it's serious, we want you to listen'. That was his whole objective originally but it just escalated. So we decided, well, we've got to get rid of the bullets. How are we going to do that? So we tried to shove them in the ceiling. It wouldn't work. They kept falling out. So we put them under the carpet or something like that or on the desk. No place in the desk. They'd search that. So I said, 'Give them to me', so I put them all in my shoes. So I walked out with a shoe full of bullets. [Laughs] And I said, 'They won't search that. That's the last thing they'll search'. If they had of found the bullets in the guns then there would have been a real problem. And even the bureaucrats, Jerry Long and ... they knew that. And so we said, we sort of ... Then I went to the door and I said, 'Look it's all done now. Nothing is going to happen. I got the gun. I got it in my hand here now. Everybody has calmed down. You can come in'. So everybody sat down and the police come in and, boy, they looked very serious when they come in. You know, they scared the daylights out of me. Just imagine if they were really going to do something. So I handed over the gun. I said, 'Here's the gun, no problems. Everybody is happy. Nobody is going to do anything'. But ... Jerry Long was not to press charges, you know. He was ... and the others weren't supposed to take any other action. The Aborigines weren't going to shoot anybody so everybody come to an arrangement. So they took Bobby off. They arrested him and the other Aboriginal fellow. I'll think if his name in a minute. He was a very ... He was a very serious man. He didn't mess around. Bobby was one thing but this bloke, he was ... he knew what guns were about. And he ... he was the one who was going to do it all. I can't think of his name.
Anyhow they let him off, and I took off home then and Eileen and them were home and they said, 'Oh did you hear about the big ... there's a big hold up and everything'. I said, 'Yeah, I just came from it', and I told her what it was all about. I said, 'Now listen, I've got a shoe full of bullets here. I've got to get rid of them'. So I said, 'What am I going to do with them?' So we had a look at them - all these little shells. I forget what calibre it was, you know, in the revolver. I think there was about six of them, four or six of them. So I got them a nice ... I put a couple down the sink down the back, and I buried a few in the garden down the back and tossed a couple indiscriminately over the fence I think. So I got rid of them all anyhow. And that was that. No bullets. No nothing. A bit different walking out of the room with a shoe full of bullets, you know, really cutting into your leg, into your foot. So that was the end of that and I think after that time Barry Dexter said to me, 'Come back in[to] the office and we'll, you know, start working properly and we'll see to some of these things'. They finished the demonstration off down the ... down the Parliament House and a lot of them came around to my place and we had a little talk, you know.
That wasn't the only time that you were called on to intervene to calm down things when they got heavy. That was ... that was of course the worst time but you developed quite a reputation for easing things when there was conflict on. Where does that come from, that ability to make peace?
Well, you know, you talk to people you know. I'm always ... I'm always one for mixing with people you know: Aboriginal people, white people at the grass roots level. You know, because that's where I come from, that's where I belong and I used to, for example when the Commonwealth Games were on in Brisbane, there was a bus load going up there with guns. They were all going to go up and shoot up the place and not many people know about that. There's a lot of things they don't know, [that] not only myself but other people stopped happening of a violent nature, because you wanted to, sort of, have arguments and push and shove but for nobody to get killed in the process you know. Nobody wanted that. I didn't want it and nobody else wanted it. But this bus load of people were going to go up there and just really take guns and shoot up the place at the Commonwealth Games, you know. And that stupid Bjelke Joe Peterson and all his racist Cabinet were sort of carrying on. What if we just let them go? But we stopped the bus going. We told them all they can't do that and we didn't want them on the demonstration. And we had the demonstration there, about 10,000 of us marched, white people with Aborigines, and we blocked off the streets. And you know there ... there's lots of occasions like that and there's like street marches when there was lots of people involved. It could have turned really violent. All I had to do something and it would have gone right off, I can tell you that. On a number of occasions it could have happened. We could have stormed Parliament House on a dozen or so occasions, smashed every window in the place. Some people wanted to do that: smash all the windows and throw Molotov cocktails inside. You know, this is the trouble with this country. They don't fucking well appreciate how close we've been to all of those things. They are just ... they are very lucky people.
Absolutely. Not necessarily me, other people did the same in other places. And we played our role and just, let's stick ... let's work it out as Australians, you know. Let's just try and be what everybody likes to call democracy. Let's be democratic about these things. Let's not have any great violence. Let ... let's ... If we're going to have a revolution, let's not have it to the point it gets to that level.
Yeah, I was suspended a lot of times but and, you know, I always accepted that that's part and parcel of what I do, but on this occasion it hurt a bit because I was ... I had three children and all I did was call the Western Australian Government at that time racist and rednecked, which the week before, Senator Cavanagh called them in Parliament. And I just said, 'I reckon they are a bunch of racist, rednecks over there'. I said that on television, national television. Well, he just flipped and he demanded again ... and he pressured Barry. He pressured Barry Dexter and Barry Dexter had to do something so he called me in and he said, 'Look, mate, I got to suspend you. You just got to leave. You got to get out of here'. He said, 'You just can't carry on like ... you're not listening to what I'm telling you'. I said, 'I can't Barry'. I said, 'I can't'. I said, 'I know you're a good bloke and you got good intentions but I've got my obligations too. So do whatever you like'. So he said, 'Look, what if you go away for a bit. Go away somewhere else and let things simmer down, calm down'. I said, 'What? Because of stupid Cavanagh? What does he know about Aboriginal Affairs? The dope said the same thing in Parliament himself'. And he said, 'No, no. It just got beyond it. That is not the only occasion. On occasions before you've said things. It's all built up to this now. Well you've got to go'. I said, 'Well, what do you want me to do?' He said, 'Just go away for a couple of months, six months, a year'. I said, 'Where do I go, Barry?' I said, 'Will you pay me?' He said, 'No, I can't pay you'. I said, 'I got three children'. He said, 'That's the way it is'. So I said, 'All right, I'll go back to Alice Springs where I come from', so I just ... He suspended me for a year without pay and I got in my car and drove to Alice Springs with my three children, where I cleaned toilets, mowed lawns, picked up rubbish, got you know a few bob here and there, made a few bob. But on that occasion when we started ... We started the Land Rights movement in Alice Springs. I think it was meant to be.
Well, we just called everybody into Alice Springs and we're going to have a march down the streets of Alice Springs. And nobody has ever done that. Nobody marched down the streets of Alice Springs, especially black fellows. You know, nobody does that. And you know, when everybody heard there was going to be a march, well they said, 'Oh the coons are going to march. All the niggers are going to march'. And you know, they didn't want that at all so he ... we called them all in from all over the place. We finished up, it was there, the feeling was there. People walked in from many miles out, come in broken down old trucks and cars from settlements and reserves - come into Alice Springs ... and for the day before ... and we said, 'We're going to have the big march', but we didn't know what the bloody hell we were doing. It was early days. It's new things you see. Didn't know how to handle it. We said, 'Oh, what are we going to do?' So everybody said, 'Oh, let's ...', and I said, 'Well as far as I'm concerned, why don't we march down the street, down Todd Street'. Well Todd Street is the main street and then what will we do. They said, 'Oh, we'll just have a barbecue or something and we'll have a bit of a ... and everybody can make speeches'. And literally the people, who were marching, were in rags. They had nothing: hadn't had a feed before they came - nothing to feed them with, no money to give them, no petrol money, nothing. And it finished up, 1000 or more people, mostly Aborigines marched. We got up the end of Todd Street. To picture 1970s, early 1970s, to see a march down Todd Street is an amazing thing. It's like in Alabama, you know, with Martin Luther King's mob marching through some of those streets - the same. And we sort of ... we're sort of stunned by what we we're going to do and we thought, oh well, away we go. And so, they said, 'Well we're going to march'. I said ... well ... we [were told to] get on the footpath, the police saying, 'You've got to get on the footpath', and we said, 'No, no we're not going to go on the footpath. We're going down the main ... straight down the bitumen', so we ... we all lined up right along then, and down the bitumen we went. It was an amazing scene. The scene was amazing for a number of reasons. One was the look on the faces of the marchers. That was the best! They realised then that they were making their effort in terms of their own problems and I think that's the greatest benefit and it always is the best benefit in Aboriginal Affairs. They were realising we were making this: it's us, for us, you know. Not white people do something for us - missionaries or government. We're doing this and we're saying what we think, like artists who produce paintings as a means of their protest or their expression of what they think is important in their life or in somebody else's. As it is with marches. They were expressing themselves, you know, and their needs, and their sort of disappointments and their frustrations and their lifestyles in the march. And I could see it in the faces around me. I was watching and it was just so ... that's what inspired me. Then the other was the town's people, the white town's people. They just couldn't believe it, that this was happening in Alice Springs. How dare we? Oh there's white people saying, 'Good luck'. 'Good on ya'. 'Get into it!' but they were just confused by it all. And then the other was the white ... the Aboriginal people on the side, who didn't want to be Aborigines. The instant coffee types, you know, who became an Aborigine over night, some of those type. They were all on the sidelines saying, yelling out to us, telling us why are we marching for, making us ashamed. 'Go away!' and yelling out real rude comments to us ... [these people] who now are very very strong in the Aboriginal movement and receiving the benefits of what other people did. Good luck to them I suppose. And I know who they are because I watched them and I remember their faces. I remember where they stood as well. And you know, didn't want to know anything about Aboriginal Affairs, nothing about Aboriginal culture. They were married to white people in some cases or they wanted to be somebody else. They were living an imitation of life. And so we marched down the street and it was just tremendous and that was really something. And after that the Land Rights Act became a reality with Gough Whitlam in 1976 and, you know, and I think that sort of thing started it all off. Then they got the Central Land Council established and all the land councils and all the land councils around Australia. But that group of raggally scraggly, desperate, frustrated looking people I think was the beginning of it all.
Yes there was one concerning Joh Bjelke-Petersen, then Premier of Queensland. And he was coming up there to rally a lot of his supporters, you know, who believe in what he believed in, you know, which was as we all know was very racist ideology and practice as well. Not only towards Aboriginal people. So he was coming up there to set them on fire and and get his particular brand of politics rolling. And so we said, 'Right we're going to demonstrate against him', so we all got organised in the town together and we were ... we were going to stop him coming into town. We felt we couldn't do it at the airport so we'd block him just down between the airport and Alice Springs township, just before the Evertree Gap. A row of trees were there on one side of the road, trees on the other, so he had to go down the road, so we lined up across there, several lines of people because ... but it was pretty dangerous because some of the people, some of the rednecks up in Alice are really dangerous characters. They'd do just anything and Bjelke, you know, he's just got the same attitude as well. So we were worried about the cars ramming into us but we managed to stop them and slow them down and Everingham, I think was the Chief Minister at that time, Paul Everingham and he was ... he was pretty bad on Aboriginal Affairs. But he's been like every Country Party or Coalition Premier or Chief Minister in the Northern Territory. [They] have all been pretty racist in their attitudes towards Aboriginal practices and they always played the race card at election so Bjelke coming up was just like meeting a brother, a political brother. And so we said, 'Right, we're going to block 'em'. So we all stood there and stood our ground and the cars all stopped, the whole convoy of cars, and he couldn't get through. And we walked up to the car and I walked up to the car and I called him all sorts of names, which are unmentionable and then I spat on him, you know, spat on the screen, so did everybody spat all over the screen, spat on his side. Well, he was utterly disgusted and so were all the passengers in the car. So he backed off and he tried to come through onto the highway around us through the trees. There was only opening. It was enough for a car and he sped for that opening. Well, I foolishly jumped in front of that - myself and a couple of others - and he just kept going and he would have literally run us over but we jumped up and I jumped up in the end. The others took off the other way. They dived out of the road and I couldn't, so I had to jump up in the air to avoid the car hitting me and as I jumped up I punched the bonnet of the car. (Laughs) It happened to belong one of the ... belonged to one of the blokes in town, his car, you know, his nice beautiful car that he had polished up and made it nice and clean for Joe Bjelke. It was covered in spit and rubbish and horse manure and sand and everything. It was just a disaster. And then on top of that, I smashed a dent right in the bonnet as I was coming down. I hit ... I punched a dent and then got rolled over on the side and tossed over and they sped on then but I made my mark on the car, that is. I said ... My fingers on my fist were very sore for a couple of weeks and they got through. And when they got into town ... We never let it rest there. He went to visit one of the high schools to make a big speech. It was in Hartley Street, the old school that I went to, the primary school. So we blocked off that as well until he had to go through one entrance and one entrance only, a little gate, and I was right on that gate myself and a lot of other Aboriginal people, people like Owen Coles and Tracker Tilmouth and quite a few other people. So when he came up, he was coming through and all these big burly guards were coming before him and we told them to piss off. We said, 'Your nothing here bud. You're ... In Queensland you can bash all the blacks, [but] you're outnumbered here and we'll bash you, never mind you bash us. This is not your territory. You don't belong here'. And they, the guards, they knew that, these big burly ... so we pushed them, physically pushed them around and Bjelke ... Bjelke come along then and he was arguing, telling us off, you know, so I spat in his face. And he didn't like that very much. And nobody would, I suppose, but I felt ... I was so angry with the man: his racism, you know, over the years, you know; his policies and his practices just caused people to die unnecessarily and all the rest of it. And all ... it culminated in saying, well, I'm going to spit on him, so I spat on him and of course all hell broke loose then again and he took off inside with his body guards. And the next occasion I was there - that night, late at night - he was having dinner at one of the big meat houses there, a barbecue place, so we surrounded the place, all in the front of it actually, on the street. We blocked off the street, sat on the street and we sung him and we sung him for illness, for unhappiness, and for frustration and everything. We wanted him to have an unhappy life and we sung him that way. All the tribal elders were there and we were singing, the didgeridoos were going, the sticks, the clap sticks and the boomerangs and we sung him on the footpath and inside he said, 'Oh, I take no notice of that', you know, but we did that anyhow. And so we made his ... his stay in Alice Springs the most uncomfortable and he left a day early. He was supposed to stay another couple of days, [but] he took off and we were very pleased.
Well, to show that he wasn't a god, you know. He was just a stupid, silly old politician, a silly old man out of his date, out of time and, you know, like a time warp in Queensland - like Queensland usually is anyhow, with most things. And he was, you know, epitomised all of that and that, you know, his practices towards Aboriginal people in the State were really very bad. We wanted him to know that that's not acceptable; that, you know, the world is not like that and there's a lot of people that disagree with him and who can demonstrate against him without getting bashed by the police. Because every time our people demonstrated in Queensland they all got bashed by the coppers, or charged later on for offences they never committed, you know, imprisoned and all sorts for years. And they talk about South Africa and he did that. His police were well known for that: putting people in prison for years for no offences committed, trumped up charges whether it be drugs or sex offenders, or breaking and entering, and all that. Innocent people. And there were enough blacks in goals anyhow. So we wanted to show him that we disliked him for what he's done. One as a politician and secondly as a person. As far as we were concerned he is no god and whatever he says is not the truth at all. In fact, most of it is, you know, not the truth.
At a private level you are in a situation where you had no salary to support your kids on and you were working at labouring jobs to get money. You also during that year discovered, you and Eileen, some entrepreneurial flare, didn't you? You started understanding how to go about dealing in property. Could you tell me about that?
Well, we had ... we were forced into it, you know. We had no resources really but we said, 'We'll buy some old places, do 'em up', because everybody else seemed to be doing it around Australia, why not us try it. So it wasn't any great new ... new way of doing things. It was rather old fashioned and standard practice for lots of people and we thought we'd do that as well. So we got ... got an old place, bought it at a reasonable price and got a deposit you know, got the deposit together. We had some money stashed away from previous savings. And we did it up and sold it, you know, and that was the beginning and from then we moved on. We ... we've been doing that all our life then - all our lives I should say.
