Friday, March 19, 2010

Charlie Perkins

There was a program on ABC TV last night about Charlie Perkins (1936-2000), an Australian aboriginal activist. It was very moving. It was narrated by his daughter.

The thing about Charlie Perkins is that there was never any bullshit but also he knew how to handle himself politically, he would make his point directly but not overstate it. He was a very effective advocate for aboriginal people in an Australia that was racist but then gradually emerged from racism.

There is a website, Charles Perkins, with video clips and extracts from the documentary. I read some of the transcript of an interview with Perkins towards the end of his life. This bit about how he represented the aborginal people in presenting to the Queen against the wishes of Malcom Fraser, the Prime Minister, is very funny:
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.
- full interview transcript

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Not sure that Australia has emerged from racism.