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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.

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Percy Spender

In their own words

Recorded 1968

Percy Spender
Audio: 2 minutes

I had developed an interest in the conditions under which the people in South-East Asia lived from the time when I first went there in a long vacation at the Bar. And I went many times to different parts and the outskirts of Asia, of course, on trips. The first we went to was to Hong Kong, and I shall never forget the impact that was made upon me, seeing the conditions under which people lived and how they worked, and how a ship was coaled in those days. It was almost inhuman to see these people with baskets of coal upon their back, almost like a treadmill, going up and down, throwing the coal from the baskets, going down, being filled, and going on and on like an endless chain of human endeavour.  

We in Australia do not know the poverty which exists in different parts of the world. We are learning much more, thank heavens, particularly through young people, about Asia. The older people still are completely ignorant about it. My own generation you’d find they wouldn’t even know where certain places are and less interested to find out. But to travel through Asia, as I have now through a great deal of it, to travel through South America, the thing that strikes you is a tremendous poverty of the masses and the great privileges and riches of the few. This to me has been one of the most serious of factors in the instability of the world.

It was an experience which I had, little as it was, of South-East Asia, that my mind turned immediately to doing something to assist them.

Acknowledgements

This oral history of Percy Spender is from the De Berg Collection in the National Library of Australia. For more information, or to hear full versions of the recordings, visit the National Library of Australia website.

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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 National Portrait Gallery is an Australian Government Agency