ECUMENICAL CHURCH LEADER,
SOCIAL JUSTICE ADVOCATE
HARVEY Perkins was a Methodist minister and a peacemaker throughout his life of service and social activism. He knew the certainty that without justice there can be no peace within, or between, communities and nations. He was greatly influenced by "liberation theology" and framed his life of thought, analysis and action on the teachings of the Bible.
He was also a visionary in working closely with Asian churches on ecumenical and social justice issues in a way that anticipated by decades the closer relationships Australia now enjoys with Asia. He understood that any form of intervention altered the power relationship within a community and often challenged the dominant social interests in the post-colonial Asian countries. He knew any form of aid had to empower its recipients and be based on a partnership of equality.
In the early 1960s, Perkins was an opponent of the war in Indochina and conscription in Australia, and played an important role in activating congregations to protest against the war. His keen intelligence, knowledge of history and analytical skills demolished the false foundation on which the US and its allies entered the war, and he organised medical and social work teams in South Vietnam and Laos to help refugees and those displaced.
In the 1970s, Perkins played an important role in "decolonising" and devolving power in the Methodist Church missions in Aboriginal Australia and the Pacific Islands by analysing power structures and relationships through what he had learnt in Asia.
Harvey Perkins and his twin sister, Jean, were born in Tasmania on January 29, 1919, children of Leslie Perkins and his wife, Doris (nee Cook). Leslie was a Methodist minister and Harvey and Jean's childhood was spent in parishes in urban and rural areas of Tasmania and Victoria. The family saw the grinding poverty and desperate human need wrought by the Depression as a ceaseless tide of people came knocking at the door of the local parsonage for help.
In 1941, Perkins enlisted as an officer in the Australian Navy and served in the Pacific theatre until 1946. To his children, he explained his justification as being the real threat of invasion, but it was a war that altered the direction of his life. On discharge he abandoned his completed studies at Melbourne University in law and commerce and studied for a degree in divinity. He was active in the World Student Christian Federation and, in 1949, was ordained into the Methodist Church.
A few years later, Perkins travelled to a World Student Christian Federation conference in Canada, on his way to study in Cambridge, and met an expatriate, Jill McCrory. They married in 1953.
After Cambridge, Perkins returned to Australia and served as a minister in the Mitcham area of the growing Melbourne outer suburbs until 1956, when he was appointed general secretary of the Australian Council of Churches and director of the Inter-Church Aid and Refugee World Service. From 1968 to 1971, Perkins worked with the East Asian Christian Conference and then took a position with the World Council of Churches in Geneva with its Commission on Churches Participation in Development.
He returned to Australia in 1973 to a position with the Methodist Board of Missions and then returned to the Christian Conference of Asia in 1976 and relocated to Singapore for several years. Before retiring in 1984, he worked with the Uniting Church Board of Social Responsibility.
In retirement, Perkins continued to work in the Dee Why parish in NSW, enjoying preaching, leading study groups and working as a pastor in a local community.
Along with his work, Perkins had a lifelong passion for AFL and his beloved team North Melbourne. Wherever he was in the world he could be found fiddling with a short-wave radio to listen to a game.
In later years, Perkins developed Alzheimer's and his home became his haven until two weeks before his death.
Harvey Perkins is survived by Jill, children Mary, Ro, David, Marguerite, Anna, Harvey and Kate, and their partners, 13 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Jean died in 1981.