|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.
So as the Head of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, you're going about things a little bit differently?
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.
Most Heads of Departments stayed in their offices. You went out and about a lot, didn't you?
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.
As Minister for Aboriginal Affairs at that time, what was Clyde Holding's main purpose?
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.
And in Parliament, from the point of view of political enactment, there was the ... Was land rights a big issue?
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.
They were worried that it didn't go far enough. They felt that you'd compromised too far in order to get it so that everyone could agree to it. Wasn't that the argument?
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.
But some of the other Aboriginal leaders hadn't been in the bureaucracy, and didn't properly understand that.
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.
You'd always been very very good at persuading other Aborigines, and helping them understand what the real game was. Did you feel a bit of a failure that you hadn't got through to them?
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.
What effect did it have on Clyde Holding and the whole Department, when that, which everyone had been working so hard on, fell over?
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.
Charlie, did you feel at that time that there were people, even within the Aboriginal community, who were a little bit out to get you, that you were a little bit too prominent?
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.
You had a chance of Minister, when Clyde Holding went, and Gerry Hand was appointed. How did you get on with Gerry Hand?
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.
Now, what was the idea behind the setting up of a new commission, an ATSIC?
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.
But as Head of Aboriginal Affairs, surely you would have been consulted?
Never asked me a thing.
Why? Who was Gerry Hand talking to?
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.
Did you know what was going on?
Yeah, I knew what was going on.
How did you feel about being marginalised?
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.
And in the end, he got to you.
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.
What was used to get you, Charlie?
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.
And so, what happened in the end to bring it to a head?
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?
... that precipitated it, and there were a number of things you were accused of, like presiding over giving grants to your children, and so on?
Yes, that's right, all of that.
Could you list those for me, and say then, what happened, how you were suspended, and could you tell that story?
It's too long to go through all of those ...
Could you tell me a brief version of the story?
Well, taking my daughter for example, she got a loan ...
Could I ask you to just say, well, what happened was, that I was accused of. So I'll ask you a question. What were you accused of?
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.
How were you told? How did you discover that they'd decided effectively to sack you, and have an investigation, an inquiry into these accusations?
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.
But Charlie, what was going on inside you through all of this? I mean how were you coping?
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.
What were your innermost thoughts? What were you feeling? Were you feeling it was all not worth it?
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'.
You said at the time though, that you'd actually thought that you wouldn't mind if you died.
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 ...'
[end of tape]