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Video clip synopsis – Charles Perkins recounts the experiences that fuelled his great anger against white injustice and his determination to fight for Aboriginal rights.
Year of production - 1999
Duration - 1min 15sec
Tags - Indigenous Australia, White Australia Policy, civics and citizenship, human rights, identity, inequality, racism, self-determination, social justice, see all tags

play Warning: ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER VIEWERS SHOULD EXERCISE CAUTION WHEN WATCHING THIS PROGRAM AS IT MAY CONTAIN IMAGES OF DECEASED PERSONS.

Charles Perkins - Institutions

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About the Video Clip

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Charles Perkins – Institutions is an excerpt from the program Charles Perkins (26 mins), an episode of Australian Biography Series 7 (7×26 mins), produced in 1999.

Charles Perkins: In a life of exceptional achievement, Charles Perkins, soccer star, university graduate, Aboriginal activist and Canberra bureaucrat, has often been in strife. In this interview he gives his own account of the personal experiences that fuelled his great anger against white injustice and his determination to fight for Aboriginal rights.

Australian Biography Series 7: The Australian Biography series profiles some of the most extraordinary Australians of our time. Many have had a major impact on the nation’s cultural, political and social life. All are remarkable and inspiring people who have reached a stage in their lives where they can look back and reflect. Through revealing in-depth interviews, they share their stories – of beginnings and challenges, landmarks and turning points. In so doing, they provide us with an invaluable archival record and a unique perspective on the roads we, as a country, have travelled.

Australian Biography Series 7 is a Film Australia National Interest Program.

Background Information

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Charles Perkins was born in Alice Springs in 1936, where he lived in a police-patrolled Aboriginal compound. The inhabitants were only allowed out on Saturday nights, or on Sundays, when they had to return by sunset. At age 10 his mother, Hetti Perkins, gave permission for him to be taken to St Francis House, an Anglican boys hostel in Adelaide.

His biographer, Peter Read, wrote:
“To Perkins, parents like Hetti who agreed to their children’s removal were hoodwinked by the society which allowed the atrocity of separation to occur. Perkins was angry at the regimentation, the lack of counseling about schoolwork, about homework, about life. He reasoned that Smith (the Anglican priest) protected, fed and physically did what he could for the boys, but he could not replace a mother’s love.

“The removal of his heritage and culture was the other loss whose significance Perkins did not grasp until many years after he left the home. Did the years away rob him and the other boys of their culture? Is it worth recovering? Should all the separated children, whether their parents assented or not, be counted amongst 'the stolen generations’?”

Peter Read, Charles Perkins: A Biography, Penguin, Ringwood, revised edition, 2001

Classroom Activities

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  1. After viewing the video about Charles Perkins – Institutions, discuss in class then write answers to the following:
    1. Describe what happened to Charles Perkins when he left home in Alice Springs and went to live in a church-run boys’ home in Adelaide.
    2. Comment on Charles Perkins’ statement that although he was not technically a member of the Stolen Generations, what happened to him was much “the same thing”.
    3. Describe the way in which Charles Perkinswas treated, and the reasons given, when he was ordered to leave the boys’ home at the age of 15.
  2. In pairs plan and write a drama scene about an Aboriginal child sent away from home to a distant institution to be educated and raised, based on any one of the experiences recalled by Charles Perkins in the video clip. The scene you draft may either be read out loud or acted by students in class or, if written for voices, sound effects and background music only, perhaps recorded as a sound file for playback on your school’s intranet. You may first need to discuss the possibilities in class as to topics and general approach.
  3. Drawing on Charles Perkins’ comments about having to carry a “passport” when in public, as a class find out what Aboriginal people of his generation were either expected to do by state and territory law, or were prevented by law from doing, in contrast to other Australian citizens, then write five personal diary entries as though this were your daily experience.
  4. Research and create a poster displaying a short, selective biography of the life and achievements of Charles Perkins.

Further Resources

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Jane Harrison, Stolen, Currency Press, Sydney, 1998
Darlene Johnson (dir), Stolen Generations, 2000
Des Kootji Raymond (dir), Land of the Little Kings, 2000
Peter Read, Charles Perkins: A Biography, Penguin, Ringwood, revised edition, 2001
Go to Australian Biography Online Charles Perkins