Charlie Is Their Darling

Letter From Australia

On October 25, 2000, central Sydney's traffic stood still for hours, for the first time since the Olympiad. Inside the late-Victorian Town Hall, approximately 2,000 pilgrims witnessed the Aboriginal faith's latest canonization: the state funeral of Charles Perkins, who had died on October 18 after 29 years of daily medical dependence on the "whitefella" culture he so despised—which, in his case, took the form of a kidney transplant.

Huge banners bearing Perkins' portrait were scattered among the mourners, who included gold medallist Cathy Freeman. Those familiar with North Korean crowd scenes at the height of Kim Il-Sung's reign experienced a profound shock of recognition, lessened only by the indigenous smoke-dancing.

With one voice, local headline writers called Perkins "Australia's Martin Luther King." (In an even crazier appeal to political correctness, TV networks warned Aboriginal viewers to cease watching if they might be offended, "for cultural reasons," by the idea of Perkins' name and photo being broadcast!) To New South Wales' Premier Bob Carr, Perkins warranted plaudits for his courage in the "relatively lonely cause" of Aboriginal rights. "Australia," New South Wales Supreme Court Chief Justice Jim Spigelman said, "is a better and fairer place because of him." Geoff Clark of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander...

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