50 years back - 50 years forward

21 October 2016
Fifty years after Charles Perkins' graduation, a panel of politicians and community leaders will discuss 100 years in the lives of Aboriginal people.
A photo of Charles Perkins with his family at his graduation at the University of Sydney. 11 May 1966.

Charles Perkins with his family at his graduation, 11 May 1966.

It has been 50 years since Dr Charles Perkins AO received his degree from the University of Sydney, the first Aboriginal man to graduate from an Australian university. A visionary Australian, Dr Perkins dedicated his life to achieving rights and justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Since it was established in 2001, the annual Dr Charles Perkins AO Memorial Oration has traditionally been delivered by a leading spokesperson in the field of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal race relations.

To commemorate the anniversary, this year the event will feature a panel of high-profile politicians and community leaders.

On Thursday 27 October, The Hon. Linda Burney MP, The Hon. Ken Wyatt AM MP, Senator Malarndirri McCarthy and Richard Weston, CEO of the Healing Foundation, will gather at the University’s Great Hall to take part in a conversation moderated by Radio National AWAYE! presenter Daniel Browning.

The speakers will reflect on changes to Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal race relations over the 50 years since Charles’s graduation and explore what the next 50 years should hold. They’ll also consider the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the context of current crucial national debates, including around the merits of Constitutional change, the current Royal Commission into juvenile detention in the Northern Territory, preparations for the anniversary of the 1967 referendum, the impact of the national apology and the slow pace towards closing the gap. 

Charles Perkins' legacy

Hosted by Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Sydney Dr Michael Spence and Eileen Perkins (Dr Perkins’ wife), several proud members of Dr Perkins’ family will also attend the event.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous Services and Strategy) Professor Shane Houston will act as master of ceremonies. Current and former Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students will be among the guests, as well as members of Dr Perkins' family. 

Dr Spence said: “I thank the panel for coming on campus to mark this important anniversary. Their insights and wisdom will help all of us reflect on our history, and our future. I want to pay particular respect to Charles Perkins and his groundbreaking achievements. He played a vital role in improving social justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in this country and typifies the leadership we want to develop in all our current and future students.”

Mrs Perkins said of the occasion: “It’s remarkable to think it’s 50 years since Charles graduated, and a pleasure to celebrate the occasion with friends. I am so proud of Charlie’s legacy, and of all the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have followed in his footsteps."

We’ve come a long way, but there’s still a long way to go. It’s heartening to know so many passionate and committed people are working so hard to close the gap
Eileen Perkins, Dr Perkins’ wife

The three winners of the Dr Charles Perkins AO Memorial Prize will also be announced at the event. The annual prize worth $4,000 is awarded to Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander students who have achieved the top results in their Bachelor or Honours degree at the University of Sydney. The prize was set up in 2000 to commemorate the life-long achievements of Dr Perkins.

A specially commissioned portrait of Dr Perkins will also be previewed, painted by acclaimed artist Daniel Boyd. Based on a photo selected by Dr Perkins’ family, the portrait will be formally unveiled and hung in the foyer of the Charles Perkins Centre at the University later this year. 

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