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Panel and award recipients at Charles' Perkins Oration 2017
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Continuing Charles Perkins’ work

10 November 2016
The winners of the Dr Charles Perkins AO Memorial Prize have been announced

Our three recipients reflected on the life-long achievements of Dr Perkins, their experiences in teaching and on the future. 

Mark Werner – Bachelor of Education (Secondary: Aboriginal Studies)

1. What do you think was Charles Perkins’ greatest achievement?

I believe that Charles Perkins demonstrated courage and commitment to the principles of fairness and social justice. His significant academic achievements and incredible work ethic continue to inspire generations. I feel that the lifelong culmination of all of these factors has provided Australia with a powerful and unforgettable voice. His voice is always present and constantly reminds us of our potential to be great notwithstanding our (at times) shameful history.  I personally think Charles Perkins greatest achievement was to both challenge and inspire all of us to not only listen but to act on what we know to be fair for all Australians.  

2. What does the Charles Perkins Prize mean to you?

I feel very honoured and privileged to have received this award, and am grateful to the University of Sydney and all my great lecturers. I am also very grateful to my wife who looked after our two young children, allowing me to undertake this amazing course – I am now a full time secondary teacher. This prize has also given me renewed energy to focus on being the best father, husband, family member, friend, teacher and community member that I can be. 

3. What was the most interesting take-away from the panel discussion on the night?

The importance of working together and building relationships that will contribute to positive outcomes for our people.

4. In 50 years, what changes would you like to see in the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples?

I look forward to seeing people smile and be genuinely happy because they are not laboured with the burden of all the cumulative and negative issues that currently consume us.

Brianna Waddell – Bachelor of Education (Primary)

1. What do you think is Charles Perkins’ greatest achievement?

Although Charles Perkins achieved so much in his life, I believe that his greatest achievement would have to be the leading role he played in the 1965 Freedom Rides. The Freedom Rides drew attention to the inequalities faced by Aboriginal people in such a powerful way that white Australia could no longer sit back and do nothing. They shaped the course of history in our country and for that reason I think it has to be one of Charles' greatest achievements.

2. What does the Charles Perkins Prize mean to you?

Being a recipient of this award is such an honour. Charles Perkins sought to advocate for Aboriginal rights in whatever capacity he could. In doing so, he was able to draw attention to social injustices and enact positive change.  Being awarded this prize further ignites my passion for Aboriginal education. It encourages me to do what I can within my profession to advocate for Aboriginal students and enact positive change in my own way. 

3. What was the most interesting take-away from the panel discussion on the night?

The panel discussed whether we are currently on the cusp of historical change or not. On the one hand, talks of constitutional change and having a record number of Aboriginal Ministers in Parliament evokes feelings of hope and excitement about the future. However, if we look at similar moments of hope in our history and reflect on the outcomes of these events, it can be disheartening to see that reality doesn’t always live up to expectations. Although I wholeheartedly hope that we are on the cusp of positive change, I’m now also cautiously optimistic.

4. In 50 years, what changes would you like to see in the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples?

Within 50 years, I would like to see Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples matching or bettering the educational outcomes of non-Indigenous Australians. The improved attainment of educational outcomes is necessary if we are to advance the standards of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ health (including mental health) and reduce the levels of incarceration.​

Sharon Bunyan – Bachelor of Education (Secondary: Aboriginal Studies)

1. What do you think was Charles Perkins’ greatest achievement?

Charles Perkins’ greatest achievement was his role in letting the world know what was happening to Aboriginal people in Australia. Charles Perkins’ legacy highlights that education is the key to change, respect and reconciliation. At the conclusion of his biography, he mentions six goals he would pursue in his life. The two that really resonate with me are that morality and pride are the most important qualities, and that he wanted to improve housing, education and health in Aboriginal communities. He led the way for others to stand up and speak up for the injustices and ill treatment of his people, which is something that inspires me as a teacher.

2. What does the Charles Perkins Prize mean to you?

I am honoured to receive this prize as I feel that I too have been given an opportunity to speak up and educate future generations by teaching tomorrow’s leaders about Aboriginal life, issues and histories. A student said to me “you are always telling us that we are smart enough to go onto university and to make a difference, why don’t you take some of your own advice?” This inspired me to pursue my dream of being the first person in my family to attend university. In my role as a teacher I now have the opportunity to support students through programs, mentoring and promoting pride in identity so that young Aboriginal students understand that nothing is impossible.