|Interviewer: Robin Hughes
Recorded: May 7, 1998
This is a transcript of the complete original interview conducted for the Australian Biography project. Each transcript page covers one videotape (approximately 35 minutes). There is also QuickTime video of the full interview available. To play the video, click on the icon in the right hand column. In addition, each question in the transcript is linked to the video. Clicking on a question will play the video from that point. (Help with this feature.) Optionally, you can download the video file for offline viewing (approx. 10MB).
The interview has been left it in its original state so that you can get a sense of how the conversation developed. The repetition of some questions, or a question followed by another question, is often due to the end of a particular tape or some other interruption, and has been indicated at the appropriate place in the text. There has been minimal tidying up of the text so that the flavour of the encounter has been kept.
When you were suspended, did Gerry Hand come and tell you himself why?
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.
There were ... There'd be very few people, who could have eight inquiries into all their papers and records for the last several years and come out of it clean.
I was four-and-a-half years, yeah.
Why did you ... Why did you think you were able to come out of it so clean? Had you been taught very well how to keep everything in order?
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.
When you came out of it clean, were you reinstated?
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.
What got you over it? Do you remember?
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.
What are you doing now, Charlie?
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.
There were old men who could teach you it all, still?
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.
Was that a very strange experience for someone of your education and background?
And age at that time? Yeah. It is, yeah.
Extremely difficult. Extremely difficult.
In what respect? Mentally or physically?
I can't talk much about it.
I can only say it was very hard. That's all I can say.
Was it important for you because too, of your relationship with your mother?
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.
What about the part of you, the ancestral part of you, that's white. How do you relate to that?
Never. Never have.
It has no meaning for you at all?
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.
Could you describe all of that for me? How it works for you?
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.
You said that often you felt energised, you were given strength from your bitter resentment of what whites had done to you, and a sort of hate in your early days that you had for a white community.
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'.
As a young man you do look as if you could easily be Greek or Mediterranean. You're married to a white woman. Did it ever occur to you to identify as anything else but an Aboriginal?
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 said that you feel that the Aboriginal tradition can provide Australia with what it so desperately needs: a soul. What did you mean by that?
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.
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