NACCHO Aboriginal Health and #SelfDetermination : Our CEO Pat Turner pays tribute to her Uncle Charlie Perkins at opening of new Canberra building named in his honour

“ Even though Uncle Charlie is gone and I have left the Public Service, I can tell you that his vision of self-determination is what I have sought to achieve every day of my life.

I know that fulfilling that vision is what will Close the Gap more than anything else.

It has driven me to lead a Coalition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peak organisations to seek a partnership with the Commonwealth and State and Territory Governments to jointly decide the next phase of Closing the Gap.

If he was here, I know Uncle Charlie would be standing with me in making sure that our peoples have to be at the table and make decisions about Closing the Gap and take responsibility for them alongside Governments.

This is a very powerful legacy of Uncle Charlie.”

NACCHO CEO Pat Turner speaking at the opening of Charles Perkins House In Canberra : See Full Speech Part 2 Below

Read yesterday Closing the Gap announcement by Prime Minister Morrison 

In 1966, Dr Charles Nelson Perkins AO was the first Aboriginal man to graduate from a university in Australia.

 Importantly Aboriginal people should be aware of this false economy which forms the basis of Aboriginal affairs in this country.

The economic lifeline is maintained only at the discretion of politicians and a fickle public.

We must therefore develop and consolidate a viable economy for our various communities and organisations that will sustain us into the future.

We must create short and long-term economic strategies now and thus create a more independent and secure base for ourselves and our children. The reality is that Aboriginal people under utilise, to put it kindly, their current economic and personnel resources. The potential for economic viability for our people is available now if only we could awake to the opportunity and not be blinded largely by employment survival economics ”

Unless the approaches to Aboriginal health are broadened to include greater attention to the health problems of adults, and are matched by broad ranging strategies aimed at redressing Aboriginal social and economic disadvantages, it is likely that overall mortality will remain high.

Dr Charles Perkins opening the Australia’s First National /International Indigenous and Economic Conference (NIBEC 1993) Alice Springs. 1993 International Year of the World’s Indigenous Peoples and Paul Keating was Prime Minister :

Read his full speech here Aboriginal people and a healthy economy

In a fitting tribute, the building where Indigenous affairs policy is developed was renamed Charles Perkins House last week, in honour of the celebrated anti-discrimination campaigner and former Department of Aboriginal Affairs secretary.

From The Madarin 

The late Dr Charles Perkins  became the first Indigenous Commonwealth secretary in 1984, after being appointed to the top job at the department where he started as a research officer in 1969. Before, during and after his career as a public servant, however, Perkins remained an activist first and foremost.

He was a major figure in the struggle for equal rights, arguing powerfully and publicly on behalf of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and leaving a towering legacy.

If Perkins had a choice between playing the role of the mild-mannered public servant to stay in the good books or speaking his mind, he chose the latter. He was famously suspended from his government job after publicly labelling the Western Australian government racist rednecks, and countless other anecdotes tell of a man whose life’s work was speaking truth to power, and never giving up on a fair go for the first Australians, above all else.

Staff of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet’s Indigenous affairs group have long worked out of the south Canberra office block, described as “the home of Indigenous affairs” by PM&C, since prior to 2013 when they were brought together into a single structure within the central agency.

Charles Perkins House replaced the much blander “Centraplaza” at a ceremony last week, attended by relatives of Perkins and “other significant names in Indigenous Affairs” according to a brief report from the department.

A spokesperson said the new name would stand as “a reminder of his significant contribution to the Australian Public Service, Indigenous Affairs, and to Australia’s national identity”.

While it’s not a stand-alone department, the creation of the IA group marked a move back towards centralisaton from the arrangements it superseded. It has slightly more autonomy than most comparable groupings as it works under an associate secretary, the former vice-chief of the Australian Defence Force, Ray Griggs. This is one of only two such positions that currently exist in the Australian Public Service and has higher status than deputy secretaries.

Perkins’ niece Patricia Turner, a former APS deputy secretary herself and chief executive of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation, did the honours with PM&C secretary Martin Parkinson and deputy secretary for Indigenous affairs, Ian Anderson.

“Dr Perkins was a proud Arrernte and Kalkadoon man and laid the foundation for the type of forward-thinking Indigenous Affairs policy we aspire to at PM&C,” Parkinson said in the statement.

Anderson said Perkins was “an inspiration to public servants and the Indigenous community alike” and noted he was one of the first Aboriginal people to receive a university degree, leader of the 1965 Australian Freedom Ride, and an influential advocate of the yes-vote in the 1967 referendum that essentially created the policy area where he would later become the chief administrator.

We’re told PM&C “worked closely with the owner of the building to secure its agreement” to rename the building and that no money changed hands with the owner, the evri group.

“The Department also engaged Dr Perkins’ family as well as key Indigenous stakeholders in the naming of the building and design of the tribute to Dr Perkins,” a spokesperson added.

Part 2 OFFICIAL LAUNCH OF CHARLES PERKINS HOUSE THURSDAY 21 MARCH 2019 PAT TURNER SPEECH

Introduction

I too want to thank Matilda for the warm welcome.  Of course I also want to pay my respects to the traditional owners and elders, past and present.

This is our national capital, which we are all proud of but it is also the traditional lands of Aboriginal people who lived here for many generations.  That they have survived and are here should also be a source of pride for all of us.

I should point out that Matilda and her family also lived in Pearce and became close personal lifetime friends with my aunty and uncle.

Can I also greet the Perkins family formally, and I am very proud that they are part of my family and that Charles Perkins was my uncle.

Uncle Charlie

My uncle Charlie was an extraordinary man.

