His minister described him as a permanent troubleshooter. And yet Charlie Perkins was surely the most trouble-prone and troublesome permanent head in Australian administrative history. Where other bureaucratics operated stealthily to preserve the outward appearance of responsible government, he engaged in calculated acts of public defiance and abuse of the governments he was meant to serve. They could no more dispense with his services, however, than he could operate without their largesse. And so for the best part of twenty year the volatile mediator orchestrated relations between the state and the modern Aboriginal movement.
Charles Perkins is both the subject of this biography and its principal informant. Peter Read declares frankly at the outset that he approached Perkins in 1986 and secured his cautious agreement to proceed; that he drew on Perkins’s extensive collection of personal papers as well as long conversations; and that he followed the final tumultuous conflict between Perkins and his minister from the vantage point of the former.