Yeah, that's where most of our money has come from, is buying old houses, doing them up and then selling 'em and then buying another one and perhaps buying one or two, you know. We weren't really in the big time but we were ... enough to make us enough money but it was terribly inconvenient. It sounds good but it's bloody hard work, rather delicately balanced in time, in terms of do you make a profit or don't you make a profit. And then, really it was hard living in these conditions. I mean I've slept with paint tins for the last thirty years either [at the] bottom of the bed, underneath the bed, in the shelves or all around us. Plus torn down walls and ripped up floor boards. I mean it's not pleasant. You sometimes wonder if it's worth it.
Now, in 1975, of course the big event was the change of government and the new Prime Minister when you returned after your year of suspension, of punishment, to Canberra, there was a new Prime Minister in Malcolm Fraser. How did you find that period, that long period, of the Fraser Government?
Well let me just say first of all, I came back to Canberra at the ... at the ... on the wishes of Barry Dexter on the basis that I would help you know in the formulation of the 1976 Land Rights Act, for the Northern Territory and I thought, well, I'll come back for that you know. I wanted to come back anyhow but that was a good incentive for me to come back and Barry proposed that to me and I thought I'd like to be involved in that. But when Fraser got elected, well I didn't know how to take him, because I always ring up politicians, Prime Ministers and the lot, you know. I always ring them all up. And if feel that, you know, I'm obliged to as an Australian that I ... I should have access to anybody, you know, any Australian. Ring up anybody providing you're not a loony tune. Just ring up anybody and have a yarn with them, you know. They're not beyond us all. Nobody is. Everybody rings me up, talks to me about everything, and then I like that. I think it's good. So I used to ring Prime Ministers up and not always successfully, and Ministers and other people. And I got to know Fraser. I don't know how it was that we got to know each other, but then I found him really good. I though oh, what a, you know ... what a dour, sullen person he looks, but then I found out on Aboriginal Affairs he was absolutely A-1. He was tops. He was the best of them all on Aboriginal Affairs. And Gough is good but you know the problem with Gough, he ... sometimes he thinks he started everything and, you know, it didn't ... he didn't. Fraser was very good on Aboriginal Affairs and he produced the goods. Something came out of all the discussion and rhetoric, and I was able to relate to him really well. But you know he lost his patience with me as well, you know, because I spoke out often when he asked me not to. But I ... I got to know him and I used to go up and have a cup of tea with him, and you know, in the Prime Minister's office and talk about Aboriginal Affairs and he used to call his Ministers in if there's a problem. He used to just ring 'em up, 'Hey get down here, I want to talk to you'. And he'd roll 'em up and I was able to talk to the Ministers and settle the problem and away they'd go. And he'd say, 'Anybody else?' I'd say, 'No, that's about it!' So he'd say, 'Let's get on with our cup of tea then'. It was that ... It was that sort of a relationship which is a bit unusual and, you know, why should he take any notice of me is another matter. He didn't have to. And ... and you know, why I was able to relate to him is a bit unusual too because he's not ... he's not from that background of mixing with, you know, grass roots people, and certainly not Aboriginal people but he was very good.
I think we had in common a desire to do sort of good for other people and to protect these human rights and particularly, you know, indigenous groups but anybody. You know, he's good on the human rights question. On the economics and you know anything else that ... that you name, that a Prime Minister must consider, well, I don't argue about that. That's not my area but people hated him in certain areas with ... beyond belief. But on Aboriginal Affairs I don't think anybody could fault him, he was very good. And I always said to all the blacks, I said, 'You got to support this bloke because he's good. He wants to do something, you know. Back him'. And you know, I used to say that all the time and they used to, you know ... not everybody used to be happy with me saying that because a lot of them were Labor supporters. You know most Aboriginal people are Labor supporters and the unions were behind that as well and they hated me for saying that. And ... but I just said, 'No, you can get stuffed, you know, that's what I believe the man is'.
No, some of them were real dodos. Oh, [a] real dope - that Wilson from South Australia. I forget his name ...
Ian Wilson, he was a real dope. He'd ... he'd ... he was a ... he got ... had all the academic qualifications but he didn't have any brains. I don't know how he could ... how I could say that but he just didn't seem to have any common sense about what he was doing. Same with this Minister, Heron. They're both the same. You know, very smart men in their own ways but do ... but it's nothing to do with human beings, you know.
Yeah there were some good ministers there. Ian Viner was very good, very good. And be ... Chaney was really excellent. So those two were beaut. They were good. Ian Viner was a bit more conservative but he ... when he saw what the extent of the depth of the problem was, he ... he really wanted to do sort of ... and he was very good with Fraser. And same with Viner, Ian ... not Viner, (interviewer says 'Chaney') Chaney, Fred Chaney. Chaney was excellent. And ah ...
Well, I think like all was achieved in ... All that was achieved under them is what was achieved under good Ministers in the Labor Government. You know it's a sort of progressional thing, an evolutionary thing, you know. It doesn't happen overnight because you're dealing with policies of governments that are a little bit behind the times and don't really hit the spots and don't spend enough money, you know. It's all ... A lot of it's band-aid stuff. Instead of getting to the cause of the problem they deal with symptoms. So most governments have been like that whatever political party is in power. But with Chaney and Viner, they really, you know, tried to do something but they never got the support all the time with the Cabinet so they couldn't do all that they wanted to do. So they'd come back and compromised and apologised in some cases for lack of expenditure, or a policy change. But they ... But despite that Aboriginal Affairs went ahead because of their efforts, you know.
Well I think the problem in Aboriginal Affairs is governments have only got one responsibility. They don't have to try and be black, which some of them try to be. Don't try and be an Aborigine, which some white people try to be, just be yourself and do what you can to help an Aboriginal person. But the first thing they've got to do - the governments - is to spend money on the physical things, infrastructure for example: sewage, water, housing, roads, electricity. Do all of that; provide money for medical services, legal services and all of that. That's all those basic things they do, but don't try and get into the cultural or psychological part of Aboriginal Affairs. That's for Aboriginal people to handle. If the Government did that in sufficient depth and to the greatest extent possible, and not what they're spending at the present time, then Aboriginal people will then play their part because the opportunities is therefore created. You've lost ... you've lessened the extent of bad health. You've increased the educational level of Aboriginal people. You've increased the employment skills of Aboriginal people. So it opens a whole new world. But the cultural, psychological, social side, that's the Aboriginals' problem and that's where we've got to get off our black asses and then we've got to move. But if the Government doesn't create the physical environment for us to do that, it's very difficult. You can't be out in the middle of the Nullarbor Plains in a pair of shorts and somebody tells you to go to Sydney University. How the bloody hell can ya? Even if Sydney University's there, you ... you can't. You got to ... you might have bad health, like me. I lost my kidneys, I reckon because I'm an Aboriginal, you know. I know a lot of white people have lost their kidneys but we've lost ours a lot, to a more greater extent, percentage-wise, than white people because diabetes and all of the ... our poor nutrition in early years and exposure to colds and coughs and all that because of the clothing we don't have and the blankets we don't have. So if the Government does all that, we'll then play our part. There will be more employment opportunities, better educational levels, so we'll be able to do what we should do then.
You've got to have money. Some people said to me like in a debate the other week, one lady said to me, 'Well, look, we're not going to throw money at Aboriginal Affairs, that's not the answer to Aboriginal Affairs. We got to worry about outcomes'. I said, 'Well, what are you going to use for money? Monopoly money? Monopoly? Or you going to have good wishes and great rhetoric?' I said, 'Because that won't produce outcomes. If you're looking for outcomes you got to spend the money to get it. If you want people to have good health, then provide the circumstances under which people can have good health: decent sewage, clean water, no dust on the roads so you don't get trachoma, a nice house you can live in without [it just] being cement on the floor. They sleep on the cement floor and get colds and coughs and pneumonia, all of those things. You can't expect an Aboriginal to come from that environment physically - no education, no employment skills - and survive in Australian society. It's not possible. Nobody can do that, black or white', but that's what they expect us to do. But to get that, to change that physical environment, you've got to spend money but you see, Australians, you know, governments have been piss weak over the years and a lot of people, they don't mind helping Aboriginal people providing it doesn't cost anything. They love the United Nation's Charter because that's just so wonderful. You can pin it up on the wall but you don't have to do anything about it. Fair go, equality for all - providing it doesn't happen.
During the period that you were in Canberra running up to the end of the Fraser Government if there is one theme that seemed to cause you more trouble than any other within the Department, it was the argument that Aboriginals should have control over their own affairs. Could you tell me about the way in which that evolved from the moment you arrived in Canberra, where there so few Aborigines employed and all the senior positions were by whites, to your efforts to try to get more control of Aborigines of their own affairs. Could you trace that through for me?
Well, if Aboriginal people don't have control to a large extent, or total extent, but to a large extent of their own affairs well, then, nothing's changed from the mission days when the missionaries decided when you eat and when you sleep and who you marry, or governments. So in the natural progression from that is that a person should be in charge of their own destiny, individually or collectively, and Aboriginal people have always felt this in the air that we got to run our own affairs to the best of our ability considering our weaknesses, you know, like in lack of education and all that. And that's ... that's the movement that we've ... that's the objective we've gone towards, control of our affairs. Not so much individuals like me should be in control of Aboriginal Affairs but that we all control our respective areas that ... but we as individuals, in the final analysis, have to realise the ... the destiny of ours, you know, of family or ourselves is in our own hands and can't keep blaming government, crying in our beer all the time. So we were always moved in that direction and it became more focused with the establishment of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, with the establishment of a consequence of the Office of Aboriginal Affairs in 1968, from eight organisations around Australia to, to now two-and-a-half to 3000 and a budget going from eight million dollars to 1.4 billion. So we've always tried to say, with all this development let's try to control some policy, the direction we're going in and, you know, some of the organisations. And we've done that pretty well. But what we've got to do in 1998 is move on from that. That's past now. Now the ... the ... We've played the game, now the next game is, we're going to get some results.
We'll get to that. Just looking back historically, how important was the setting up of the Aboriginal Development Commission for you? After you'd had that period in the Department where you were always having to tow the line to white Heads, when the Aboriginal Development Commission was set up, was that a very important initiative? Could you tell me what the idea was behind it?
Well, it just you know one of the strategies that ... that had to be implemented like Housing Commission for Aboriginal people specifically; a black bank for Aboriginal people; the development of an economic base and that's where the ADC come in. And we're lacking that. Our economic base is at the ... base is at the discretion of the whims and fancies of politicians. What we wanted is an economic base that ... that empowered the people at the base-grade, local level in terms of them having control of assets whether they be fixed or otherwise, so they can then determine what they want to do and the decision making process. We've come this, this question about Aborigines being in control, in real control - when you make the decision about expenditure of funds that you are responsible for, but Aboriginal people have never been responsible for expenditure of funds that they own themselves. It's always been owned by somebody else. It's always been held in trust, like it is today, all held in trust. The establishment of the Aboriginal Development Commission was the high point in Aboriginal Affairs in an economic sense. The legislation enabled the Aboriginal Development Commission to make a grant to an Aboriginal community for them to buy assets and then turn the assets over to them freehold and unencumbered. And that's what we did to the best of our ability. And that's what this society, these governments didn't like. They didn't like that because when people get control of their own assets and they are able to determine just their expenditure of those assets in whatever direction, that's when things get out of control and Aborigines are not under control, they are in control. So, you know, this is what the Aboriginal Development Commission was. It was a means of economic empowerment of the Aboriginal people and most Aborigines, including the so-called leaders, didn't understand that. They didn't understand that ... what that was all about, that, you know, you can't have all these assets everywhere and then somebody else is running 'em, in control of 'em. So that was a real beauty of it, and they've destroyed the Aboriginal Development Commission now and took that away. And we don't know what we've lost. [INTERRUPTION]
In the work, in Canberra, in Aboriginal Affairs, there was a great deal of agreement about the need for health, education and those sorts of things among white and black, who are working for those causes. Was there anything that you often found yourself in disagreement with about the white people working in the same cause?
Well, you know, most of the white people had good intentions, you know. They really wanted to do the right thing and they wanted to help Aboriginal people. But when it come ... [INTERRUPTION]
Well there was a lot of good white people in the Office of Aboriginal Affairs and then in the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and in Aboriginal organisations, who wanted to do the right thing by Aboriginal people and were committed, you know, but in the final analysis, when it came to the crunch, it had to be Aboriginal people that had to make the decisions about themselves, their organisations or the community or on national questions and issues. And sometimes they felt when we wanted to assert ... exert more control in whatever fashion, in terms of going up in the Department, or taking bigger responsibilities in an organisation and so on, or speaking out on issues, they felt a bit threatened because they felt well, we're making a commitment, why are we being shoved aside? We're not shoving them aside, we're saying, 'Hey the time has come to let go. People have to stand on their feet, got to do their own thing', you know. and one of the things Aboriginal people never had is the experience in running organisations or conducting economic affairs or in terms of purchases of properties and things like that or houses and so on. And what we had to do was give Aboriginal people the opportunity for that and you ... it's ... it's quite true that you can't buy experience like you can cornflakes in Woolworths. You got to go and live it. And and people didn't understand that too much, Aboriginal people have to live the experience to be able to make the best decisions in the most difficult of circumstances. And that's what empowerment means, that's what control of Aboriginal Affairs is all about. You know, we run it and, you know, and Aboriginal ... white people can sort of stand aside and then come back and help us. And that's what a lot of them have done. But it was a bit difficult to start with because they didn't accept the concept. And you know that's why the ADC, the Aboriginal Development Commission was all about; that's what we thought the Aboriginal ... Department of Aboriginal Affairs and all these other organisations we established like the legal service, the medical services, they were all an expression of that.
And yet you were the first Aborigine to be made head of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. All the original ones were led by white men. When were you made the head of the Department and how did it come about?
Well, the person who decided I should be head of the Department ... because at the time I was the Deputy Secretary to Tony Ayres, who was a great bureaucrat, a very hum ... a great humanitarian, a compassionate person but a smart bureaucrat too and he's just ... He rose to the highest levels in the bureaucracy in Canberra when it was difficult to become a Department Head and he was Catholic and that made it even more difficult, but he was really good, Tony, and he sort of pushed that I become the Head of the Department and [that] I was able to do the job as well. It wasn't only because I was an Aboriginal, I was able to do the job, which I think a lot of people were ... were unhappy about. They wanted me to sort of grovel or, you know, get it through on sympathy or be paternalistic towards me. No, I got it on my ... on my merit. But then, really, I wouldn't have got it anyhow if it wasn't for people like Clyde Holding, who was the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, recently made, who wanted me to be the Head of Department because I was an Aboriginal person, who could do the job, and being an Aboriginal it was good. The time was right and Tony Ayres pushed that as well and so that's really why I got that position at that time. You know, everything was pointing to that, in that direction.
Yeah, Clyde and I were really good friends. You know I ... I was good friends with him and also Kim Wilson, his principle private secretary. They were good people and they've remained friends ever since. I didn't know Clyde from a bar of soap before that time. I knew he was tied up with the centre left or whatever it was, the various categories they have down in Victoria which ebb and flow. But he came to me as a type of person that was, well, I, you know, he looked like a hard man and he looked like a person that really, you know, would sort of put you down, would stand over you and so on and he was the exact opposite. He believed in certain principles and he actually ... he actually believed in them you know which surprised me a bit and I couldn't get over it. He spoke about human rights and and he really meant it, and he spoke about freedom of expression and similarly so, and he ... and when he ... when he made a friend of you, you were his friend and he wouldn't let you down. He'd never back bite you, he'd never undermine you. And if he wanted to tell you anything, he'd tell you to your face which is the sort of person I like, even if it was bad news, you know. Most Aboriginal people - we like being told it and then we can get on with it. Well, Clyde was of that nature. He was a very compassionate person but he was smart also in politics, because to get me as a Head of Department was an exercise of the highest order, considering the racism that existed in the Labor Cabinet against me. You know, Bill Hayden and quite a few others didn't want me. Even the Prime Minister, Hawkie, didn't want me.
Well, I think they just thought I wouldn't be able to do the job and oh, I'd cause too much trouble for them and they weren't able to handle me. They wanted to have somebody in there, an Aboriginal yes, but an Aboriginal they could handle much better.
