Hetty Perkins

Hetty Perkins (c.1905 - 1979) was an Aranda woman from Central Australia. Her date of birth is unknown but was probably around 1905 as she recalled the appearance of Halley's comet when she was a child. Her mother was an Aboriginal woman known as Nellie and her father was Harry Perkins, a European who worked on the construction of the Oodnadatta-Alice Springs railway line.

With his father and his wife and children, Harry Perkins moved to the goldfields at Arltunga and kept sheep, goats and some cattle. He took his father to Broken Hill for medical attention and there both men died. His wife and children were never given the details of their loss. Nellie supported her children by working alluvial gold at Winnecke. Hetty was often with a European family, the Donellans, growing up with their children. When the government well at Winnecke dried up goldmining ceased and the people moved on. Hetty aged fourteen returned to Arltunga where she worked in the kitchen of the hotel, taught by the Aboriginal woman who was cook. She was also required to ride out mustering and watering cattle for the owner of the hotel; she and other Aboriginal girls working as stockriders were paid with lollies.

Hetty Perkins had eleven children. A man called Lake was the father of the oldest. Several were Jim Turner's children. The father of her younger children was Connolly, a Mt Isa man, son of a Kalkadoon woman and an Irishman. She was married 'in the bush sense' always keeping her own name.

Hetty worked for some time on Turner's cattle station. When she moved to Alice Springs to work as a nursemaid in a European family she could not keep her children. She later lived on Telegraph Station reserve near Alice Springs where her younger children were born. They lived with her, attending school on the reserve. Charles, who was to become the first Aborigine to hold a senior public service appointment, was sent to Adelaide to complete his schooling at a technical college. Hetty worked in Alice Springs as a cook and did washing, living on Telegraph Station Reserve and moving later to Jay Creek Settlement. She looked after many children as well as her own. She had lived through a period when spectacular massacres of Aborigines occurred in the Territory and blacks were kept out of the towns, and she was cautious towards Europeans and urged Aboriginal kids to keep out of trouble. Hetty Perkins died in December 1979. Her son Charles then headed the Commonwealth Department of Aboriginal Affairs and a grandson Neville Perkins was a member of the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly, but several of her children were dead and two had died in tragic circumstances. The Hetty Perkins hostel for elderly Aborigines is named for her.

Lenore Coltheart