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From tta@mail.utexas.edu Thu Oct 19 12:28:53 2000
Date: Wed, 18 Oct 2000 23:21:58 -0500 (CDT)
From: Grassroots Media Network <tta@mail.utexas.edu>
Subject: [generalnews] Well-Known Aboriginal Activist Dies
Article: 107222
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
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Well-Known Aboriginal Activist Dies

By Rohan Sullivan, Associated Press, 18 October 2000

SYDNEY, Australia (AP) -- Charles Perkins, an Aborigine activist described as the Martin Luther King of Australia, died Wednesday of complications of renal failure, family members said. He was 64.

Perkins was the first Aborigine to play professional soccer, was an early advocate of reconciliation between black and white Australians, and paved the way for indigenous leaders by becoming a top-level bureaucrat.

We, the original people of this country, never had a place in this society and he was the bloke who took up the battle, said Gatjil Djerrkura, former chairman of the national Aboriginal organization ATSIC. His greatest legacy I would see as similar to Martin Luther King ... he was a freedom fighter.

Perkins made world headlines in April when he told British Broadcasting Corp. listeners not to come to the Sydney Olympics unless they were ready to see Aborigines rioting in the streets.

The comments reflected the passion with which Perkins fought against Aboriginal disadvantage for more than 45 years. But even he never took them seriously, saying later that it was a deliberate bid to turn up the heat on the government using the global spotlight generated by the Olympics.

Known among Aborigines as Uncle Charlie, Perkins' sometimes gruff exterior -- built around the lithe frame of a desert-born Aborigine and honed by years as a professional soccer player -- hid a good-natured heart, friends said.

He was an advocate of reconciliation decades before the term was adopted politically. Without an apology, there can be no real reconciliation, and the conscience of the nation will never rest in peace, he said in an appeal.

Born in 1936 in a shack near the central Australian town of Alice Springs to a white father and Aboriginal mother, Perkins was an apprentice machinist before enrolling at Sydney University, where the novelty of his black face and his outspoken nature prompted him to activism.

Inspired by King's protest marches, Perkins in 1965 led a Freedom Ride into Outback towns in New South Wales state to confront segregation and discrimination.

Along with victories like ending a ban on Aboriginal children swimming at the public baths in the town of Bourke, the trip generated huge publicity and launched Perkins' career.

He entered the bureaucracy as a research officer in the late 1960s, eventually becoming head of the Department for Aboriginal Affairs. He resigned in 1988 amid a funding controversy.

Although we didn't always see eye to eye on issues, I have considerable respect for him and the amount of work he undertook in indigenous affairs, said Philip Ruddock, federal minister responsible for reconciliation.

AP-NY-10-18-00 0206EDT<