Control, both - the same thing. You know, they wanted to have somebody that you know was providing the symbol of it all but not somebody that had too much of an independent mind, would do as they're told.
Thinking about how much trouble you caused ... were you ... could you really blame them Charlie, in the sense that from the political point of view when you ... every time you spoke up, they had to sort of deal with it?
No, I don't blame them at all. I quite understand their position, you know. They weren't Aborigines and they could never understand my position either. They could try. Clyde Holding came the closest to any white person in Australia understanding what an Aboriginal person feels like and what the situation is for Aborigines. Hawkie was pretty ... pretty good too but he wasn't as good as Clyde. But some of the others in the ... in the Cabinet couldn't care less. They were just political animals, whether it's black issue[s] or anything else, foreign policy or something. They didn't want any trouble. They didn't want any problems. They didn't want anyone causing problems for them but particularly not a Head of Department because to be a Head of Department at that time was a very important position. You were a secretary of the Department of State and as such, twenty-seven of us would gather to sort of talk together about what's happening around Australia. And that was a very powerful club and I became a member of that club by virtue of being secretary to the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. And I had my say outside as well as inside that club on a number of issues. For example, women's issues. I suppose I was the only one speaking out on it, which nobody knows, and ... and about more women being secretaries of Department and more women getting, you know, equality in the work place. And a lot of the others were just bullshit. They wouldn't talk about it where it mattered most, which was inside the club. They talked about it outside where it really didn't matter. Nobody had to do anything about it. But then on Aboriginal Affairs, you know, with myself being appointed, it was a very goo ... a very difficult pill for that Cabinet to swallow but they did at their ... with Clyde Holding, with the support of Hawke. Hawke had to back Clyde in a political sense, you know, in Melbourne and so on. He needed Clyde's support for all sorts of things and he got it, and the quid pro quo was that I become secretary. And Clyde was that sort of a person that demanded that deal. Now most people would say, 'Well, look, thanks for the Ministry, I'm now going to enjoy it'. But [with] Clyde, you know, I was his cross on his back in a sense.
What kind of a Head of Department were you? You were a member of a club as you say, a very very high flying one, and you were very senior in the whole Canberra bureaucracy. A lot of people in those circumstances would never leave their big office. What did you do as the secretary of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs that was a bit different?
Well, governments make policy and we administer it. I tried to influence that policy making situation with the Government and so I lobbied everybody I could in the Government and, you know, you're not supposed to do that but I used to say well, I'll just go up and ring 'em up and go up and see 'em, you know: Treasurer, Minister for Foreign Affairs, the lot and get them to sort of be more understanding of Aboriginal Affairs. And that was my role I felt I had to make ... make them more aware. The second thing was to get through Cabinet submissions in the Government that were helpful to Aboriginal people in terms of funding. The third thing was, as a different sort of person as a ... as a secretary, I was not like most of them were. They were sort of a bit reluctant to do that, they got a bit hesitant and a bit frightened you know, but I didn't quite frankly give a stuff. I think mainly in ... because I wanted to do it but then par ... partially because of pure ignorance. I wasn't aware of the great pitfalls and protocols. And the other thing I did was to get out amongst the community. I always left ... I travelled extensively. I went to lots of Aboriginal organisations everywhere and to communities, missions, settlements ... I travelled more than anybody but I really stayed there as well and talked to people, you know. I held big meetings there were a thousand or more Aboriginal people in some places and they were pretty ... pretty tough meetings. There was a lot of talking and a lot of wild language but that's ... I felt that was my responsibility to go into these meetings. I did. And you know ... and as secretary I ... I tried to break new grounds in other areas, you know, like in relationship to other secretaries, got them to meet us more frequently and our offices, so we could can co-ordinate things better. I fought for more funding for Aboriginal people, in terms of the budget and in terms of more organisations being established. Like before I was secretary, even: legal services, medical services, fought for them to be established and expanded, put into other areas. And no Aborigine ... Hardly any Aboriginal people know about that. They don't even know a tenth of what I did as Head of Department or before that.
Oh yeah, entirely differently. I ... I didn't know too much about what their rules and regulations, or what the protocols were or the conventions were for permanent public servants, which we were at that time. And the Head of the Department, any Department, was really the Head of the Department. It was really of that nature - you were sort of like the tin god up the top, whoever you were, and I said, 'Well, that's no good to me. That's not the way I'm going to run the Department, it's going to be not open slather, but you know, friendly, everybody work[ing] with each other. We discuss problems together. We can be as democratic as we can', and that's the way I operated. My door was always open to anybody, black or white, to come in and talk to me about things, you know. Any issue they wanted, even their personal problems. I must have dealt with hundreds of people, their personal problems, that have got nothing to do with the Department, but that's my job too - somebody to talk to because I would have liked that and then the other thing I felt one the rules ... The biggest rule that I broke was the one I broke before I became permanent Head, was public servants shouldn't speak out. And I said, 'No, that can get stuffed. That's no good. If it's an issue that's going to save lives, or it's important to the human rights or the dignity of people, then speak out. It's your job'. And I said that publicly in the newspapers, I said it on TV, so all the other secretaries of Departments can hear. And I even said that on a number of occasions at Departmental Head meetings, when the twenty-seven of us - the people who really ran Australia, and I'll come to that in a minute, when -- I said it at those meetings, you know. I don't believe in not speaking out. Peter Wilenski, who's passed away now, was the Chairman of the Public Service Board. He used to have heart attacks every time he'd hear me speak out, because he'd have to sort of do something about it, because there were certain rules that he'd bring to my notice, you know, but he was a good bloke and he agreed with me. Only he was caught in the trap, and he was, you know ... he was a top public servant. Head of Prime Minister ... Head of the Public Service Commission. But I wasn't ... that doesn't ... that didn't really concern me. I wasn't trying to be smart-arsed or brave or anything. It just felt natural for me that that should not be the case. And so I broke that rule all the time, wherever necessary, not flippantly, where necessary.
Yeah, my people, you know, wanted me and expected me to, and you know, you've gotta go out and press the flesh, like a politician does, in a proper way though. You've gotta shake hands with people, you've gotta be there, they've got to physically see you, they want to see you, and they want to eat a meal with you, and then lots of things can ... good things can come as a consequence of that. One, you're tied together. You show that you are supporting them in whatever they're trying to do, and then you get the support in return. It's a sort of a mutual benefit situation - a symbiotic relationship I think some people would call it. And I think that that it was good to get around. That's what people should do and it helped me a lot because it gives me ... to put things in perspective and it gives me the proper vision I should have of the extent and the depth of our problem.
Well, Clyde's main purpose was to help Aboriginal people, as was government policy: to overcome disadvantage that Aboriginal people were placed in, in terms of poor education, poor health, poor housing, which is the case now. It's all elevated up to a certain level, but Clyde gave it that real push.
Oh, land rights is a big issue. We defended that all the time, and one particular thing that was a great disaster for Clyde and I and a lot other people, we wanted national land rights legislation. And that was, I think, probably the great disaster that any government ever brought upon us. We should have had that at that time. I can't remember the exact date, but Clyde brought it in when Hawkie was the Prime Minister, and Hawkie couldn't get it in ... couldn't get it passed in the Federal cabinet for two reasons. One was the intransigence of the Premier of Western Australia, that was put in prison for his dishonesty, Mr Burke, and he didn't want it because he was facing an election and he thought he'd get a backlash in the State. They should have gone ahead with it. He violently opposed it. We had the consent of everybody else except for him. And Hawke wanted him in case he was going for the Federal election. So the trade off is: throw land rights out. What helped it get thrown out, national land rights, was some of these Aboriginal leaders around today, you know, that are walking round the stage today. They're the ones that shot national land rights legislation down and I could name them. Do you want me to do that?
Paddy Dodson and John Arkitt, Tracker Tilmouth. Oh quite a few. Lois O'Donoghue. A whole lot of them didn't want national land rights legislation. I couldn't understand why not. They had staged a huge demonstration in Canberra, which Clyde and I went to meet them, and he tried to explain to them. They even occupied my office, including Galarrwuy Yunupingu occupied my office, and I said, 'Do ...', and they'd brought a lot of the old tribal people down, my own tribal people down, to protest about it. They were in my office and they didn't know what they were doing there. I said, 'What are you doing here, chilpe(?). They said, 'We don't know. They asked us to come down so we're here. Promised us a ride down in a bus to Canberra so we come for a ride'. They didn't know. The others knew what they were doing, of course, and they sort of geed it all up. That really gave Hawke the opportunity to say, 'Terrific, throw it out of Cabinet', next.
Put it in the too difficult basket then.
No. It wasn't that. We did have to make some compromises, but I think that the one that they were worried about, and I think they have some legitimate reason for this perhaps, in their minds. In my mind we could have worked out a deal -- is this veto on the Northern Territory land rights legislation. They didn't want that eliminated. And there wasn't a case of it being eliminated so much, but just put in a different form. We could have chosen the right words, which would have had the same effect, but they felt this was a threat to the Northern Territory land rights legislation, and I think some of the loony Left in Victoria, like Gerry Hand and all of these blokes, who were ... and others behind the scenes like some of the unions, didn't want national land rights legislation. It would have solved all of this problem of Native Title, the Wik, the pastoral question, the mining. It would have solved all of that today, we'd have none of this if we'd had national land rights legislation. That's my thinking, and that's the thinking of Clyde and Kim Wilson. We would have chosen the right words and got the most effective national land rights legislation, but those people bombed it and so did Burke.
In order to get it to the point where it finally arrived at, when it was then rejected, and you were unable to proceed with it, you had had to compromise though, hadn't you, Charlie? And I want to ask you, as a leader, as somebody who's had to work within the system on behalf of Aborigines, how did you get on about compromise?
Well, I think you can compromise to it -- there's a certain level, a threshold level you go to in terms of your compromise, and compromise is what democratic societies are all about. If I wanted all of what I want, we would ... people wouldn't believe it. But that's not possible. You know, you can't do everything you want, personally, family-wise, community-wise, or nationally. You have to compromise, because you don't live in a vacuum, and that's what a lot of Aboriginal people don't understand. When you're in the bureaucracy at that time we ... we made deals. They're doing that today. But not so much in the bureaucracy -- outside of it. And this is where Howard is at fault. He won't compromise on his Ten Point Plan. That's why we've got the problem. But at that time, the compromise was not drastic enough to say, 'Oh, you know' ... It was not drastic enough to say ... to decide to say, 'Well, look, it's worthless, let's not go ahead'. It was not that important, the compromise we were making. And you've got to do it and I think that's the nature of our society, and that's what I learned in the bureaucracy, you know. You've just got to work these arrangements out.
Didn't have any idea. They had no idea. They had no idea whatsoever. And I'm not saying they were bad people for putting on a big demonstration or anything, Paddy Dodson and them. What I'm saying is that was their vision of how things should be at that time, and I think they were wrong, absolutely wrong. And you know, they just didn't understand how the bureaucracies work, how Cabinet submissions are made, and how decisions of Cabinet are made, and what the implications of some of those decisions are, and how they arrive at those decisions. You know you get input from all Departments, and all the pressure groups, and all the sectional interests, and you've finally got a Cabinet submission in front of you.
Yes, I felt that they had ... but I think they had their own agenda. And ninety per cent of the people who were at the demonstration didn't know what it was all about. They did not know. When I began to explain it to them, they began to understand, but I think the thing was a little bit too far in front for them, and I think that's part of the problem. You know, we sort of raced ahead and said national land rights legislation will be the best thing because it will cement all the States in to have the same standards of relationship between Aboriginal people, the land, and the general community, so that we can't have Bjelke Petersen doing stupid things, or Burke doing stupid things. They've got to do as the standards dictate, in terms of the national land rights legislation. But see, they didn't feel that. Most Aboriginal people didn't understand that. It's a bit different, you know. And so I feel really bad about it, I felt well, you know, it was a disaster, and it's ... it's something that you know, will live in memory for ever.
It was an opportunity missed, more than feeling that I failed those individuals, because the leaders of those groups should have known. They should have known, and I think one or two of them did know, but they were playing another political game, for other purposes.
Well, we were all so ... we were very frustrated and we were extremely disappointed, and there are other words to put in there that would explain it more, but it was basically that. It was a depression for a while within the Department. The Minister was very unhappy about it all, and you know, but what could we do? We just had to pick it up and move on. But you know, the ... I think with Burke, he was the real key to it, you know. If Burke would have said, 'Right, I'll agree with it', it would have happened. But he had his political game to play over there, which he lost on anyhow.
Yeah, I think so. I think, you know, in Aboriginal Affairs, in Aboriginal communities, and amongst Aboriginal people, there's jealousies, you know, for good or bad reasons, and then if you are a bit prominent, you know, you're going away from the community a bit. They want to pull you back, and other people had thought that they should be there, not you, and so for all of those variety of reasons, you know, some Aboriginal people felt they wanted the sooner I could disappear from the scene the better. Because they would be able to become prominent, or do whatever they want to do. And I have no ... I have no problem with that, you know, providing they can perform. I just don't like incompetent, ignorant, stupid Aborigines getting up there just because they want to big-note themselves, and saying ridiculous things which, you know, raise false expectations amongst Aboriginal people and don't produce an outcome at the end of it all.
Oh, him and I, our relationship was an absolute disaster from the beginning. He came from the looney Left in Victoria, which I've never had an sympathy for anyhow, because I reckon the bunch of them are, you know, way off the track, going off into some mindless direction, and always more negative than positive. And I think the only thing left-wing about them is their arm, left arm. And I keep telling them that. So I had no real confidence in them and he was the product of that, and he showed that. He just had no ... He just had no brains. He's another person who had no brains. He just didn't know what it was all about and he thought ... He was a factional man, that's all he thought about: factions and infighting and doing somebody over, and I'll never forget that. He's the most unforgiving, stubborn-minded, hard-headed person, just the sort of person we didn't want in Aboriginal Affairs. He had no compassion in my ... whatsoever, for anybody or anything, apart from what would serve his interests or the interests of his faction. And for example, when we ... when it came up about the poker machines in a particular club that we were trying to buy at that time, he couldn't see the need for a licensed club for Aboriginal people, but one of the reasons was that he didn't ... he would not support, as he said in Parliament, any initiative that allowed for the purchase of any poker machines, and what do we have today? He is the main lobbyist for the casino on Christmas Island, which involves poker machines, and more than that, gambling saloons and everything. It just boggles the mind. And so him and I ... I didn't understand him too well, but I tried to get on with him as much as I could, and I wanted to bring about the implementation of the ... that project or the policy of the ... of ATSIC, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission. But to do that, he had to travel to about fifty-six communities and travel about 56,000 miles.
Well, we previously had the National Aboriginal Conference, the National Aboriginal Conventional Conference, all these different other elected bodies, which were not really working too well, and we thought well, if we have a body that was properly elected through the Electoral Commission, identified ... from identified areas, and we're sitting there full-time as commissioners, that would be more productive, and we'd get some better results for Aboriginal people, and would more control of Aboriginal Affairs by Aboriginal people, so the concept was good. And quite frankly, it was ... it goes back to National Aboriginal Conference, which goes back to my 'wagon wheel' concept, that I proposed to ministers previously, previously, about ten years previous to that, where you get elected representatives coming in from the various areas -- [that's] why they call [it] the wagon wheel, and culminating in a central body there, which was ... became ATSIC in that sense, in the final analysis when ATSIC was established. So it was all good thinking along good principles, and the concept was good too, but the mechanics of it, getting it set up, as with the Native Title Act, they didn't think it out well enough. I was never consulted on any of it in terms of what the mechanics of the ATSIC legalisation.
Never asked me a thing.
