Thousands Mourn Charles Perkins
Oct. 25, 2000
SYDNEY, Australia (AP) _ Thousands of mourners stood in silence Wednesday as a coffin draped in the black, red and yellow Aborigine flag was carried into town hall in a state funeral for fiery indigenous rights activist Charles Perkins.
Aborigines burned eucalyptus leaves in a traditional ritual to cleanse Perkins' spirit ahead of the ceremony, one of the few ever given to an Australian who never held a high office.
Under an Aboriginal flag hung at Sydney Town Hall, friends and family paid tribute to Perkins' decades-long struggle to improve the rights of indigenous Australians.
``He held a mirror in front of this country and exposed the discrimination and racism our people endured. He was determined to change that,'' Perkins' niece, Pat Turner, told more than 2,000 mourners including Olympic gold medalist Cathy Freeman and Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Herron.
Hundreds more people stood outside the town hall, watching the ceremony on a giant screen. Parts of the funeral were televised live nationwide.
Perkins died at aged 64 last week of complications related to renal failure. Last year, Neville Bonner, the first Aboriginal federal lawmaker, was also honored with a state funeral.
Inspired by Martin Luther King Jr., Perkins led bus trips through remote parts of Australia's outback in the 1960s to confront segregation and racism suffered by Aborigines. The trips became known as ``freedom rides'' and earned Perkins comparisons with King.
Perkins again made headlines earlier this year when he predicted Aborigines would run riot during Sydney's Olympic Games to protest their disadvantaged position in society.
Among his many achievements, Perkins was one of the first Aborigines to complete a university degree, the first to head a government department and the first to play professional soccer.
After the town hall ceremony, Perkins' coffin was carried to Sydney Opera House for a wake. Afterward, his remains were being flown to central Australia for a traditional funeral.