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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

The Gallery’s Acknowledgement of Country, and information on culturally sensitive and restricted content and the use of historic language in the collection can be found here.

Charles Perkins on bus to Tranby Aboriginal College, Glebe

c. 1964 (printed 2015)
Robert McFarlane

inkjet print on paper (image: 33.0 cm x 21.8 cm, sheet: 41.3 cm x 33.0 cm)

Arrernte and Kalkadoon man Charles Perkins AO (1936–2000) was a civil rights activist who dedicated his life to achieving justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. In the summer of 1964–65, as a student at the University of Sydney, Perkins organised a student bus tour around New South Wales to draw attention to the poor state of Indigenous health, education and housing, and to try and stimulate local action. Referred to as the 'freedom rides', it highlighted the state of race relations in Australia. The students protested and demonstrated against racial segregation and discrimination, culminating in overwhelming support for the 1967 Federal Government referendum which gave a clear mandate to implement policies to benefit First Nations people.

Robert McFarlane recalls that he took this famous photograph of Perkins at night as he was going to, or returning from, mentoring country boys at Tranby Aboriginal Co-operative College, an independent learning environment for adult Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. This introspective, seemingly isolated, portrayal of Perkins contrasts with his political activism in leading the 'freedom rides', recognised as one of Australia's most significant civil rights events.

Purchased 1999
© Robert McFarlane/Copyright Agency, 2022

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. Works of art from the collection are reproduced as per the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). The use of images of works from the collection may be restricted under the Act. Requests for a reproduction of a work of art can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

Artist and subject

Robert McFarlane (age 22 in 1964)

Charles Perkins AO (age 28 in 1964)

Related information

The Companion

Permanent collection catalogue

Café and shop

On one level The Companion talks about the most famous and frontline Australians, but on another it tells us about ourselves: who we read, who we watch, who we listen to, who we cheer for, who we aspire to be, and who we'll never forget. The Companion is available to buy online and in the Portrait Gallery Store.

Director John Duigan and actor Judy Davis on the set of ‘Winter of our Dreams’, Sydney, 1981 by Robert McFarlane
Director John Duigan and actor Judy Davis on the set of ‘Winter of our Dreams’, Sydney, 1981 by Robert McFarlane
Director John Duigan and actor Judy Davis on the set of ‘Winter of our Dreams’, Sydney, 1981 by Robert McFarlane
Director John Duigan and actor Judy Davis on the set of ‘Winter of our Dreams’, Sydney, 1981 by Robert McFarlane

Natural born stiller

Magazine article by Penelope Grist, 2016

Penelope Grist speaks to Robert McFarlane about shooting for the stars.

The National Portrait Gallery building front entrance
The National Portrait Gallery building front entrance
The National Portrait Gallery building front entrance
The National Portrait Gallery building front entrance

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© National Portrait Gallery 2022
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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

This website comprises and contains copyrighted materials and works. Copyright in all materials and/or works comprising or contained within this website remains with the National Portrait Gallery and other copyright owners as specified.

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. The use of images of works of art reproduced on this website and all other content may be restricted under the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). Requests for a reproduction of a work of art or other content can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

The National Portrait Gallery is an Australian Government Agency