Charles Perkins was an Aboriginal activist who spent most of his life fighting for equality for Indigenous Australians. His skin grouping was Purula in the Arrente community. His totem was the Caterpillar.
For most of Perkins' childhood, he lived on a reserve near Alice Springs. When he turned ten he went to St Francis House in Adelaide to study at Le Fevre Boys Technical School. He was at St Francis House the same time John Moriarty lived there. While staying at St Francis House, he discovered a love for soccer. At sixteen, Perkins was made to leave St Francis House because he did not get along with the house parents.
From 1952 to 1957, Perkins completed a fitter and turner apprenticeship at British Tube Mills. Meanwhile his skills on the soccer field gained him the position of the vice-captain of the South Australian team and the opportunity to play for Everton (in the English Football League). He also played for the Pan-Hellenic Club (Sydney) and the Croatian Club (Adelaide).
In 1961, he was elected Vice-President of the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines. He began talking on the media circuit, discussing the injustices of the Aborigines Protection Act. In the same year, Perkins found himself hospitalised due to kidney complications. On a personal level, Perkins met his future wife, Eileen Munchenburg, in January 1961 and by September 1961 they were married.
Perkins was encouraged by Reverend Peter Noffs to further his education. He studied at the Metropolitan Business College before continuing his education at the University of Sydney. He was the first male Indigenous Australian to graduate from Sydney University. In 1965, Perkins participated in the Freedom Rides around New South Wales to highlight the discrimination towards Indigenous Australians.
Perkins visited Europe and the United States of America. It was in America that he had the opportunity to meet with African-American activist Jessie Jackson. By 1969, Perkins was in Canberra working as a senior research officer for the Office of Aboriginal Affairs.
In 1970, Perkins fainted while playing soccer. It was discovered that his kidneys had collapsed. He thought he was going to die so he made a promise to himself that if he got his health back he was going to dedicate himself to Indigenous affairs. In 1972, Perkins suggested to Aboriginal activists, Michael Anderson and Kevin Gilbert, that they should set tents up outside Parliament House and name it the Aboriginal Embassy.
Over the next couple of years, Perkins spent time highlighting the disadvantages Indigenous Australians were suffering. Due to the controversial nature of his campaigning, he found himself without support from his non-Indigenous colleagues in the public service. By 1980, Perkins was promoted to Deputy Secretary in the Department of Aboriginal Affairs (DAA); later he was to divide his time between this position and the Chairman of the Aboriginal Development Commission. From 1984 to 1988, Perkins was the Secretary for the DAA. In 1988, he was sacked from the public service for maladministration and nepotism - these allegations were later withdrawn and Perkins was exonerated. In 1993, Perkins was awarded Aboriginal of the Year. In the same year he was appointed to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) and was Deputy Chair from 1994 to 1995.
In his lifetime, Charles Perkins held numerous positions for different Indigenous Australian organisations, councils and boards such as the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, and the Australia Council Aboriginal Arts Committee, and was President of the Arrente Council of Central Australia (1991-1994). With his determination and tenacity he contributed to improved rights for Indigenous Australians.