A portrait of renowned activist Dr Charles Perkins AO – the first Aboriginal man to graduate from an Australian university, the University of Sydney – was officially unveiled during National Reconciliation Week 2017.
Officially installed and unveiled in its new home at an event during National Reconciliation Week, the portrait now hangs in the foyer of the University’s multi-disciplinary Charles Perkins Centre dedicated to easing the global burden of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and related conditions through innovative research and teaching.
A striking portrayal of one of our most revered alumni, it was commissioned by the office of the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous Strategy and Services) to bring the vision of the man and the vision of the Centre together.
Perkins family members, including Dr Perkins’ wife Eileen and children Hetti and Rachel, attended the unveiling, along with Daniel Boyd, the acclaimed painter of the portrait, Fellows of Senate and University staff and students.
Professor Stephen Simpson, Academic Director of the Charles Perkins Centre, described Dr Perkins’ influence on staff.
“In all of the work of the Centre, Charles Perkins is not only our namesake – he is our role model; as a collaborator, a communicator, for working effectively across sectors and disciplines, for challenging prevailing views and for having an impact,” he said.
Vice-Chancellor and Principal Dr Michael Spence thanked the Perkins family for allowing the University to honour Dr Perkins in the naming of the Charles Perkins Centre, and the commission of the portrait.
“We named this building the Charles Perkins Centre because so much of what we want to do is deeply committed to making a better future for Australians,” he said.
"Like Charles Perkins, we want to own an extraordinary capacity to imagine that the world might be different, a resilient capacity to imagine that things might change for the better.”
Hetti Perkins remembered the happy times she and her siblings spent at the University as children – an institution she praised for celebrating its diversity. She also noted the contribution of many people in the room and out.
“The anniversary of the referendum, the significance of this week, the recent Freedom Ride anniversary – dad was involved in all those things but he wasn’t involved by himself,” she said.
“There were many that went on that journey together who should be acknowledged. They faced the same risks, same trials and tribulations, and their achievements are something we celebrate today.”
Ms Perkins praised Daniel Boyd as one of Australia’s greatest artists: “We’re so proud and honoured that he has accepted this commission.”
Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous Strategy and Services) Professor Shane Houston outlined the benchmark Dr Perkins set for the University.
“We will not be gutless, we will not be pathetic, we will commit ourselves to tackling challenges using the most innovative ways possible,” he said.
“All our faculties now have Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. We’ve doubled the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander academics. We are seeing increasing numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and postgraduate students. I think Charles would tell us that’s not pathetic. But he would also remind us we can do better.
“Every time you come into this magnificent building and you think about the legacy of Charles Perkins, and you look at that wonderful portrait, think for a moment – what is it you can do better?”
Following the unveiling, Mr Boyd said the opportunity to paint the portrait of Dr Perkins was very special.
“Seeing the painting hanging here in the foyer, I think it really gives a face to the name for visitors to the Charles Perkins Centre,” he said.
Dr Charles Perkins AO was the first Aboriginal man to study at an Australian university, and graduated from the University of Sydney in 1966 with a Bachelor of Arts. The University established the Dr Charles Perkins AO Annual Memorial Prize in 2000 and launched the Annual Memorial Oration in 2001.
In 2014, the University further recognised the pioneering achievements of Dr Perkins and his tireless work by naming its newest flagship research centre – the Charles Perkins Centre – in his honour.
Like Charles Perkins, we want to own an extraordinary capacity to imagine that the world might be different, a resilient capacity to imagine that things might change for the better.