Dr Charles Perkins' extraordinary legacy honoured with Blue Plaque

23 March 2023

Indigenous rights activist commemorated

Dr Charles Perkins AO has been recognised for his life's work through the installation of a Blue Plaque at the University of Sydney's Charles Perkins Centre

Dr Charles Perkins is one of 35 Australians recognised with a Blue Plaque since the the Heritage NSW Blue Plaques program began in June 2021. The program brings to life the significant people and events that have shaped the history of our state.

Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Mark Scott AO, said the University is delighted that the accomplishments of one of its most inspirational alumni have been recognised as part of this program.

“A civil rights activist who dedicated his life to achieving justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, Dr Perkins was the first Aboriginal man to graduate from the University of Sydney in 1966,” he said.

“We nominated our Charles Perkins Centre to celebrate his remarkable work, the important work of the Centre, and to promote his philosophy of collaboration, inclusivity and challenging the status quo.”

The Charles Perkins Centre is a multidisciplinary research centre committed to improving global health. Established in 2012, the Centre aims to generate innovative and workable solutions to combat chronic lifestyle diseases including diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease.

Dr Charles Perkins studied at the University of Sydney from 1963 to 1966. During this time, he was elected President of the newly formed Student Action for Aborigines group and initiated the iconic 1965 Freedom Ride. Leading a group of more than 30 people, he embarked on a 15-day bus journey to rural NSW, shining a light on the poor living conditions of Indigenous people and the racism they experienced. Attracting national and international attention, the Freedom Ride became a defining moment in student activism. 

After graduating, his achievements included appointments as secretary of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and chairman of the Aboriginal Development Commission and Aboriginal Hostels. Dr Perkins was a fearless spokesman and renowned activist involved in Aboriginal organisations wherever he lived. In 1987, he was made an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) for his service to Aboriginal welfare.

Today, his legacy at the University lives on in the Dr Charles Perkins Memorial Oration and Prize, which was named in his honour, and in the University's Charles Perkins Centre.

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