Oh, he was asking people like Rob Riley, who was one of these people, an Aboriginal person from Western Australia, good person, but he had ... he asked him, and he asked quite a few of the other people I mentioned previously. There was a little group of them, who were sort of, I think, anti-me, I suppose, and anti-Clyde Holding, and anti-what was happening before because they weren't necessarily involved, but they saw Gerry Hand as an opportunity to get involved with him, and he saw that as an opportunity to sort of have Aboriginal leaders around him that he could relate to, because he ... you know. what he got from me was -- what I thought was the truth, you know, and he didn't necessarily agree with it. He wanted to do things differently. So, fair enough, he was the Minister, and if he had ... if he wanted to do things differently, that was his right, but he should have confided in myself and other people more. Bill Grey was another person that was involved with him too as well, and yet he was my departmental officer, and he told ... he was working with him, but he wouldn't tell me. So, that's the way it happened. It was very deceitful, the whole exercise.
Yeah, I knew what was going on.
Oh, well, you know, white people are like that sometimes, you know what I mean. I'm not trying to be nasty, but I wasn't surprised, you know. I found that all my life, when it got to the crunch, some go the other way, and they forget about what happened before, but then I ... that's why I was so surprised about Clyde Holding. He stayed true and firm all the time, and he still is the same. And so that's what surprised me about it. I get surprised when white people are - pardon me saying this - stay true, true and straight, and are friends always, you know. Not just at their convenience, or suits the purpose. With Gerry Hand, and I think it's probably a bit unfair as a generalised statement, but Gerry Hand was that sort of person who's a very nasty person and he didn't care about blacks, and what he cares about I don't know, because I've ... but he had this little gang around him, and they're very strong with him even now today, but I blame them for the failure, largely of Aboriginal Affairs going off the track, and us losing the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. We should never have lost the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, a Department of State -- whether I was there or not was irrelevant. We should never have lost that, because that is a straight entrée into the Cabinet Office, and Cabinet decisions and [it had a] relationship on a formal basis with other Departments. You can't ... That's a powerful position, and people can't ignore you. Now ATSIC, and the elimination of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, marginalised Aboriginal Affairs. They don't have to take any notice of them. And so that's a pity of it all. The concept's good, but be careful how you do it, and they didn't. They just went ahead and did it because they thought they knew it all. And I travelled around - all round Australia with this Gerry Hand, and I find ... I found him a most unsavoury character to me, you know, my opinion. And we used to travel in the plane, and he ... him and his staff were drinking up and smoking up, and I couldn't stand that, because I didn't do that, and they used to clog up all the air vents, and little things like that, but they were not that important, but what was important was when we went to meetings, every meeting we went to of Aboriginal people he was swearing and cursing everybody, and wanted ... couldn't get out of there quick enough. And I had to hold him physically by the hand to tell him not to go. I said, 'If you go, mate, you're going to cause a real riot here', I said, 'They're not going to be happy with you, and you'll ... and this concept you want to get off the ground won't get off the ground'. And his word was 'Stuff them'. You know, and 'I'm not going to put up with this bloody rubbish, talking a lot nonsense', you know, and he was the one that was talking nonsense. I said, 'Let them talk, and then they'll get the steam off, then we get down to it'. But 56,000 miles and fifty-six communities, he would not have got to one meeting. Not one meeting would he have got to if I wasn't with him. They listened too him because I said, 'Now you've got to give this bloke a fair go', because he was just so arrogant, so crude, and so non-caring, you know.
Yeah well, they got me. And I knew he was ... I knew it was coming. I could feel the stalking. I could feel the stalking because one thing I've learned all my life, I can read the vibes pretty good. I can tell when a person, black or white, talking to me, how they feel about me, whether it's time that I ... that's my skill. I think it is anyhow. Some people say, 'Bullshit, it's not', but I think it is. I think you develop that and I know when I'm not wanted. And he didn't want me at all. And this other group around him, they were there as his lieutenants to undermine me to do different things. And Aborigines ... other Aborigines told me, 'Look you ... they're stalking you, brother'. And I said, 'Well, whatever will be, will be. It'll come', and I should have got ... I should have resigned then.
Well, I think generally they undermined me with the rest of the Cabinet, rest of the Government, the Prime Minister, all round, and Gerry Hand was the tool for that, because he had access to all of those areas. He was the Minister and I could see that, you know, I was being excluded from numbers of things, but what I should have done was I should have resigned when he ... after, when I knew that that was the situation, and I didn't. I thought we might be able to work it out, but we couldn't. That was my mistake.
What was it now? Oh, he initiated, through leakage from ... I think he initiated it, but there was a lot of leakages of different things that were happening to the Liberal-Country Party. People like Wilson Tuckey, and Senator -- he was in the Democrats, and a real dill - Coulter in South Australia, and he was conducting all of these inquiries in one form or another, and his decision was, he will allow the ATSIC legislation to go through, providing Perkins wasn't the Chairman. He said, 'That's my one requirement', and he didn't know me from a bar of soap. I've never met the man, so how would he know about me? Only that I was outspoken and you know ...
There were accusations because you were Chairman of the ... of the Social Club, the Aboriginal Social Club, the Woden Town Club, that had a grant, which Gerry Hand asked you not to give to that Club. There was a whole business over that, wasn't there?
Yes, that's right, all of that.
It's too long to go through all of those ...
Well, taking my daughter for example, she got a loan ...
Well, I was accused of numbers of things, you know, that I was too powerful, on too many committees, which is probably true, and you know, that ... No problem, I could have gone off those anyhow. Then the other was that -- it was a whole lot of things which had no basis in fact to any of them. One that we're using government funds to purchase poker machines for this club. The club can in its own right acquire funds, and it was done in an absolutely transparent manner, and absolutely legitimate. The problem is getting the funds, you know, and then whether you've got any basis of fact, and it's all been described in detail in Hansard and everywhere else, and there's found to be no basis in fact for any of the claims that were made in the Committee. It was just a witch hunt on me and my association with the club, which I think to this day was still a good thing what we were trying to do and the club is still in existence. The other one was in reference to my daughter. That was brought up by a journalist. My daughter made an application for funds, and I wasn't part of the committee for that, and it was quite legitimate -- just because she happens to be my daughter, that means she's not allowed to apply for funds, or get a scholarship or anything like that, you know, and the pity of it all was, it was highly embarrassing, and it just caused a problem within the family, and so on, and I cannot forgive the journalist for bringing that one up at the meeting, but she was prompted to by individuals, and that was all explained as well. And most of the accusations against me, I think were leaked from Gerry Hand's office, and other people. Some of the Aboriginal people - not the Aboriginal people I mentioned, but some Aboriginal leaders, and I think some people in the other bureaucracies, because there was ... you know I developed ... quite a few people were against me, you know, because of my activities, my actions, but I think my actions in my mind were fairly clear, and my objectives were well known, and they just had a different agenda, and wanted to do it a different way.
Well, it was rolling. It was one investigation after another. They were trying to find something all the time, and after eight investigations by the Public Service Commission, by the Department of Finance, by the ... who was the ... Auditor-General. There was eight sets of inquiries, not into me - it wasn't into me at all, it was into Aboriginal Affairs, but really it was into me and to try to find something on me. And after all of those inquiries, and they're pretty expert inquiries - you can't move aside from the Department of Finance inquiry, they're really top-notch, and nor the Auditor-General's and ... but the Auditor-General, people should remember, was a bloke called John Taylor, who was previously the secretary of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, who got booted out against his wishes, and I replaced him, and he was really violently opposed to that, and he hated me and Clyde Holding for it. His revenge came in a perfect form for him because he became the Auditor-General, so he was able to go through it with a fine, fine tooth comb, and he only found a couple of instances there, which were ludicrous -- it's about training. They wanted us to train an Aboriginal people, before they take on for example the conduct of a purchase of property. Now that's a reasonable proposition to make, but where do you get the money to do that when you're doing delicate negotiations on purchases of property. To say you've got a whole batch of Aboriginal people ready to take it over, the price just escalates, and so on and so on, so all of these eight inquiries culminated -- they found nothing, so ... and so they decided to put a fellow called Menzies to assess all the inquiries to try to find something. Surely there must be something amongst the ashes. And we told them, 'There's nothing'. I ... a lawyer helped me by the name of Graham Rice, who was absolutely a top-notch solicitor, and he was going through all the stuff, because it was pretty heavy going for me, and this Menzies came along, over the top of everybody, a real dodo. He came over, and he just so dull. He ... Instead of having an inquiry in a reasonably informal sense, round a table, shifting through, he formed a court. He made it a court, which was unprecedented. He sat at the head of a big court, right up at the judge's table. He demanded when I spoke that I stood in the box. And my solicitor said, 'Well look, the man is not on trial. We're just doing an inquiry into the papers, and the results of these other inquiries'. And he ... and I had to go and stand in the witness box and give evidence and swear on oath and things. I even ... I was that worried about how silly the man would be, and he's known to be one sort of a person, I had to get Ellicot to come in as a QC to, sort of, find defence for myself, and Hawke told me, that if I spoke out during all of that time, I would have my superannuation that I was entitled to ... It would be cut significantly, plus they would not give me legal aid to fight against all of these inquiries. Mind you the inquiries weren't into me. They were into the Department. It just ... the whole hypocrisy of it all, and the whole episode is just really a shame in Australia's history in my opinion, and we're going to do an assessment of that next year, well, late this year. The lawyers and other historians are going to go through it from beginning to end, and after all of the inquiries they made, they called mismanagement on the part of Charles Perkins, was ... what was it? And they quoted in Parliament, [that] one page of one letter, out of two million files, was missing. Why? Where is it? And the letter that I received was from a particular individual -- I related it down to the usual form -- to the Deputy Director, who related it to the Divisional Head, and my signature [was on] them all, so it went through the process. I did my job. It came up, half way up and then disappeared, which was not my responsibility. But being the Head of Department, I had to accept responsibility for every piece of paper on every file. That was mismanagement, and I just cannot believe they would pick that up. And then the other thing was ... the only other thing they could find, they were trying to find where I'd stolen things. I've never stolen a penny in my life. I'm never a thief, I never steal anything, from anybody. My mother always told me, 'Put a penny on the table', she said. 'If you steal a penny, you'll steal a pound, and you're a thief'. I've always remembered that, and I never taken money off anybody. And what happened on this time, they found that ... he found, Menzies, to his joy, he found that fifty dollars was not accounted for. Nothing else. Not a thing, in any of the inquiries, and he took months doing it as they all did. Eight months the inquiries went for: fifty dollars. And he wanted me to explain where the fifty dollars went. It was for a group of Aboriginal ladies that walked from Parliament House to the RSL. All of us walked and we all got cut feet, and they did particularly so ... and the kids had all their feet bleeding, because they were walking. You know how Aborigines walk bare-feet, think they're going to walk ten yards. They finish up walking ten miles, so they walked from the old Parliament House, round that bridge to the RSL headquarters because the bloke in charge of the RSL said he wants to test everybody's blood, Aboriginals' blood, to see how much is white, and how much is black. You remember that ludicrous statement? Oh, you can read about it. And we went around there to protest against him, so when they couldn't get back, I said, 'Righto, I'll pay for the cabs here'. So I paid for all the cabs. And it come to fifty dollars, and he didn't know that, and I said, 'Well, I ... it was my money'. And he wanted to know ... he thought it was government money. And he had me. He said, 'If you don't tell me where you got that money from, the fifty dollars to spend on sending these people back in cabs ...', he said, 'Because I suspect it's public funds, from consolidated revenue', he said, 'I will call a Royal Commission'. Bob Ellicot fell off the chair. He said, 'Excuse me, what did you say?' He said, 'I will call a Royal Commission into where that fifty dollars ... where'd it come from?' Bob Ellicot got -- said, 'Look, can we have a break, I just can't believe this'. So we went outside, he said, 'Now, mate, where'd the fifty dollars come from?' I said, 'It's my own money', I said, 'Paid out of me pocket, because those ladies carting the kids had cut feet ... bleeding. I sent them home in their cabs, you know, back to the ...'. He said, 'Why didn't you tell him that?' I said, 'No, he can go and get fucked. Stuffed'. I said, 'I'm not going to tell him that. Why should I? It's nothing to do with Commonwealth funds, it's my money. It's Commonwealth funds he's investigating, not my funds'. Ellicot said, 'Please, tell him'. So we went 'round. I wouldn't tell him. So they said, 'It was funds other than Commonwealth'. 'No, that's not good enough. I want to know what it is'. Mate, I tell you what -- the whole episode, it just went on and it just ... it was just a big scandal in Australia's political [and] social history.
It was the most shameful time of my life. I mean my whole family was subjected to the great shame, that we've stolen money. We've abused the system. We've been cronying. We're paternalistic. And people like Pat O'Shane, who's this great lady that everybody ... all the feminists admire so much, was right at the forefront of it all. She was right outspoken, 'There ought to be an investigation into Perkins. There's been cronyism. He's been putting his relations in positions ... a job. He mismanaged the whole Department'. She's never managed anything in her life. The only thing she ever managed was down near the Director of Aboriginal Affairs, where she got eleven ladies, Aboriginal ladies arrested. She used to have the whole room barred off, except through press-button situation. But she was one of them. And they just tore our family up, but we stuck together through all of this, and it just ... it just nearly broke our hearts because, you know, because I used to walk down the streets, and people would just think I was a thief.
And people used to say things, going by in cars.
Oh, I felt that sometime, but you know, I knew I was innocent of a lot of the things that were being said, or being, you know, written down, and the innuendoes and so on. I said, 'Right, we'll see it through. Tough it out'.
Well, that's right. Yeah. Yeah. Just give it away. But I was going to take some with me. I was going to take some with me. I was going to take two people with me, and you can guess who they'd be. I wasn't going to go by myself, and I was going to take them. But I thought, no. I thought for a couple of weeks after that, that's what's going to happen. And I could have easy, too. I knew how to do it. And they would have been just like dogs: shooting dogs. But I thought after two or three weeks, I got over that, thank goodness, and I thought, well, we'll fight this one out, because people rang me up and spoke to me about it. Even blokes like Ken Cowley, you know. Here and there, and other people - Singleton and so on. And other people rang me up and talked to me about it, and Clyde did as well. So I thought, 'Okay ...'
No, you know I was given ten hours, or five hours to leave, to clear my desk, and get out of my job. Just verbally told to clear out, and that I was dismissed instantly, that day. And I asked, why, and they said, 'Well, we'll explain that too you when you come over and see Mr. Sandy Holloway, who'll speak on behalf of the Government'. I said, 'Well, where's Prime Minister Hawke? Where's Gerry Hand, the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs? Why doesn't he tell me?' They said that he's not ... they're not available. They were both in Canberra at that time. One of them left later. Hawke did, but they were both there at that time, and neither of them had the guts to tell me, of course. Not that it would have made that much difference anyhow. It would have happened still. They'd made the decision that they wanted me to resign. They didn't sack me. I resigned. But I had to resign with an offer I couldn't refuse. If I didn't resign, they would have cut a lot of my superannuation - drastically cut it. Plus any other benefits I was entitled to - they would have reduced that, or eliminated it. That was the word. And secondly, they would have not given me any legal aid to defend myself against all the accusations that were inevitably going to flow my way because eight inquiries were underway. They'd launched eight inquiries as a consequence of the stupid Democrats under Coulter, and their real racist rednecks in the Liberal Party, plus, you know, Hand and his inquiries, and then certain Aboriginal people like my Deputy-Secretary, Rob Winroe, leaking information to the Senate. All of these culminated in all of these inquiries happening now, or others starting up later on, and so on. And I was told to go and see Sandy Holloway in the Prime Minister's and Cabinet Office, which was over in a set of offices away from Parliament House, and I went in there and I was told the bald facts. Hand didn't want me to work with him, and I certainly didn't want to work with him, and then I was asked to resign under those terms. Some were written down, some weren't. And I had to sign, right away. Within ten minutes it was over. And I asked where Hawke was. I wanted to speak to the Prime Minister, because I thought he was my friend. Once again, you know, a friend of convenience, and he's already taken off in the plane, I was informed, to have a farewell dinner for Mick ... Mick ...
