Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda delivered the annual Dr Charles Perkins AO Memorial Oration at the University of Sydney this week.
In a talk titled 'Whose voices shape reform: politicians or other people?',Commissioner Gooda reflected on the extraordinary influence Dr Perkins has had on peoples' lives.
"Charlie's life has been an extraordinary example to many of us, including myself, that while it may appear that politicians hold much of the power, we can all play a part to influence how that power is exercised," Commissioner Gooda said.
"Charlie was often on the front line, giving voice to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ rights, and actively pursuing practical outcomes that give effect to those rights.
"From the Freedom Rides, where he went toe-to-toe with pro-segregation residents on the streets of rural towns, to the frontline of government working with politicians and bureaucrats, he advocated for the rights we still strive for today - equality, non-discrimination, self-determination, effective participation, freedom of movement and freedom from harassment in public spaces."
Commissioner Gooda spoke of Perkins' mother - an Arrente woman, whom Perkins' described as 'a very strong willed and highly principled person', and his father, a Kalkadoon man, whose people had endured significant historical battles with European settlers.
"Charlie summed up this heritage from his parents beautifully when he said: ‘Arrente people are peaceful, introspective, deep into the culture, and the Kalkadoon people are very strong and war like and really never take a backward step on things'.
"I think this gives us a great insight into the passion and determination that Charlie brought to his life and the fight for the place our people should occupy in a modern Australia," Commissioner Gooda said.
Commissioner Gooda also described Perkins' "particularly harsh childhood" in Alice Springs where it was illegal for Aboriginal people to live in town.
"Charlie and his siblings were moved to the 'Bungalow' also known as The Old Telegraph Station about a mile north of Alice Springs," he explained.
"Charlie grew up in a compound closely monitored and surveilled by police and government authorities. Men, women and children were separated, generations were isolated from each other and Aboriginal people needed permission to go to town on certain days for limited number of particular purposes.
"I remember Charlie telling of how distressed mothers would go to a certain part of the fence around the Bungalow to see their kids and to pass through everyday treats such as a packet of biscuits – just to let them know they were loved and remained in the forefront of their mothers' mind."
He also spoke about Perkins' many legacies and paid tribute to a man who "inspired countless Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and men across Australia".
"An Arrente/Kalkadoon man, a man to whom many of us counted as a friend and mentor, a man who challenged the status quo of expected behaviour of our Aboriginal women and Aboriginal men of being seen and not heard."
Commissioner Gooda is a descendent of the Gangulu people of central Queensland. He commenced his term as Social Justice Commissioner in February 2010.
Drawing on over 30 years' experience working in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs Australia-wide, Mr Gooda advocates for the human rights of Indigenous Australians, promoting respect and understanding of these rights to the broader Australian community.
The Dr Charles Perkins AO Memorial Oration was first launched in 2001 in honour of Dr Charles Perkins AO, the University of Sydney’s first Indigenous graduate.
Continuing Dr Perkins' legacy of a dedication to human rights and social justice, the annual oration features a leading spokesperson in the field of Indigenous and non-Indigenous race relations. Previous keynote speakers have included Noel Pearson, Marcia Langton, Tom Calma and Marion Scrymgour.
Find out more about the Charles Perkins Centre.
The protection of human rights is a basic test of a government's decency, writes Professor Ben Saul.
We’re helping more than 40 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Year 12 students prepare for exams and university life as part of the Bunga Barrabugu Winter Program this week.
As the world mourns the tragic loss of 50 lives, how can we answer the questions around homophobia and mental health raised by the Orlando shooting? Our researchers appeared on ABC’s The Drum to discuss the complex debate.
Mitchell Cleaver is the first Sydney Law School student to receive a dual degree from one of the UK's most prestigious law schools.
From 2017, commencing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander undergraduate students will be offered guaranteed and subsidised accommodation and a structured peer mentoring program.
Did a man called Jesus of Nazareth walk the earth? Discussions over whether the figure known as the “Historical Jesus” actually existed primarily reflect disagreements among atheists, writes Raphael Lataster.
Professor Shane Houston reflects, takes stock and considers the future of education for Aboriginal people in Australia as we celebrate 50 years since Dr Charles Perkins graduated from the University of Sydney.
University of Sydney graduate Thomas Williamson (BEc '13) will explore new ways to help smallholder coffee farmers in sub-Saharan Africa boost their economic ties to Australia as winner of the 2017 NSW Rhodes Scholarship.
Floating suburbs could solve the residential problems facing Sydney’s increasing population, believes Hillary Pan, our first Lendlease Bradfield Urbanisation Scholarship finalist.
The new Centre signifies a joint industry and University of Sydney determination to adopt on-farm technologies, ramp up export capacity and develop future leaders in non-traditional areas of horticulture.