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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Perkins, William Herbert (1910–1988)

by Leone Scrivener

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

William Herbert Perkins (1910-1988), educationist and film enthusiast, was born on 12 September 1910 at Heyfield, Victoria, son of Tasmanian-born parents Edwin Herbert Perkins, labourer, and his wife Elizabeth Henderson, née Morris.  Brought up on a farm at Kentish, near Sheffield, Tasmania, Bill received his secondary education at Devonport High School.  In 1928 he enrolled at the Philip Smith Teachers’ College, Hobart, and in 1930 was appointed to the staff of the Mount Lyell School of Mines and Industries, Queenstown.  He studied part time at the University of Tasmania (BA, 1935; Dip.Ed., 1936) and taught at Hobart High (1933-36) and Hobart Junior Technical (1937-42) schools; he was judged 'a most capable and enthusiastic teacher'.

On 25 May 1942 Perkins began full-time service in the Militia.  Having been commissioned in July, he transferred to the Australian Imperial Force in November.  Appointed an education officer and promoted to temporary captain, he served in Darwin (1943-44) and in Rabaul (1945-46), where he was responsible for the educational welfare of the troops of the whole garrison.  On 17 November 1943, while on leave, he married Jean Cunningham, a clerk, at St John’s Church of England, New Town.  He transferred to the Reserve of Officers in October 1946.  His wartime experience showed him that film could be a valuable teaching medium and a way to encourage literary appreciation among people who were not 'natural readers'.

In 1946 the University of Tasmania appointed Perkins as a guidance officer, to help ex-servicemen studying under the Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme.  He became lecturer in English in the faculty of education in 1948 and senior lecturer in 1953.  Having pioneered the screening of foreign films in Tasmania, he served as secretary (1948-53) and president from 1953 of the Hobart Film Society, and as president of the Australian Council of Film Societies (1952-54) and of the Tasmanian Federation of Film Societies (1953).  He was director (1956-61) of the popular Tasmanian film festivals.  In an Australian Security Intelligence Organization report in 1953 he was assessed as an 'intellectual "red"'.

Perkins emphasised the importance of children viewing good quality films.  Initiating film study as part of the English course in Tasmanian high schools, he designed the curriculum and prepared teaching and study notes for students.  Soon he was giving addresses on his ideas to teachers in all States.  Founder (1955) of the Tasmanian Council for Children’s Films and Television, he remained active in the organisation until 1979.  He also helped to establish (1957) the Australian Council for Children’s Films and Television and was its president from 1964 to 1975, obtaining funding for classes, workshops and publications.  His enthusiasm extended to the scripting and direction of three short films for children, including Weekend at Cradle Mountain (1960).  He was a founder (1970) and president (1971-78) of the Australian Society for Education in Film and Television, and editor (1968-78) of Mass Media Review.  His publications included three textbooks:  Film Appreciation for Tasmanian Schools (1963), Learning the Liveliest Art (1968) and Learning the Liveliest Arts (1972), and papers on media studies.

Suffering from ill health, Perkins retired from his university post in 1974.  He was appointed AM in 1975.  His interests included bushwalking and mountaineering.  Survived by his wife and their three daughters, he died on 8 August 1988 at St John’s Park Hospital, New Town, and was buried in Kingston lawn cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • B. Rankin, Australian Council for Children’s Films and Television (1990)
  • Mercury (Hobart), 11 April 1974, p 12, 16 August 1988, p 17
  • W. H. Perkins personal file, Tasmanian Education Department, ED 238/1 (Archives Office of Tasmania)
  • B883, item TX6371, B884, item T24422, and A6119, item 2038 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information

Citation details

Leone Scrivener, 'Perkins, William Herbert (1910–1988)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 8 August 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

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