Mick Young in Port Adelaide, which, you know, I wouldn't deny him that. Because Mick was a good bloke, but he'd cleared out, very conveniently. Gerry Hand was not available. So I was left with ... faced with the only possible option was to resign then, and go back and clear my desk.
I was four-and-a-half years, yeah.
Well, I just felt that everything I did was for the best purpose, and I was never dishonest, and that everything I did was, you know, along fairly clear lines, and I never personally handled any money anyhow. That was not my job and I didn't want to. And there was no nepotism or cronyism at all. Whenever my relatives were involved in anything, I made sure I wasn't part of any decision making process, and when it came to [the] handling of money, that was done in the appropriate manner. And so I was ... I subjected myself to ... I would have subjected myself to any inquiry, by anybody.
No, I ... They weren't going to reinstate me. They said they wouldn't do that, and I said, well, I didn't want to do that either. I was given a farewell send-off by Hawke in Parliament. He praised me extensively, in front of all the parliamentarians, and you know, thanked me for my services and so on, that was part of the arrangement -- where I wasn't sacked, I resigned. And then, other Ministers, for example, Joe Dawkins, who was the Minister for Education at that time I think, or the Treasurer, I'm not sure, came out afterwards, and we had a bit of a yarn outside - Hawkie, myself and him, and Joe told me on the quiet, 'Look, don't worry about anything. I'll provide you with any consultancies you want. No problem at all, just see me'. So I went in and saw him afterwards. We were making arrangements for the consultancies, then something ... a little piece came out in the paper. Nothing of any great extent or nature, and Joe Dawkins used that as an excuse not to help me. He said, 'No, it's all over. You spoke out against the Government. I'm not going to provide you, and nor is any other Department going to provide you with any consultancies'. [A] very, very dangerous situation for a government that's like that, and people like that to be so powerful, because they can make or break you. One, I wasn't allowed to say anything otherwise I'd have had no legal aid at all, which I really did need because there were going to be eight months of inquiries into the most intricate of financial matters. Secondly, my ... some of my entitlements were going to be removed: a third of my superannuation, was going to get cut down significantly if I spoke out. The last was that, you know, if I spoke out again, or did anything that the Government didn't like, no consultancies, and obviously I must have said something, and there was no consultancies. So they just left me -- threw me out in the cold, that Hawke Government, like that. And their Ministers.
You thought this time that life wasn't worth living. You also thought of doing a few people in. You were obviously in a very bad way, psychologically, at the time under this terrible pressure. What brought you through it?
That's right. Well, my family. You know, it had always been my strength - my wife and my family. They've always been my strength. They always have been, and still are. And you know, I just felt that they're not going to get over the top of me. You know, I've got a fight on my hands. Okay, we'll go right to the end. But before that, in the two weeks following that, I was going to shoot Bob Hawke, and I was going to blow Gerry Hand's head off. I was going to kill them, and I wanted to kill them sitting at their desk in Parliament House. That's where I wanted to do it. I wanted to show Australia what a bunch of arse holes they were in allowing the Government and ministers of this nature to make these sorts of decisions against the person that had never meant any harm to anybody, that was myself -- that I only wanted to do my job, and I did to the best of my ability. And you know, I wasn't interested in Machiavellian activities in terms of politics in Victoria or anywhere else. I was just interested in Aboriginal people, and I didn't ... I resented their support they received from some of these significant Aboriginal leaders at that time, so I felt for the three weeks when I was in a really depressed situation, that I should do that. Thank goodness, I got over that.
Well, I think discussions on the phone with a number of prominent white people, who were friends of mine at that time: Ken Cowley, John Singleton, and so on, and I, you know, just ... Ted, I think was ... Ted Noffs was another. I think it was Ted, and a few other people, who spoke to me. But generally, I came to my senses, you know, got over that irrational time. Whether I would follow it through or not was another matter. But I think I might have. But my determination to not ground me into the dust, by anybody, any government or any person, and I felt I just had to get above it, and I felt that, you know, if I had the appropriate assistance, which I was getting from a bloke called Graham Rice, a solicitor in Canberra, that I would do it. And I like ... sometimes I like a fight. If a bloke wants ... if people want to fight, there's a challenge, I like to accept a challenge, and I thought, 'Well, I'll go for this, and I'll show these bastards, whoever they are, what the real truth of it was'. And second ... and lastly I suppose, I had nothing to fear, because I felt all I'd every done I'd done in the best to my ability and honestly and I was not a thief, as I said before. And so what have I got to fear? Nothing but the truth, you know, and the truth will come out. And it did. And so I'm happy with that. And you know, I think it's right. You know, I felt also that, you know, you've got to live above, and get above difficult times. You know, that's what you're here for, is to do that, you know. Life's just a series of hurdles and you keep jumping, one after another. Sometimes they get a bit high and you can't jump them, but I felt this was a hurdle we could jump.
Now, you were out of a job. When you finally got through all the business of the legals, and your name, as it were, were cleared, what did you do next? What did you think about your future, because you were still in your early fifties?
Yes, I thought, you know, what should I do now? And, you know, obviously, Aboriginal Affairs was going to be very difficult for me to readjust to it, and you know, there were still suspicions hanging over your head from all -- Aborigines as well as white people, you know: 'where there's smoke there's fire', that saying, you know. And that's the same with anybody. When they finish up with inquiries you know, you never really lose all the suspicions that are part of it all. People say that he was really guilty after all. Whatever it was. And so I had to live through all of that. And I just can't recollect now. I became a consultant and I did a few consultancies. Nick Greiner was very good and he gave me some consultancies. It was a difficult time to survive, but we got through it all right. We didn't have a great deal of money, but you know one of the things we did have was a good bonded family, and I think that was ... that was a great strength of it all, and we just carried it. I used to sort of ... In all of that time, and about a year afterwards, I used to, you know, be very lonely, and used to walk down the street, and you'd think, Well, everybody's looking at you because of this or that, and they're not necessarily looking at you, but you think that way, and they're saying things about you, and they may not be. But often-times when I've gone down the street, people have yelled out things through cars, through car windows, and you don't really understand what they're saying. They could be saying, 'Good on you', or 'Good luck to you', but they could be saying, you know, 'You're a thief', or something else, you know. You never really know. And that happened to me a few times, and I got a few death threats and so on. It was a real difficult time, and I don't think those politicians realised what they'd done. If I was a thief, or a crook or a criminal, well, I'd take my chances. But I ... you know, when you haven't done anything wrong, well then, why do it to people like that? And I think that's the pity of it all. But I think you know the Bible's pretty correct in what it says. It always says, you know, and I'll paraphrase it, it says, 'So as ye sow, so shall you reap'. And I think it comes back onto you. In your later in life, something happens to you. If you do evil things to people, evil things get done to you, and I think that's starting to take effect with some people now. One person's credibility rating in the community is zero, and the other person's a nonentity. He's just disappeared into the swamps. So, I say, 'Good luck to both of them'. And that's ... But it was the hardest time of my life, yeah. Hardest time of my life.
Well, I'm a consultant to that Australian Sports Commission on indigenous sports, and that was given to me by the Labor Government, huh, through John Faulkner. I'm appreciative of that, but it's another way of saying, 'Well, don't say too much about the Olympic Games and anything else'. And not that I'd take any notice of that, but it was a good opportunity for me to sort of bury myself in this work. So, you know, I've been pretty happy with that, and I've done other things before that as well, but you know, like for example, I ... soon after all the inquiries finished, I decided to go back to Alice Springs, you know, back to the source of my spirituality. Because I believe, you know, where you're born is, you know, like an Aboriginal thing. Where you're born is where your soul is, where your spirit is. So I went back to that, and that's what happened. I was revived, I became a ... I developed again and I grew again and I survived, and that was good for me.
Charlie, going right back, talking about your source of spirituality from Aboriginality, going right back to the beginning of your life, were you brought up so that you ... I mean because you were taken away, did you miss out on your early Aboriginal training, and was that what some of that return to Alice Springs was all about?
Well, you know, with myself and my tribe, and so on: the Arunta people, you ... it's there for you all the time. It's your inheritance. You can pick it up whenever you want to pick it up, you know, and if you never pick it up, well then, more's the pity, but if you want to pick it up, you can pick it up through stages in life, and that's what I did. The early part, I was sort of sent away, more than taken away, to first of all a boys' home, you know, in Alice Springs, and then another one, down in Adelaide, called St. Francis, but I was brought up on a police compound anyhow, so I was institutionalised all my life, but I finished up there. But the Aboriginal part of me really never came too strongly to me. I used to see my grandmother, you know, over there. She was a full blood, Arunta woman. And she used to yell out too me in the language, and I didn't understand, and we weren't allowed to talk to her anyhow. We were banned from talking to her. And we used to go and feed her through the fence, you know, with food. My mother used to give her money and so on. But I never really got connected, and then later on I kept thinking about it. It's only later on in life, which was about ... which was when I went back to Alice Springs, after all of this happened, after '87, '88, when it all happened, I went back to Alice Springs. It took me a couple of years, but I went through the ceremony, so I became initiated, and a lot of Aboriginal people don't do that, and that's a bit late in life. That is a difficult exercise. I won't talk about that because I'm not allowed to. But I'm an initiated man of the Arunta people, of the eastern Arunta people, of the yam dreaming, and my skin is Poola (?) and I never say that publicly. It's only for archival purposes. And I can wear the red headband, which nobody else around that I know can wear it, and so I've heard the laws. I've heard the stories, and so I know what it's all about, but that's my business. I must keep to myself. So I picked up my inheritance later in life.
Oh, plenty of them, everywhere. I went back after that time. It was really traumatic times that. It was what I call 'white man's justice', which is bullshit justice. Depends on who you are and how much money you've got and why they want to do this with you. You can get hung for nothing. There's plenty of innocent people in prisons, but they haven't got the money or the rhetoric too go with trying to prove their innocence. But I went back to Alice, and ... to revive myself as I said before, to re-establish myself, to get my confidence back, my dignity back, back to my own country. It was even difficult there. I found that some of the Aboriginal people, who were against me with Gerry Hand, were still in power in Alice. I could not get a job, a consultancy there. Not for anything, and yet I was more educated than all of them; more expert in organisations than any of them, and they blocked me out, from one to the other. So I said, 'Righto, I'll run for ATSIC'. So I ran for ATSIC and I was elected with the most votes of anybody ever, and then they all elected me as Commissioner, and that's why I became a Commissioner in ATSIC for two years. But you know, the culture was all round me, and I became initiated at that time. Went through it. And I found that it gave me that strength, that I never used anywhere else, but it just gives me the right focus and I know exactly what I'm doing, and where I'm going, and I think ... that's ... a lot of Aboriginal people should do that. But the people, you know, the law, is still there, and this is what a lot of the white people don't understand. Some Aboriginal people are expecting them to go. The Arunta think they're going to go soon - the older people. White people got here, but they'll go soon, because they don't belong here. It's strange, isn't it? You tell John Howard that, he'd have rashes all over him. But that's the way it is. I went back to a place called Inglewalla (?) which is north of Alice Springs, which is my country, my grandmother's country, through her I belong. I'm Guranulla (?) there. And we ... I went back there before initiation, just after I went through all this trauma down here, and I went back there at night, with another cousin of mine, Georgy Bray and we're sitting down, about eleven o'clock, twelve o'clock at night, next to the campfire, and these two law men came up, and the law's very strong - very strong out there. White man's law is secondary to Aboriginal law. That's how it is. Aboriginal law [first], then they'll think about white man's law. The white man's law they obey is keeping on the left hand side when you're driving - those sorts of things. Huh. But the other ... the rest is all is bullshit. And get a licence for your gun, or something like that. I was sitting down there, in darkness, and these blokes come out of the dark to us, and I really packed the shit, cause I thought, Gees, you know what's going on here. So they came to us, sat down, and said, 'You Charlie Perkins?' I said, 'Yeah'. 'You've got a big mouth, hey? You're talking about ... all about Aboriginal rights all over the place, Aboriginal this, and Aboriginal that?' 'Yeah', I said, 'That's right. I'm doing my best'. He said, 'Well, what do you know about Aboriginal ...?' 'Well', I said, 'Oh', I said, 'I know a little bit, nothing'. 'You know nothing. You're a little boy. You're wee'i', and I said, 'Well, that may be true, I suppose, but,' I said, 'You know, I can only play my part. You play your part here'. 'We'll tell you about Aboriginal law'. And I said, 'Well, all right, you tell me'. So he sat down. He said, 'See that blanket'. He said, 'You put the blanket down there', he said, 'Now, there's the blanket. That's white man's law on top, there, everything you see there that's there. That's white man's law. You do everything white man's law that's ...', he said, 'Yeah, that's white man's law. You lift that corner of the blanket up', he said, 'That's black man's law'. He said, 'That's the law we follow and that's the law you don't know about'. And I thought to myself, gees, if ever the truth's been told, it's been told to me tonight. And I remembered that. And it's true, and that's ... lots of people still know the total law, total law, and they know the song, ceremony, the paintings, everything, and I'm not speaking out of turn. I've got to be very careful but I'm saying things that are right, that a lot of Aboriginal people - old men, and law men - they know the law, and you've got to abide by the law. If you break the law, you get punished. And that's one of the reasons I went through the initiation ceremony ... ceremony.
And age at that time? Yeah. It is, yeah.
Extremely difficult. Extremely difficult.
I can't talk much about it.
I can only say it was very hard. That's all I can say.
No, it's important, and if you reckon you're an Aboriginal, well then be an Aboriginal. You know, go and be what you say you are. And now I know. And that's what I'll take to my grave, you see.
Never. Never have.
Never has had. Never. Nobody ever impressed it upon me. If somebody had ever impressed it upon me, or brought it to my notice, I would have taken notice and done something about it, but nobody ever said. See, all my life, I've just been an Aboriginal. That's why sometimes people hurt you when they say, 'Oh, you jumped on the bandwagon'. Well I said, 'The bloody bandwagon's always been here', I said, you know, I mean, 'I've been travelling in that bandwagon since I was born'. So ... but the other thing is they say, 'Well, you don't look like an Aboriginal', or 'You don't speak like it, you don't dress like an Aboriginal'. Well I said, 'Well, what is an Aboriginal supposed to look like? Are we all supposed to be running round in lap-laps, with a boomerang over ... in one hand and a kangaroo over the shoulder?' I said, 'Aborigines can take many forms, you know, like Jewish people. You can't say that's a Jew, and that's not a Jew', or you know, and I said, 'Aboriginal people, you know, can be what they want to be today. You can be a traditional Aboriginal person. You can still be a Professor of Philosophy at Sydney University, if that's what takes your fancy'. And that's happened throughout the world. And so you know, Aboriginality is a hard one, and it's sort of been thrown in our faces all the time, all our lives. But the white side of my family, which I don't know anything about, I think it's the Perkinses from Broken Hill and my father come from another side, you see. My father comes from Kalkadoon people. He's a Kalkadoon man from north-west Queensland. And he left us standing on the table when we were two or three years old. Never saw him again, 'til just before he died. Never even knew he existed till I was thirty-five, and so when I was sent down to a boys' home, I was sent from one institution to another. I never had a family - never had a family life proper. My mother cried all the time while we were gone, but she knew it was best for us, so it was an offer she couldn't refuse. So this is the sort of trauma of Aboriginal Affairs and, you know, this is the sort of situation we live in. I never knew my father. I just met him a couple of times, and then he died. And he was a really good man, a great man up in that area, you know. But Kalkadoon descendants, who fought all the white people to a standstill at Battle Mountain, is part of all of that. And then the other part of me is Arunta. Then the white side of him is Irish, you know, and the white side of me is Irish and English and Australian, or whatever, and so culminating in me being what I am, and I'm not sort of ashamed of any of that. That's the way it is. And then my wife, you know, being of German ancestry, and then what of my kids, you know? A great mixture. But that's the beauty of Australia. That's what will make Australia great, the merging of all these cultures, all these nationalities and races, you know, into something that's truly uniquely Australian.
