Fire Talker: The Life and Times of Charlie Perkins
Fire Talker traces the life of Charlie Perkins from his humble beginnings to becoming one of the most influential Indigenous figures in Australia’s history.
He was born in Alice Springs, but was educated at St Francis House, a school established in Adelaide for Aboriginal boys. A fitter and turner by trade, his gifts as a soccer player saw him play professionally for the English club, Everton, and then with the Adelaide Croatian and the Sydney Pan-Hellenic Clubs.
The first Aboriginal Australian to graduate from university, where he created the Student Action Group for Aborigines, Perkins led the famous Freedom Rides of Northern NSW in 1965. Overnight he became a young Indigenous spokesman.
In 1965 he became the manager of the Foundation for Aboriginal Affairs. In 1969 he moved to Canberra to the Office of Aboriginal Affairs, and in 1984 was made Secretary of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. His work brought about many advances for Aboriginal people, but also attracted a great deal of criticism, culminating in his eventual sacking by the Hawke Government in 1988.
In his post-public service life Perkins played key roles on the boards of Aboriginal arts, sport and media organisations, and was a member of the Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islander Commission (ATSIC) and of the Arrente Council of Central Australia. Although he did not return to government administration, he continued to be one of Australia’s most controversial Indigenous leaders.
In 1972, Perkins received a kidney transplant, and became Australia’s longest living kidney recipient. It finally claimed his life in 2000 and he was honoured with a state funeral.
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