Recalling the incredible life and work of Uncle Jack Charles


Uncle Jack Charles’ family has given permission for his name and images to be used.

Once again, Aboriginal Melbourne is mourning the loss of another iconic member of its community – Uncle Jack Charles.

Uncle Jack Charles was born in 1943 in the Cummeragunja Aboriginal Reserve and descended from the Victorian peoples of the Boon Wurrung, Dja Dja Wurrung, Woiwurrung and the Yorta Yorta.

He spent his life tracing his ancestral heritage after being forcibly removed from his family.

His search yielded happy and sad stories that he documented for his autobiography, screen and theater.

His search for his family even led him to the coasts of Tasmania from which he also descended.

During this year’s NAIDOC week, Uncle Jack was named Male Elder of the Year 2022. In his acceptance speech, he drew attention to the inmates he visited.

He was always committed to recognizing those who watched from the sidelines and fighting for change.

It was fitting that he should receive that award. Thank you, Uncle Jack, for bringing into people’s minds and homes not to fear the other.

Undoubtedly, there is mourning in all Aboriginal communities, prisoners and street people across Australia.

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tell the truth

Uncle Jack Charles was a valued member of our Aboriginal community.

His commitment to advocate for detained Aboriginal people knew no bounds.

Despite the hardships he faced as a child with abuse and incarceration as a young adult, his life made a difference for many others to keep their heads up and not feel ashamed. We are not invisible, and for that we thank you, Uncle Jack.

The fact that he told the truth about his personal experiences as a member of the stolen generation opened the minds and understanding of many Australians, making it easier for his people to find a voice.

He spoke for all Aboriginal people who struggle with everyday life.

He helped people believe in the future.

He showed whatever evil they would have done in the eyes of the law, or in the eyes of other people, there is a way to come to your own understanding and take control of the situation.

Uncle Jack would have said this much better than me. That was what was so inspiring about him – the way he spoke about his life experiences as a child, a youth, a young man and an adult.

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To us, he was a well-traveled elder who brought so much education and knowledge to those who struggled or were forced to live in alternative ways.

He never judged others – except to cry out where there was injustice to those who had no voice.

He gave us his life teachings and in return there was human understanding and support for those for whom he advocated.

A great artist

Uncle Jack’s work to understand and understand the impact of government policies on Aboriginal children and the trauma they carry as a result of their institutionalization became just one of the many roles he created.

His training as an actor taught him the most eloquent speech.

There will never be a Jack Charles again – his ability to teach and tell a story on stage, in a TV commercial and his sheer acting talent in a movie.

As an actor, performer and author he documented his life. He controlled his own story.

In 2008 his documentary Bastardy told about his life as a street performer and heroin addict.

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It was a groundbreaking teaching for those who didn’t know about living with addiction. By spotlighting his heroin use, he created an awareness of the dangers of addiction and incarceration.

He toured the world with his brilliant 2010 play. Jack Charles against the Crown. Through stories and song, he turned the government’s assimilation policy into an art form and a teaching tool.

By telling stories about the plight of Aboriginal homelessness, mental health and incarcerated men and women, he was able to reach and connect with audiences of all ages.

He was easily recognized in the streets and cafes all over Melbourne and remained a valued member of the Aboriginal community.

Especially the younger generations recognized him. He had the ability to talk to them and they listened.

Young people across Australia are feeling shock and disbelief. My son asked, “Why?” My cousin texted me and said, “Aunt, I met him a few times. He was deadly, a deadly man.”

Yes, he was.

Julie Andrews, Professor of Indigenous Research & Convenor of Aboriginal Studies, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.