One of the things though that you've got into trouble for is speaking out against Asian immigration a couple of times in your life as a public servant. It was comments on Asian immigration that got you into trouble. Could you explain what you were talking about?
Yes, I was lying on the beach, having a bit of a break, and Hawkie was in power at this time and Gerry Hand was the Minister. And I was lying on the beach, and somebody rang up and said, 'Hey, what do you think about Asian immigration? There's a lot of people, criminal types coming into Australia'. And that was my point. It was not immigration ... against immigration as such, which was blown out ... put in the press. It was against the Triad groups which I was proved ... since proved to be exactly right. I said because I know that I was right, because I was told so by some of the people who were running some of the criminal activities around the Cross, and in Sydney, and they told me, and some of them were Aborigines by the way, and they told me that the Asian Triad groups had taken over the criminal activities, and that's right. They were doing that and I said, 'Well, that ... Those are the sort of people we've got to stop coming into Australia. Not Asians as such, but get good quality Asians, not just the blow-ins and so on, or the family reunion stuff. Get Asians that we need to build this country up', I said, 'That's ... but stop these criminals coming in. Check their passports. Check them out', because a lot of them did get in, and I said, 'We've got enough criminals of our own. We got our own home-bred criminals, for goodness sake. We can't handle them, never mind Asian criminals'. And that's what I said, and of course, the ... oh it just hit the fan, and everybody got hysterical, and I was asked to, you know, apologise, and Gerry Hand said he'll square it up with the Prime Minister, which he didn't do. He put the knife in more, and other people, you know, put the knife in more, but they were all saying the same as I was, but nobody said it, you see. That was the problem.
You've always been ... You've always been energised by a fight, haven't you? Well, how do you think that works for you? Whenever really you're back's against the wall, or there's a prospect of a really good fight, you seem to get your energy back, whatever your situation.
That's right, yeah. I don't know.
I, you know ... I perform better when I'm under stress and under tension, and I'm being challenged. I don't know why it is, that's the way it is. If I'm relaxed and cool and not troubled, I ... you know, I really struggle to find the right words and to do the right things, but if I'm under stress I ... I get sharpened up, my mind gets sharp, and my body gets sharp, my reactions are sharp. I think it's natural with most people, but I perform much better. I won't say I enjoy it, but it does ... it does give me ... the adrenalin runs faster through my body, and I do get some satisfaction out of that: meeting a challenge and hopefully succeeding on it. Sometimes I lose, sometimes I win. But I don't know, maybe it's a weakness in a character, but I just ... not that I'll love a challenge, love a fight, but I don't mind it. If it has to happen, so be it. Let's get into it. Let's start, you know.
Well that's right. It was the fire in the belly, I call it, you know. But the fire in the belly is bigger than just hate for white people. The fire in the belly is for a cause, you know. Everybody's got to have a fire in their belly, I think, about something. You got to, you're really ... otherwise ... You got a fire in your belly doing your job better, or relating to your family, or being a good footballer, or something. You've got to have that. There's something that's got to drive you, and I always ... that always drove me: the cause of Aboriginal Affairs. But like, when I was in the compound, when I was in that settlement, just outside of Alice Springs, the white people used to come along there with white socks, white shorts, white shirts, and they used to tell us what to do. Herd us up, line us up and flog us. You know, if we did anything wrong they'd flog us. You know. And ... Or nobody would give us any food, you know. We wouldn't eat for a day, you know. We were kids, you know, and you'd sort of ... you'd hate that, you know. You hate that, and that sort of becomes a symbol. Then the policeman, who come and throw you in vans and bash you up, and bash your father and mother up. You hate them too. So they're all white. See, they're the examples of authority around the place. And then you never ... try to come ... Later on, you walk down the street, and everybody said, 'Let's get the niggers', like I told you. And then you find out that you're a nigger. Why? You know, how'd you become a nigger all of a sudden? [Laughs] It's a pretty strange reaction. Then you're 'boongs' and 'coons' and nobody wants to sit next to a 'coon'. Nobody wants to talk to a 'coon'. Nobody wants to give you sandwiches. Nobody wants to swap sandwiches at school with a 'coon'. You know, when people talk openly like that, you get things. It sort of gets in your stomach a bit, you know. With migrants, they can overcome that because they're white anyhow, and they can fade into the community, providing their English is good, and who knows, and who really cares? But when it's an Aboriginal and it can be identified ... And I'm a fifty-fifty most times, some people think I'm Greek half the time, and others think I'm Italian, but then most time, you know, they say, 'Oh, yeah, I know who he is', and so you develop that hatred and a bitterness, and that drove me on. And I said, 'No bastard, white or black, is going to get over the top of me for anything'. And I believe ... don't believe they have. Maybe they have, but you know I got a lot of scars, but then gradually in the later years, once you start succeeding in a sense, if, you know, they call it 'success', in inverted commas, you lose a lot of that, and you sort of think ... you meet a lot of good white people along the way too, and you say, 'What am I hung about them for?' And then you lose ... and it gradually fades, and it's faded for me. The bitterness has faded. Still got the fire in my belly about things, and like to keep energised about it, because there's so much thing ... and I get angry at people like Herron, but it's an individual thing now: Herron, Alan Jones, John Laws, those sorts of people. I'm angry at them, but I'm not angry a white people. I mean, I opened an art gallery and there was a couple of hundred people there last night, and with the exception of three or four, they were all white people, and they were bloody terrific people. They're supporting the cause. They only want to do their bit. They're all artists. They can't do any more. Why blame them, you know? They play their part. So, all of those sorts of situations eliminated that hatred now, and bitterness, because I think it's such a negative thing, being too bitter and high-strung about it, because it just takes your energy away, and it distracts you from where you should be focusing your efforts. So I've lost that now and that's good. And I've made sure that my kids don't have that, or anybody I'm associated with. I tell them, 'Forget about that. Don't be like that. Go for it, but not ... you know, don't be bitter about it'.
You couldn't, you couldn't really. You can go for a while, then somebody would say, 'Yeah, Charlie Perkins, you know'. I mean, you know, you hear comments like, 'He's got a bit of the tar-brush in him', or 'He's a chocolate boy', and you've got to be what you've got to be. You can't live with yourself trying to be somebody else. You know, some Aborigines are fairer than me and they can pass, and they live their life, but sooner or later you're going to be found out, in a sense, so why not be what you are, whatever you are, and be proud of it? And I was right from the beginning, I was that. I was always ... never been any different. I was strong. I was born in an Aboriginal compound. I was brought up as an Aborigine and I've identified all my life as an Aborigine, and I don't want to be anything else. I mean, I don't want to try to be somebody [else]. I don't want to be a Maori or a Greek or an Italian. Their good people, but I am what I am. And you know, I'm proud to be Australian. That's a good thing, but being an Aboriginal, you know, that's icing on the cake.
You know like, here, we're a young country, we're all searching for an identity. Australians, we're all searching for identity. We don't have to have the vomiting, boozing, you know, drug-taking, swashbuckling bodgie, as our ... what an Australian's all about. We're more than that. We're an intelligent, sophisticated people; we're smart people; we're energetic; we're a young nation; we've got great resources; we've got everything that can make this nation, the big thing, the big nation of the world. Give leadership to everybody, doesn't matter who it is, not that we have to dictate or tell everybody how to run their lives, but we've got all the ingredients here. But we've got to come together. Aboriginal people and white people have got to come together. We've got to reconcile our differences. We've got to, sort of, absorb Aboriginal ... some of the good parts of Aboriginal culture into the white cultures, like the Greek coming in to the Italian, you know. All of it, together, to make it truly multicultural. We're moving in that direction anyhow, but difficult ... With great difficulty we're moving in that direction. An Aboriginal people can be part of that. Because Aboriginal culture is really Australian culture. It belongs to all the white people as well and all the kids at school, you know, and I'd like to see white kids at school dancing some little corroborees, you know, and singing some Aboriginal songs, because it's part of their culture. They can sort of bring that up with them, and that's what makes Australia unique. We're not pseudo-Americans or trying to be British people or British aristocracy, talking with a plum in the mouth. We're Australians. We've got our own characteristics; we got our own personality; we got our own goals and objectives here, and we get it because of Aboriginal culture, you know, as well as Greek and Italian and Jewish, and all the rest of it, and all [those] coming in. And that's what I mean and then that develops the soul of the nation in my opinion. That develops a soul that's really something, that you know, we can pass on to kids, but what are we passing on to kids today? A jumbled mixture of trying to hide what happened in the past, and the black armband theory of Blainey, and then they said, 'Oh we're not ... I don't want to carry on with that black armband theory, but we do in terms of Anzac. We do in terms of the Holocaust. We do in terms of the tragedies that existed, like down in Hobart. Why not? Why? What's wrong with saying what happened in the past with Aborigines too? Let's be honest. And we're not truthful with ourselves. We're not a truthful nation at the moment. We're hiding something in the cupboard. Our conscience is not clear. That's why we can't come together. That's why Howard, the silly old bastard that he is, he thinks he's apologising for himself. We don't want his apology, [although] that's nice to have. He forgets, he's the Prime Minister. He should apologise for the nation, not for himself. [But] he doesn't feel good about it, and that silly bastard Herron ... and that's why we can't come together. We haven't grasped the nettle of what Aboriginal history has been in this country. It's been bad. There's been some good, but there's been a lot of bad. Let's admit to it. I mean just up outside of Alice Springs, seventy, eighty people just got shot to death and hacked to death, with swords and knives and things, because one white man got killed, Constant Hood [?]. In South Australia, 200 Aboriginal men and women pushed over the edge of the cliff. Up here, along the north coast, as well: poisoned water holes at Moree. It's not called 'Poisoned Waterholes' because they thought that was a nice name.
A lot of white people, who admire and are very much drawn to the complexities and the meaning in Aboriginal culture, feel worried about it because if they really did adopt it as the soul of the country, and dance corroborees and so on, they're worried that they might be accused of culture appropriation. In other words, some Aborigines aren't as generous as you are in relation to their culture, and make white people feel a little bit as if it would be wrong of them to adopt it, as it were.
Yes, well we've got to overcome that embarrassment bridge, because the Aborigines feel one way, and white people feel the other. White people feel, well, why should we have any part of that, anyhow. It's a waste of time, it doesn't have to do with us. And Aborigines are thinking, well, white people don't want to have any part of it, you know. So there's a mixture of feelings in all of that, but you know, the essential element is we've got to grasp that nettle of, you know, a number of things. One, we've got to come together. One, white people have got to recognise this was Aboriginal land before they came here. They haven't been here that long. There's been all of these things that have happened. Accept the history of this country. Then it makes it easy for us to come together, but if we don't accept the history of Australia, we don't come together to be able to work out an arrangement in terms of, you know, the merging of cultures, and Aboriginal performances, and white people being part of it ... Well, I've seen some: a lot of white kids doing dances, the emu dance, the kangaroo dance, on the stage at high schools, when Aboriginal people said, 'Come up and do it with us', and they ... you couldn't get enough of them up. They all wanted to get up there on the stage at the one time, and they loved it and enjoyed it, and what we've said to them straight afterwards, we said, 'That's part of your culture. That's what you've got to learn', and they all liked that idea, see. But they've got no embarrassment about the past, or about current relationship. They just ... they're honest. They just like it. They want to be part of it and they think it's a good thing, and you know, it is a good thing. I mean, if white Australians go over and sort of sing an Aboriginal song overseas, or sing it in the schools, or speak it instead of French, German, Italian, Dutch, why not an Aboriginal language, and like to, and are happy to speak it. Well, that makes them a better person, you know: greater skills and all the rest of it, and I think, what I mean by soul for Australia, is what we haven't got at the present time, which allows us to sort of develop an identity, develop a self-respect about ourselves, a dignity, that's on firm, solid ground, and I think that's the basic ingredient that's missing in this country at the present time, and I think most people, maybe do not understand, in my mind anyhow ... is that they don't understand it, because they're searching for other things, you know, other means, or other things that would say, 'Well, that's what ... where we belong, that's what I identify with, that's what makes me an Australian', but if we can develop this soul, I think if ... and all of these things I've spoken about, then we're there. We've got something, you know. We've got something to hang off. We don't have to sort of try and pretend we're, you know, better than the Yanks at being what they're good at, or the British, and try to crawl to the aristocracy, or trying to be as ... older than Europe, and you know ... We're ourselves, and we can just walk the world, and people would be pleased to see us, and we'd be proud of ourselves. And that's what I mean by soul, and I think it's a ... it's a wonderful thing to have, you know, and I think Aboriginal people are going to play a role in that, in participation, but also in providing some elements of that. I mean you know, the soul is a total mosaic, isn't it, of everything? And you know it's not all Aboriginal; it's not all white; it's not all Italian; not all Greek - it's all of those things, or a nice mixture that just blends together, and when you see an Australian walking down the street, you know, everybody will say, 'Well, you know, that's an Australian'. Why is he an Australian or she an Australian? Because they're this and that, you know. And I think that's important.
Well, you know, what makes an Australian? Well, I think what makes an Australian, when we have received this soul and this identity with the soul of Australia, is that we walk differently; we talk differently; we're more respectful of other people; we're more compassionate; we're more educated in a social, academic sense, perhaps not an academic sense, as equal to them, but in a social sense; we're more flexible; we're more generous people, without being stupid we're generous; and we're more kind to each other within this country, never mind to other people outside of it. So you don't have to walk round down London Square with a boomerang stuffed in your back pocket and a koala bear under your right arm to say, 'Well, look, I'm an Australian'. You stand apart as an Australian because you have a certain standing and ability to stand there, the characteristic. That's what an Australian is.
Well, same thing. Same thing.
Well, from ... For me, from Aboriginal culture I've always understood white cockatoos, to give you an idea: be careful, watch out, you know. Galahs have somewhat the same [meaning]. They're sort of keep you aware of things that are going to happen, and be careful, be cautious, but they're all part of your make-up, you know. You welcome them, and they welcome you. They make you happy. And the crows, well, the crows are, sort of, not my mentor, but my ... who keeps a lookout for me. And I remember when I was very ill, and I had this kidney, when I lost my kidneys and I was on the machine, I'd see nearly every day for the time ... Every time I got on the machine, I could see out the window, a little part of the window, about that much by that much, [STRETCHES WIDE HIS ARMS] and two crows would fly across there every day. I could hear them coming and I'd hear them going, and I'd ... they'd keep an eye on me, and I always feel that that's the way it is with me. That's all come from, you know, Aboriginal culture to me. Some people might say, 'Well, you know that's not ... It's a coincidence'. But that's all right, they can believe that, and I'll believe something else. But my mother has always inclined me in that direction, you know. The two crows look after you, keep an eye on you, which you ... The crow is indestructible. You never see a dead crow in a park or on a highway. You never see baby crows. You ... The crow is a sort of a ... it looks after himself. He's a certain type of animal. More so than any other animal, he's indestructible. He's got dignity. He's ugly as anything, but he's there and, you know, protective of his own, and he's watchful of everything. So I just have that understanding, which most people wouldn't appreciate, I suppose.
Yeah, well, I got a feeling, you know, I'm a little bit indestructible physically, psychologically as well, but it's really ... it's like everybody's the same. You stagger on from one crisis to another, and you try to overcome that in the best possible way, until you meet your final hurdle which you cannot cross, for despite your want of trying to, you can't overcome. But I'm the world's longest living kidney transplant. I got other things wrong with me, that, you know, would cause problems, severe problems for lots of people, but I hold them within me, and I contain them, and I balance them out. And I'm probably pretty lucky too, because I think my ... what I've inherited from my Aboriginal ancestry has strengthened me a lot, you know. Well, I think it's, you know, my blood and my heart and all that. They're very good and they sort of contain me over severe illnesses, which in many cases would have caused problems for lots of people, and you feel a bit indestructible, but you know, I think in the last, you know, ten or twenty years, you know, everybody gets a feeling when they get to my age, I suppose, you know, we're not immortal, something's going to happen soon, but then what's going to happen when you do pass away? Where do you go to? And nobody's really got the answer. Everybody tries to provide an answer for themselves to give themselves a sense of security, and certainty and comfort in the final analysis, whenever that will be. But you know, I think the great hope for everybody is that they have the opportunity to die with some dignity, and that, you know, they would have ... possibly have some inkling of what's going to happen, but really they're not going to, you know. And I know, I sort of nearly passed away, died on the table twice actually, in the last six months, on the operating table, when I had a heart attack, and I saw nothing, but, you know, that was only a short space of time. But you just never know. Nobody really knows. I think that's fair enough to say that. We all speculate. But I think, the passage of your life from one to another is ... all you can hope for is there'd be some dignity attached to it, you know. It's done the right way.
