Kwementyaye (Charles) Perkins: Indigenous soccer player and Australian political activist

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Citation:
International Journal of the History of Sport, 2014, 31 (7), pp. 778 - 794
Issue Date:
2014-05-03
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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, the two main Indigenous groups in Australia, have fought protracted battles for physical and cultural survival in the wake of European colonisation. During the 1960s, drawing upon the example of the American civil rights movement, a small but disproportionately influential number of Aboriginal activists argued for voting rights, recognition by the Federal government, and-by the 1980s-land rights for traditional custodians. During the 40-year period from 1960 to 2000, the life and times of Indigenous icon Charles Perkins provide powerful insights into the challenge of negotiating or demanding Aboriginal rights in a dominant non-Indigenous society. As this paper shows, Perkins's engagement in soccer provided a pathway for him into wider society; it allowed him opportunities to meet with non-English-speaking migrants who also felt on the margins of mainstream culture. Although a professional athlete, Perkins also developed a passion for education, and, with assistance of non-Indigenous mentors, learned how to undertake political campaigns, work the media, and intimidate opponents. Whereas he began political life as a reformer, he soon became a radical. Perkins was the consummate Aboriginal activist in a period when blackfellas were not expected to speak up. This paper takes a biographical approach, pinpointing key experiences and influences in Perkins' life and his journey in sport, education and politics. There is an emphasis on how sport shaped his thinking about society, and, particularly in his later years, his assertion that sport should not simply reflect the status quo, it should be used by those on the margins to agitate for change. Thus, Perkins was deemed especially controversial; this is because the presumed sanctity of sport and its separation from political influence was cherished in twentieth-century Australian culture. Perkins was not only an activist for Aboriginal causes, he had the temerity-most notably on occasions in which the international media spotlight was on Australia-to pursue them in the context of sport. © 2014 Taylor and Francis.
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