He had many roles throughout his life and none more important than being a husband, a father, a son, a brother, an uncle, a grandfather and a part of the Arrente and Kalkadoon First Nations.

His family and his wider extended family and cultural responsibilities were at the essence of his life.

It’s important I think to say that because often the focus is on his career in the public service and the influence that he has brought to bear on Australia over the course of the 20th century.

However, he was an Aboriginal man first and foremost.  That he was so successful at that is obvious – just take a look at his family and his children.  They have been such a success and I take this opportunity to pay tribute to them.

Soccer

Uncle Charlie had other family of course and I am referring to those who lived at St Frances House in Adelaide.

Soccer was the springboard for his international travel and the experiences of living in another country.

Going overseas and, after returning to Australia, playing soccer with teams of different ethnic backgrounds, opened Uncle Charlie’s eyes to how he was viewed as an Aboriginal man among equals in this setting.

But we know, sadly, that if he was treated as an equal when he was playing soccer and recognised for being an Aboriginal man, the society in which he lived discriminated against him.

Strengths

We also know, however, that this Aboriginal man decided to do something about it.  Uncle Charlie was strong and proud.  He had many strengths

-a strong work ethic and was very disciplined in fulfilling all his roles and responsibilities.

-Because he worked hard, he expected everyone else around him to do the same.

-I also remember personally his generosity and acts of kindness to me and others.

-At work, he focused on meeting and talking directly with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples right around the country.

-He had the most extensive network of contacts that I have ever seen, from people living in the Central Australian desert through to the Prime Minister’s office and heads of corporate Australia.  He was never afraid to pick up the phone.

-Of course his leadership qualities were displayed in the Freedom Rides which others have referred to today.

Priorities for Uncle Charlie

Uncle Charlie was a successful kidney transplant recipient and it made him more driven to get a better deal for Aboriginal people throughout Australia.

In the 1960s as a University student he held a mirror up so that Australian people could see how racist they were and forced them to look at themselves.

Uncle Charlie forced our country to start taking a good hard look at itself.

Sure, many considered him controversial and a stirrer, but we loved him and applauded him for his leadership, his strength of character and his undying commitment to achieve a much better quality of life for First Nations peoples throughout this country and a full suite of our specific rights as First Nations peoples.

We know that his spirit guides us today, and that during his lifetime he taught us a great deal.

Today we all stand on his shoulder as a giant of a man whose legacy we must build upon and bring his vision into reality.

Self-Determination

That vision more than anything else was self-determination for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

By self-determination, Uncle Charlie never meant that we should be able to decide if we are part of Australia or that our development ought to be separate.

I can assure you that Uncle Charlie was a proud Australian and also saw the benefits of mainstream economic development.

What Uncle Charlie meant by self-determination was that;

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples had to be fully involved in decision making about the policies and programs of governments that affected them,
  • while we had to co-exist with non-Indigenous Australians, we had to have our own structures that allowed us the opportunity to make decisions about our priorities for development;
  • racism in all its forms against us had to be defeated; and
  • while we had to live and succeed in Australia we also had the right to have our culture and identity.

This vision became central to the outlook of a whole generation of public servants who worked in Indigenous Affairs including me.

Even though Uncle Charlie is gone and I have left the Public Service, I can tell you that his vision of self-determination is what I have sought to achieve every day of my life.

I know that fulfilling that vision is what will Close the Gap more than anything else.

It has driven me to lead a Coalition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peak organisations to seek a partnership with the Commonwealth and State and Territory Governments to jointly decide the next phase of Closing the Gap.

If he was here, I know Uncle Charlie would be standing with me in making sure that our peoples have to be at the table and make decisions about Closing the Gap and take responsibility for them alongside Governments.

This is a very powerful legacy of Uncle Charlie.

Burn Baby Burn!

Reflections on the life of my Uncle Charlie, however, should not end without some other significant moments which many seem to have forgotten.

He had a love/hate relationship with the media, and he certainly knew how and when to cause a storm.

In some cases, I can’t help but laugh even though they were very serious at the time.  Remember the threats of protests in the lead up to the Sydney 2000 Olympics.

Uncle Charlie made a highly controversial declaration in April 2000 that Sydney would “Burn Baby Burn” during the event.

Who can forget the nationwide ruckus this caused.  Funny that we should be naming a building after the Aboriginal man who said it.

As I was walking up the steps just now, I was looking at the new sign “Charles Perkins House” and thinking to myself that I would like to spray paint in brackets “Burn Baby Burn”.

Other anecdotes

My uncle would read the press coverage every morning, and the executive soon learnt we also had to. At times I would walk into his office if I was concerned about a particular emerging issue covered in the press and indicate high level briefing may need to be prepared, and he had a very keen sense of when that was necessary and when it wasn’t. He would often say to us “Today’s news – tomorrow’s fish and chips wrapping”.

One morning we walked into his office in the executive meeting and he exclaimed the headline “Woman crawls 500m to escape croc attack”. “Geez”, he said “fancy that, crawling 500 miles!” I replied “Can’t be, must be 500 metres because she would be dead from exhaustion if she crawled 500 miles!”

Before the age of the mobile, my uncle was addicted to the phone and at home the phone and his personal phone book were forever on his side. He would flick through the phone book to decide who to ring today, and when someone answered he would say “Hello mate, Charlie here, just touching base”. Of course we all knew he was just keeping his finger on the pulse.

He always had a fire in his belly and held is back bone straight, a determination he instilled in us all. I am so proud he was my uncle.

In closing, I want to thank you personally Ian Anderson for all the effort you put into bringing this event to fruition.

It’s fantastic that Australia’s headquarters for Indigenous Affairs has been named after Uncle Charlie and well done to the Australian Government and thank you very much.

 

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