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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Perkins, Charles Collier (1906–1961)

by Wendy Birman

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Charles Collier Perkins (1906-1961), farmer and politician, was born on 5 August 1906 at Moonee Ponds, Melbourne, eldest of four children of Australian-born parents Charles Henry Perkins, farmer, and his wife Gwendoline, née Collier. Young Charlie was educated at Rainbow State School, in the Wimmera, and Geelong Church of England Grammar School. He arrived by rail in Western Australia in 1929, with a team of Clydesdale horses—destined to lead future grand parades at the Royal Agricultural Show in Perth.

Acquiring a wheat and sheep property at Belka, close to the goldfields pipeline, Perkins became involved in and often chaired organizations such as the Bruce Rock Agricultural Society, the Primary Producers' Association and its York zone wheat council, and the Clydesdale Horse Society (Western Australia). He was also a parish synodsman and a lay reader at St Peter's Church of England. With Kingsley Laffer, he established the Bruce Rock Literary and Debating Society in 1933 and he persuaded the Road Board to set up a free lending library. On 25 August 1938 at St George's Cathedral, Perth, he married Kathleen Jennings Laffer, a typist.

Perkins was vice-president of the P.P.A. in July 1944 when it split to form the Country and Democratic League. He was a trustee for the Western Australian wheatgrowers' £5671 subvention for the Nelungaloo wheat case, which was eventually rejected by the Privy Council, and a director of Wesfarmers Ltd and deputy-director of Westralian Farmers Co-operative Ltd. As a member of the University of Western Australia's senate, he was nominated to the Adult Education Board in 1946. Perkins constantly advocated a statewide lending library service and in 1953 was a foundation member of the Library Board of Western Australia. He was also a founder of WollastonTheological College.

Afflicted by rheumatoid arthritis in childhood, Perkins was rejected for military service in 1939. Instead, he succeeded (Sir) Charles Latham in the Legislative Assembly in 1942 as Country Party member for York; from 1950 he represented Roe. Perkins was chairman of committees in 1947–53. As minister for transport, police, labour and native welfare, from April 1959 to November 1961, Perkins faced taxing challenges. He was soon no stranger to change and controversy; his numerous ministerial responsibilities inspired Paul Rigby's cartoons in the Daily News and led to thousands of miles of travel to interstate conferences and remote Aboriginal communities.

Perkins's duties included the co-ordination of transport, traffic control and safety, and he sought Federal funds to improve road systems and upgrade country transport. He oversaw the introduction of seatbelts and parking meters and supported the National Safety Council's instructional centre at Mount Lawley. As minister for labour he introduced safety legislation for construction sites. Illegal betting was a major police issue and after the Ligertwood royal commission into betting (1959) Perkins strengthened the powers of the Totalisator Agency Board. Promoting a 'New Deal' for Aborigines, he endeavoured to improve their health and education. State housing was provided for some Aboriginal families; special trade courses were devised for adolescents, and hostels to accommodate schoolchildren were constructed at outback places like Yalgoo, Cue and Onslow. The proposed relocation of the Allawah Grove community was the most contentious issue during his incumbency as minister of native welfare.

Of average height, with a tanned complexion and receding hair, Charlie Perkins was genial, generous and approachable. He died of myocardial infarction on 7 November 1961 at his home at Wembley. After a state funeral service at St George's Cathedral, he was cremated. His wife and their two sons and two daughters survived him. His estate was valued for probate at £41,165.

Select Bibliography

  • J. K. Ewers, Bruce Rock (Bruce Rock, WA, 1959)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Western Australia), 9 Dec 1942, p 1951, 1 Aug 1950, p 30, 8 Nov 1961, p 2413
  • West Australian, 3 Apr 1959, p 1
  • 30 Apr 1959, p 1, 20 June 1959, p 2, 23 May 1960, p 4, 8 Nov 1961, pp 1 & 7, 9 Nov 1961, p 16, 10 Nov 1961, p 2, 7 July 1962, p 9
  • West Anglican, Dec 1961, p 10
  • Corian, Dec 1961, p 262
  • Merredin Mercury, 2 Oct 1963, p 14
  • Allawah Grove community records (State Library of Western Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Wendy Birman, 'Perkins, Charles Collier (1906–1961)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 9 August 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

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