Well, the Arunta people, the Aboriginal law is, you know, it's, you know, today it's the same as tomorrow, as it was yesterday, and you know, there are things that happen to you, and I can't say too much more than that. But you know, everything progresses from one to the other, and everything is connected. Living today, like tomorrow, and then all the plants and the birds and the trees, they're all part of your existence while you're here, in a very symbolic and spiritual way, and they're going to be the same afterwards. But its ... it's difficult. Nobody really knows, and I, you know ... I certainly don't know.
Oh, she died quite some years ago now - twenty years or more. Well, my mother was everything to me, you know. There's only three, four people in my life, five people, I really held in high esteem, you know, my mother, my wife, Ted Noffs, the Reverend Ted Noffs, and the two other people I thought were very good people, and you might think this is rather surprising but, the present Pope, and I'm not even Catholic, and the other one is Mohammed Ali, who I met on a number of occasions. And I'm perhaps his only real friend that he had ... that he has in Australia. But those sort of extraordinary people, to me anyhow, were the greatest influences on my life. Certainly my mother. Well, your mother's everything. I mean there's nobody more than mother.
What's your greatest hope for your grandchildren? Your grandchildren carry Aboriginal blood. They will have a white education in a good family with enough money. What do you think their future will be?
Well, I don't know, naturally enough, and who knows what the future will bring for any of us, you know. Tomorrows could be anything, but I would hope for my children and my grandchildren, that they would take advantage of a number of things. One, a good education I give them, and good health, and some good social training. Everything else is up to them. It's their road that they've got to go down, and whichever option they chose, and whichever path they chose is entirely up to them, but my obligation to them is to make sure they get a good education, they have good health, and their good social training. They're respectful of people and other cultures, and they know who they are, and they can, you know, use their talents to the best of their ability. And I don't think you can hope for anything more from them, and expect any more from them. And I think that, you know, whatever they want to do on the basis of those three criteria, well, they should do. If they find that they want a satisfaction in following a particular path, go for it. But I always try to say to them, you know, all the time, you know, you've got to have the courage of your convictions. You've got to, you know, like in all my life, I've always said, if you're frightened of something, still do it. You've just got to do it. But if it's the right thing to do, then you can be bet ... you're sure to your last dollar, you're not doing the wrong thing. And I, you know ... I hope they can have the courage of their convictions, and maintain that courage all their life, because you need a lot of courage in this life, to make some of the choices you have to make. That's natural. I mean, you can't sit back like an amoeba and just regenerate yourself. You've got to be an exciting, dynamic human being, and there are choices you're going to make that's going to cause you some difficulty, and if it requires some courage on your part, then do it.
Well, education is ... and information is power, and that's what this society's denied us: education. They've told us we're having education and they've denied us that, because once we get the information and knowledge spread throughout the Aboriginal community at a higher level than we've got to now, say five times higher, things will change. If the Aboriginal community were educated there wouldn't be an Aboriginal problem. There'd be a white problem, which it really is at the present time. Aboriginal people, if they've got the educational ... behind them, they've got a reasonable health, anything is possible, and so really in the final analysis, Aboriginal Affairs doesn't depend on governments, missions, white people, unions, it depends on Aboriginal people themselves, and we've got to get off our black arses and do it ourselves. And education is the key along with these other elements, you know, working in unison with it - reasonable home, reasonable health - for us to sort of get up from under and do the things ourselves in the way that we think is important. Then we can eyeball white society and we can work out the terms of the relationship in a much better way than exists at the present time. And I'm very disgusted with a lot of our whites ... or black academics, I should say, our black academics, who have come through the system, and have not allowed for this flood of Aboriginal people into the universities, and the areas of higher learning, by not fighting for Abstudy, which was the Aboriginal study scheme to stay in existence, which it doesn't exist at the present time. We've now become part of Austudy, which you know, no Aboriginal person, plus white kids, can't live under. Just too ... It's just too miserable an amount of money. So we've denied ourselves the one opportunity to really get out from under by having a decent education, by you know, deny ... by getting rid of the Abstudy scheme. And so I'm really disgusted with the black academics for that. They've done us a disservice.
They're all miserable scholarships. They're meaningless scholarships. You can't live on an Abstudy scholarship -- Austudy scholarship, if you're white or black in Australian society. It's just too tight. The costs are too high. But added to that, there's two other things. There's the disadvantage [that] Aboriginal people live in, in terms of housing and poor health and so on, and the second thing is Aboriginal culture. We are what we are, you know, because our cultural background. I mean, we don't necessarily see things as other people see them, and we have a way of dealing with each other and other people, that may ... is not too commercially oriented, and it's not exclusive. I mean our family is everybody. Aboriginal culture. Everybody. There's certain levels. Everybody at your level are your cousins. The next level are your aunties and uncles. Next level your fathers and mothers, your grandfathers. So nobody's excluded. It's a very inclusive society. And that's why we are as a community, and we sort of ... It has its disadvantages, but it's got a bigger advantage because you've got lots of friends, and you've got lots of relations. And everybody's supposed to look after each other, which is not always the case, today in Aboriginal society, but that's the idea. Well that culture tends to draw you back a little in terms of excelling academically or professionally, because you can't get out too far in front. You can't excel to much above the others. It causes some problems. But Aboriginal culture, you know, [there are] other things to it. It's a greater appreciation of other things that people don't care about: trees along the footpath here, you know, they're beautiful. The lawn, the grass on the lawn, the air, the birds and the water and the beaches, and things. I mean we take a lot into that ... that into account, you know, Aboriginal people. It's all part of us, and the land itself, which is part of the culture, because you perform ceremonies, when you get into a traditional situation, for that. So all of those things are pulling us this way, and white society is pulling us there to be more exclusive, more nuclear family oriented, more competitive, more commercial, more hard-nosed, less friendly, and in relationships - in a very formal way. Well, Aboriginal culture is not like that. It is different to that, so we got a clash of cultures, which doesn't help us, you know, in some ways. But where's the best benefit? Isn't it better to be like that, than to be that way? Because when you've achieved all you want to in the material, the old saying is, 'Is that all there is?' You know, and that isn't all there is. When you've got all the money you want, and everything you want, isn't there something else? Have you missed something? And then isn't friendships and compassion and kindness to each other and helping each other, and being part of a bigger community, and no loneliness, no broken hearts, no dispirited feelings, no psychiatric cases, no necessity for mental institutions, or too many prisons. Isn't that better, you know, in the final analysis with people? So this ... this is pulling us all the time, and so we find it hard to be an Aboriginal person in white society. We live two lives all the time. Like me, I live two lives. I can go out and mix in a community, and I could stand for the Board of the ... of the International Grammar School which I'm standing for tomorrow night, and I can fulfil that role, but that ... then I come away, and I'm somebody else again. You're sort of acting in a sense, your life, you know. You're fulfilling two roles, which is a bit hard. But every time I walk on the street, most times, nine times out of ten, somebody's making a judgement on me. If you do something, you may [be] judged. If nine, ten people walk past there, and somebody does something wrong, and that somebody is an Aboriginal, people are bound to remember that, but if it's nine white people doing the same thing, they won't remember that. And we find Aboriginal people, that every time we go out on the streets, we go anywhere, every day is judgement day. We call it. And it's hard. It bears down on you psychologically. It scars you a little bit. And you get a little bit angry at that, and when you haven't got the equipment to compete, or to combat that, in terms of good education, good health and a reasonable home and so on, it becomes a little too much. And you know, hence it causes problems in lots of communities and with individuals. So, that's what we've got to work out amongst ourselves, and when Aboriginal people are drinking too much, and being a bit anti-social and so on, we're not trying to be that way, so much, we're screaming out for help. Only people are not hearing you, that's a problem in this country. And when we ask John Howard, for example, to apologise, we're not saying apologise so there'll be litigation as a consequence of that, or we'll sue the pants off him. We're saying apologise, so as to create the psychological grounds so we can all then relate and forget about the past and not let it be a burden. Remember it, but not ... and we move into the future as friends, you know. I mean I think the good thing about Australians, black or white, is that we're, you know ... we're pretty forgiving people. And if, you know, that sort of element is taken away, that characteristic from the Australian make-up ... and I think that's his big crime. And with Aboriginal people, you know, it's very hard to be a participant in white society, because you've just ... for me, from the day I was born 'til now, sixty-one years old, has just been struggle, and that's why sometimes I've said, when you've asked me previously, I wouldn't mind dying. Well, I wouldn't either. I'd be very happy. As long as I can die in dignity, I wouldn't mind dying. Well I wouldn't either, because what's it been from beginning to end? Just a constant struggle, in the police compound, from one institution to another, getting out in the workforce and being condemned all the time there and watched under a microscope every day, everything you do, and then, you know ... and living out in the society wherever you go, not everybody condemning you, but you sort of feel uncomfortable. Where do you lodge? You can't go and get a room. Every time I've every wanted to buy a house or go and find lodgings I've always sent my wife in. Never once have I gone in. You know, and these sorts of things, I mean that's not very nice. And there only small things. And you imagine for other Aboriginal people, if that happens right around Australia. So that's a lot of our people in this country at the present time, in 1998. Now maybe in another twenty years time it will be better, who knows, but I'm fairly pessimistic of the future.
Well, I don't think we've got the character of politicians, who can make the best laws, who can decide on the future of this country in the best possible way for all of us, never mind Aborigines, for everybody. I don't think, you know, they've got what it takes. I think that this society's too greedy. And we should be paying ... if necessary, in practical terms, paying the politicians three times the money they're getting at the present time, so we're getting quality people there, who make quality decisions. And take the unions, for example. They're the big movement in this country. When have they every turned their mind to helping Aborigines? When have they had a national strike for Aborigines? Never. And so on. And it just ... So that's why I don't know they've, you know ... they've really got the vision [of] what this country's all about. Now, through this reconciliation process, and what's happened in the last year, perhaps, you know, I should change my mind, because I've just seen hundreds and thousands of white people coming forward now, which I just wouldn't believe before. And I was watching them down at Bondi. I was sitting at the back, sitting in the car watching for half a day, watching all these people, and white people coming to sign the Sorry Book, you know, and I was thinking, 'Who are they? What are signing that for?' And they were just ordinary people. And then I saw them putting their little, you know, hands in the sands, and I saw how many there were, and I thought, well, that's pretty good, and then I read in the paper yesterday that ... or today I think it was, a million people have signed the Sorry Book. I thought, that's not a bad number. But I get despondent at times when I hear people like Alan Jones, who are pulling this country down. You know, for monetary gain, causing controversy for their personal benefit. And even John Laws, while everybody suffers as a consequence of their remarks, or it retards progress, they just go on enjoying themselves and think it's wonderful. So, you know, perhaps there's a bit of optimism mixed in amongst the pessimism, but the future should be good for us all. It should be good, but it's difficult to imagine it sometimes with the type of people we have in this country.
You've had this tremendous anger in you, from your childhood, and from all the slights that were imposed on you there, and that anger has given you the energy to accomplish all sort of things. Do you regret having spent your life so angry?
Yeah. I have. Yeah. I do. I wish I could have spent it a little more comfortably, a little more satisfactorily, and be a little more satisfied with enjoying the ordinary things around that everybody else seems to enjoy: going to pictures and taking time off. Like, most people go to work, and come home, and they just enjoy what's around them, but with us, it's a cause every day, seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day. The cause is with us because it's part of us, and we're part of it, you know. We're it. We're the so-called 'problem', and we have to deal with it. But I ... I've lost ... As I said before, I never had a childhood. Up to twenty-one I never existed. I just survived, and after that time it got a bit better when I got married and I sort of saw things in a different way and lived a different life. Well then, that was okay, but up to twenty-one, the best years of my life in that sense, never existed. Very unhappy.
... I'm angry with ... angry that I was deprived that. But I suppose boys and girls brought up in institutions feel that way anyhow, but I, you know ... I felt it a bit more than others, I suppose.
Oh, in some ways I am, but not really. I think that that was my lot. I had ... that's what I had to do, and I reckon my accomplishments weren't that great. I think that I did what other people would do anyhow, and you know, everything ... like with everything in life you know, you ... like the Ten Commandments, not one person every wrote that. Or shall we say Shakespeare, everybody made a hand in that, and like the things that I've done in Aboriginal Affairs, it's as a consequence of history and a consequence of other good people round the place making it happen. So, you know, you're just part of the equation.
Yeah, I'm ... I was pleased they did that, and I was pleased, you know, where Justice Brennan -- his remarks and so on - that he wasn't intimidated by politicians. And Wik decision: I was pleased that Keating made a stand on the Native Title even if he got some of the legislation wrong. And I'm really pleased that in the last two or three years there's been a movement from amongst the people of Australia in terms of wanting to be part of reconciliation, which I never believed in the first place, by the way. I thought it was a waste of bloody time, you know: reconciliation. What was it? Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation. Well, what have the Aborigines got to reconciliate for? They never did the wrong thing, it was done to them. But never mind, I ... but I think there's something in it now, because it's brought a lot of these other things into play, and I think that that's the chance for good relationships in the future. But you know, I think that if it doesn't change by the turn of the century, then I think what ... we've got no option but to become violent towards each other. It's ... it seems the only way that you can get some of these people to understand, you know. It's like a little boy stealing lollies, until you smack him on the hand he won't stop stealing lollies. And you know, it's a crude sort of an analogy but that's the same in this country. They have never grasped the nettle because they've never had to. Nobody's forced them to face the reality of what's happening in this country, and what they've done. And do we need bloodshed in the streets? Is that what they want? Do they need killings in Parliament House? Do they [need] shooting and burning of houses? A riot down the street with people getting killed, black and white? For somebody to get up and say, 'Hey, we've got a problem in this country [with] the indigenous people. Let's do something about it'. Or are we still going to have these selfish, stupid remarks of Alan Jones's and people who ring him up, you know, making those silly remarks that are just going to lock us into a history, into a backwater.
If you could have your wish, and, given that you were in charge, or involved in Aboriginal Affairs, when some real progress was made with practical problems, let's not forget that, what would be your wish? What would be your programme, your recipe for fixing things up?
Well, you'd have to do a lot of things, because, one element depends on all the other elements being in place and co-ordinated. You've got to do something about the infrastructure situation for Aboriginal people, which some people say, 'Oh, how boring!' It's important because people live or die by that. That's clean water, sewerage, housing, footpaths, electricity, all of those things, and most communities haven't got them. Then you've got to work out a system whereby Aboriginal people can get education, so that no Aboriginal person in this country, wherever they live, can be ... will be deprived of a university education, because that's where the answer is - in a Aboriginal people themselves. It's not in anything else. But you get the infrastructure right, you get the education right, you help as much as you can to get better employment and so on, but you're waiting for the mass of Aborigines to come through. They've got to come through. And then you don't have to depend on people like myself. I mean, I'm here today, gone tomorrow, and I've only just played a small role like other Aboriginal leaders do, but we're only passing, you know: ships in the night really. And where the answer lies, is with the mass of Aboriginal people, not with the individuals.
That will look after itself. You don't deprive people of grog, or have legislation all the time. If people know that it's not a good thing to drink grog or take drugs, then they won't take it. I mean I don't drink, I don't take drugs, because I know it's bad for me. And my kids don't. So why don't we educate people, so that the drug ... you can put the bag of drugs on the table, you can put bottles of wine and beer on the table, and they don't have to take it, because they don't want to take it. And that's the only time that we'll have ... we'll have, you know, control of these elements of our society, these bad things. Not by doing it the other way. So I think the ... they've got it the wrong way round. And you know I think that's sort of, that's what society I think will eventually come about, but we're going to lose generation after generation of people, white and black in this country. The other thing too is, in this country, it's so good and it's so energetic. We've got good resources that we ... there ought to be no chance for any person, black or white, any kid to be without a feed, or be without a reasonable home or security. No necessity for any poverty in this country whatsoever, with anybody. And you know, all of these things are possibilities. It can happen if we want it to happen. But here we are, for example, on the grog: they reckon Aboriginal people are excessive in, you know, alcohol consumption. Australia is second or third in beer consumption in the world. It's the most alcoholic society in the world. So what people do is they ... they're drinking on, boozing off, and they turn round and point the finger at a Aboriginal sitting there or drunk. Aboriginal people are bad social drinkers. We got nowhere to hide, no place to go, so we're too obvious, and we stand out. White people have got homes to go to, but the extent of alcoholism in this country's enormous. We have in here ... we even have the beer that ... beer is a drug in my opinion. We have the drug barons supporting the Olympic Games. They're the real killers. No good talking about heroin and cocaine and all that. That's nothing. That's the minor game. The big game over here is beer and alcohol, and what it does to people, so, you know, this society is full of contradictions, and that's why I've said that many a times to the people. Don't argue about drugs, leave that. Concentrate on where the six million ... billion dollars of revenue comes for the Government, from beer and alcohol consumption, and I said, 'Then you start to get ... really attack what's happening in Australian society'. And so, you know, these contradictions are what makes you wild with Australian society. It makes you wild to see that all the media is tied up in one or two hands. If you want to object to something, how can you? How can you object to gambling when the television and the press are owned by the same people who have got the biggest interests in gambling, or the biggest interests in the beer consumption, or whatever? It's just ... it's tragic. And you know, it doesn't need to happen in Australian society, but we've got weak-kneed politicians who've got no guts and no character to sort of say something about that.
Oh, there's been ... It's very hard to get them apart. I mean going through that ... those series of 'investigations', so-called, into the Department, but really into me, was ... was really traumatic. When I lost my kidneys, that was another trauma that devastated me, but I overcame that. Then, you know, other things: leaving the Department of Aboriginal Affairs in the way that I did was another. Oh there's been a series of these all the time. I seem to have them every two or three years.
Only the family, but nothing else.
Yeah, just the family. Nothing else. I take no joy in anything else. There's nothing. I don't take no joy in anything else. No nothing. I can't think of. Aboriginal people I find ...
Yeah, it was during Malcolm Fraser was the Prime Minister, and he ... he thought I was going to go up there and be involved, and I said, 'You know ...' The word got back to him, I don't know whether I told him personally, but, you know, I was going up. I felt obliged to. The Aboriginal people were ringing me up and asking me to come up and sort of demanding I be there, so I said, 'Well I'll go up and participate in the demonstrations against the Commonwealth Games being held in Brisbane because of the Bjelke-Petersen Government which was very bad, very bad for everybody. And you know, it was sort of an appropriate occasion. We weren't going to cause any violence to anything, but that was on the occasion when, you know, a busload of Aborigines were going up with guns. And I thought, well, it's best if we get up there and have a peaceful demonstration than to have a violent, political confrontation where people could get killed. You know, a lot of people don't realise that, but that's one of the reasons why I went up, because I knew it was definitely going to happen. They were going to go up there with guns and blaze away. Blimey, that's really not what we want. So, we got up there, and there was a big group of us. Thousands, and quite a few white people too, wanted to back us, and they got in amongst us as well, and we all decided right, we'll march towards the, you know ... on the South Bank, and block off a few streets and have some speeches and all that sort of thing - fairly orthodox. And the police, you know, the Queensland police, in their usual authoritarian undemocratic way, says, 'Righto, you mob, you'll have to go down this street, and you turn right at the right corner, and you get out there, and you can go and have a meeting in the park'. And we all decided amongst themselves, 'Well, stuff them. We're not going to go that way. We're going straight the main street, and down the next main street to the right, and not only that, we'll have a meeting on the corner'. Well, they were all in the front, leading us, and then they all ... we were right behind them, we took the whole road. They said we've got to march on the footpath, and we said, 'No, we'll take the whole road'. So we took the whole road and the footpath. And so they ... they all got in very co-operative mood, when we we're sort of stopping all the traffic and diverting them coming towards us. Then they turned the corner to the right, but we just kept going. And of course, they realised when they were about twenty yards down that we weren't going to go with them, so they raced up and they tried to persuade us, and I said, 'No'. and some of the others were saying it too. 'No, we're going on here, and we'll stop at the corner up there, and you get to the corner, and clear that area for us'. So they did just that. So they were very helpful in the end. They had no option. And so we cleared that area. They cleared the area and we just ... we all got to the corner, and we said, 'Right, everybody down'. So we had a few speeches. Our next objective was blocking the bridge. Well, you know, you can imagine what the Government's doing this time, all having, you know, getting into a frenzy. And their little brains working overtime, so we all, you know - Mick Miller, Ray Robinson, Normie Johnson and a big mob from Sydney, Gary Foley, the whole lot of us - we all went there, and mainly Queensland Aborigines, and we all blocked the whole bridge. No traffic coming on or off, and we just took our time having speeches too. And so that was our ... there was nobody got hurt, then when it was finished, we all dispersed, but we made our point. And see, but they don't appreciate that. And it's democratic society, you should be able to do that. And I think you know that everybody took notice of that. But we all have been disappointed about some of the black nations not supporting us. You know, they don't mind coming here like these black basketballers, black tennis players or whatever. They come here, but they never say anything about us. Look at the black cricketers. They've been here for generations, coming here, never backed us, and ... any time that I can remember. Anyhow, on the Commonwealth Games, we ... Fraser was very upset about that, and you know, him and I had a good relationship. So when I got back to Canberra he called me up to his office, and him, Jeff Yian (?) and a couple of heavies, were all round the table. I forget who the Minister was at that time. Anyhow, he said, 'We want ... You disobeyed my instructions. You went up there and you helped to lead the demonstration. You shouldn't have done that'. And I said, 'I had no option'. I said, 'If I didn't go up there, you would ... people would have been killed. If myself and other Aboriginal leaders [didn't] go. We persuaded the busload not to come, and we said we'll have a peaceful demonstration, but a strong one'. I said, 'That's the way to go, mate. That's the way to do these things, you know. Nobody got hurt, and everybody's fine, and we've made our point'. 'Oh, Bjelke Joe, he's going mad on the telephone to me'. I said, 'Well, stuff him, you know. He's only the Premier, you're the Prime Minister. You don't have to listen to him'. And Jeff Yian was, you know, saying, 'Well, I think it's all over now, you know. It's settled down', and all this. But the person who dobbed me in and said that I was up there, and doing this and that, and saying this and that, I think was Neville Bonner, which is a bit sad. But ... because, he said, 'I got it from a good source you said this, and you did this, and you did that'. I said, 'I know what your source is'. And so we had this discussion. He said, 'Well, I'm going to give you some options'. He said, 'You can't stay here. You gotta ... you gotta move on'. And I said, 'Well, what's your options?' So, they've all organised amongst themselves. They were going to get me out. They provided me with incentives, you know. One of them was overseas posting, go and study at a university overseas for as long as I liked, on the same salary. Or take a trip round the world, my wife and I. Visit officially a number of areas, and I thought, that all sounds very exciting. And I said, 'That's really nice of you all, and I appreciate it, but but I'm not going. I'm staying where I am, and I leave it to you to do what you have to do, but I done what I had to do. I got a clear conscience'. He said, 'That's it, is it?' I said, 'Yeah, that's it'. I said, 'Sorry mate, you've been a good bloke. You're not a bad Prime Minister. You're good at race relations, but', I said, 'You're wrong on this'. So I think Jeff Yian was on my side, but I'm not sure, but I can't remember who the two others were there at that time. One was a Minister. There was a Minister that time, and one was ... oh, anyhow, they were all heavies. There was about five of them against me, and I thought, Gee I'm outnumbered by some powerful brains here. Anyhow I said, 'No, I'm not going to go'. I said, 'You do what you have to do'. So I went back and then the Queen was in Australia the next day, or the day after, whenever. And so, he didn't want me to meet the Queen. So we phoned up to meet the Queen, and I, you know, phoned up and I spoke to the secretary. I said, 'I want to meet the Queen. I want to give her a petition on behalf of Aboriginal people for all the land they've taken from, you know ... they've taken from Aboriginal people, all the land rights and everything'. Well, he nearly collapsed. He said, 'Who are you?' and I said ... I told him, and so on. And he said ... and so he said, 'I'll have to talk to Her Majesty', and so he had a talk with Her Majesty, and so the word came back, 'Well look, why don't you give it to the ... sir ... an Australian bloke, her secretary, and ... give it to him?' I said, 'No, we're going to give it to the Queen. We don't want to give it to you. Who are you? You're not the Queen or anything. You're only the secretary. So we'll give it to the Queen'. And so they had another discussion. So there was ... then the Prime Minister's office got involved and, you know, said, 'Don't give it to the Queen'. I said, 'No, we'll give it to the Queen tonight, when we meet her at the ... in Kings' Hall, in the old Parliament House. I'll present her with a petition'. Well, that really set the cat amongst the pigeons, because it's unprecedented. They all shit themselves, the whole lot collectively. And so, there was a bit of other negotiation with it, and they said, 'Oh don't do that, don't give the petition to the Queen'. And I think from then on my phones were definitely bugged all around the place, and we're being watched by everybody all over the place, and so they rang up and said, 'Look, will you just give it to the secretary. The Queen will be happy then and she'll talk to you about it tonight, at the reception in Kings' Hall'. So we thought, 'All right, so long as she reads it'. We said, 'So long as she reads it', you know, 'And you don't just throw it aside.' And they said, 'No, she'll read it. She promised to read it, take note of it'. So we said, 'All right, we'll go and give it to her'. So the secretary was at Kirribilli House. Not Kirribilli House. What's the one in Canberra called?
Yarralumla. And so we said ... That's where he was lodged at the time, so ... as was the Queen, and so -- I presume -- and so John Newfong (?) and myself wrote out the petition, and all the words and everything like that, and we drove to Yarralumla and we gave it to him, and he was a really nice fellow, and everything like that, and we said to him, 'Now don't you let us down. You give that to the Queen. We don't want [just] you to read it. That's very nice, and you're a good bloke and everything, but it's got to go a bit further than you'. He said, 'I will give you my solemn word the Queen will read this, and will respond'. We said, 'That's it then. Okay. We won't give the petition tonight, we'll behave ourselves'. And so, my wife and I got ready, and we went to the function that night. Parliament House, in the Kings' Hall. And, you know, 7.30 or 7.00 to be there. And Prince Phillip was with her. And you know, the usual thing, they lay the red carpet round the hall, and you've got to stand on the edge. Well, all the eager beavers ran to get their position so they could sort of shake hands with the Queen or be acknowledged on the edge, right around. Well ... and I said to my wife, 'We'll just sit over in the corner, and bugger them, you know. We've seen her before, at some other place, and she's ... we're not got no argument with her personally. And we've made our point anyhow'. But they all thought I had the petition. And they thought that I didn't give it to them, you know ... didn't give it to that bloke, and that we're going to do something silly. And we sat right in the corner away from her, and all the others were looking. They're all waiting for me to make me move, you know. They thought I was going to jump the barriers and break through the crowd and grab the Queen and race off with her, or something silly, because they're all watching me, you know - all the admirals and the public servants and the security agents, and I kept saying to them, 'Look, I'm not going to do anything. I'm just going to sit here', and it was really funny, and my wife said, 'Oh, don't worry about it. Just sit there and be quiet, and we'll let it happen, then we'll go home', you know ... and so they can't say I didn't play me part and turn up -- no lack of courtesy. The next minute a bloke comes up and he says to me, 'Excuse me', he said, 'Would you come this way, I'd like to ...'. I said, 'No, mate', I said, 'You're right'. I said, 'I'm happy here'. I said, 'I'll just sit here'. 'No', he says, 'Excuse me, would you please follow me'. And I said to me wife, I said, 'Well, who's this bloke?' and he was insistent, and I knew he [was] speaking with some authority, but you know how them English are, sometimes. They're sometimes ... they sort of speak in that low courteous voice. But most Australians say, 'Listen, will you bloody well come over here', but, you know, he's sort of 'Would you please follow me?' So I thought, 'Golly, this is serious'. So I said, 'Oh, come on. Let's go with him then, and we'll see where he was taking us. Probably just going to lead us out the door'. And so he led us around. And all ... Everybody's watching us, you know, looking over their shoulders, all the ones who were crowded on the carpet and we were led right around. We went right around the other side, and 'Excuse me, excuse me. Could you please stand there'. It was the Queen's personal assistant. She must ... she told him to come and get me to stand there and in that place. And who was behind me? It was Bob Hawke and Bill Hayden, yet to be the Governor General, and yet to be the Prime Minister. And Hayden and Hawke are saying, 'Hey, you're crowding us out, mate. You're in front of us'. I said, 'Listen, mate, it's not me', I said, 'It's that bloke over there. He told me to come and stand here, and this is where we're were going to stand'. And Hawkie and Hayden were sort of growlers because I was crowding them out. They had their little precious square foot of red carpet they were standing on the edge of, and I ... They plonked me right in front of them. And the next minute, the Queen comes around, stops, and who should be behind her, but big Malcolm. Well Malcolm was looking at me as though he wished I'd fall through a big hole in the ground. You know, his eyes were just riveting, and he waited for me to pull out a petition and everything. And I ... and the Queen come and said, 'Mm, Mr Perkins?' I said, 'Yes'. I never bowed, because I don't believe in that stuff. And I said, 'Eileen, don't you curtsy or nothing', I said, 'Just treat her just the same as everybody else', you know, and we did. We treated her with respect. I said, 'Yeah, good to see Your Majesty. Good to see you in Australia, and I'd like to, as an Aboriginal person, welcome you to this country'. And I said, 'You'll find no problem from us. We'll treat you decently'. 'Oh', she said, 'Thank you very much for that'. And of course, Fraser's going, [SHAKES HEAD] you know, and others around him are all screwing up their fingers, wishing to throttle me, I would presume. And then I said to her, 'I'll tell you what, you know, it's ... I was going to give you a petition, but I'm not going to give you that tonight, but I'll tell you what it's about. But I gave it to your right hand man, that Sir Something or Other, and he was a nice fellow, and he took it and he said that you're going to read it, is that right?' She said, 'Yes, I've given my word. I'll read that petition'. And I said, 'Well, that's good. That's all I wanted to know, and I won't embarrass you or nothing, but I'll tell you what I'll do. The Aboriginal people asked me to give you a present from us, not from the Australian Government, from us Aboriginal people', and it came off my walls by the way. It was a boomerang and a shield I took, because we couldn't find it in time, and I said, 'But it's a boomerang and some shield and things like that, we think are very important. It's got Aboriginal markings on them', but I said, 'We'll give it you, but please, would you not put it down back in your shed, down the back, you know, where people like yourself get a lot of important things, and you put it down the sheds, or back rooms, and so on. Can you hang it in an important place in Buckingham Palace?' I said, 'That's why we'll give it to you'. She said, 'I'll do that'. I said, 'Yeah, if you do that, then you can have them'. She said, 'All right'. So she ... and I said, 'Well now, I got nothing more to say. I've got no petition and that. That's all I want to say, and welcome to Australia again. Nice to see you'. And you know, 'Come again any time you like'. So, of course, the other lads were waiting out their says, so we moved aside, and then she went on, you know, and I just waited until the right time, and Eileen and I just sneaked out and then went home.