Uncle Jack Charles

Uncle Jack CharlesUncle Jack Charles has an electrifying personality. And coupled with his gift of the gab and an unwavering commitment to expose Australian history and its justice, social and health systems, the man is unquestionably one of the most important figures of our times. And at 67 he’s ready to make one final political statement.

Founder of Nindethana in 1972 (the first recognized modern Aboriginal theatre company) Uncle Jack has been a pioneer of the Black theatre movement since its inception while his prolific career has included a range of performances both on and offstage. The star of The Chanting of Jimmie Blacksmith Uncle Jack has been no stranger to screen but it was Bastardy, the 2008 documentary that offered Australia a glimpse of the ‘addict, homosexual, cat burglar, actor and Aborigine’ ready to make his story heard: "I was tired of other people writing reports on what I’ve done, who I am and how my life story should be told – this was my chance to tell my history".

In 2010 ready to finish what he began in his documentary Uncle Jack joins playwright John Romeril and Ilbijerri artistic Director Rachel Maza to present to this year’s Melbourne International Arts Festival his last political hurrah: Jack Charles vs The Crown

The play is different from the film in intent, shape, lyrical qualities and of course that little white lie that sets up an ideal system of social justice in Australia. Bastardy was a documentary made between Uncle Jack and maverick film maker Amiel Courtin-Wilson and brought confronting and often disturbing material to light. But even though the film won the Film Critics Circle Award it failed in its ultimate aim of attracting the attention of white and black bureaucracy: "Bastardy should have allowed me to become a person of significance – it didn’t. In the eyes of the law I am still an Aboriginal Elder with a criminal record".

But Jack Charles vs. The Crown plans to re-engage all the potency of Uncle Jack’s political beliefs but also, and equally importantly, his personal story replete with the humour and heartiness of a life determined to see change.

With a variety of storytelling techniques including numerous monologues from the last five years that have yet to be listened to with “a cultural ear” the story of Uncle Jack’s personal history is communal and needs to be told: “Half of Melbourne know me – they saw much of the hard yards and depths to which I had sunk. They saw the power of addiction. This was a way of people watching my journey to see much of themselves and resolving their own journeys. Not a days goes by when a fella of the streets doesn’t come up to me and say I saw your documentary – Congratulations!’
{xtypo_quote_right}Reconciliation can never truly happen until white Australia abandons its deep rooted entrenchment in its sorry and racist past{/xtypo_quote_right}
But are Australian audiences ready to hear this story and be possible witnesses to the seeds of change? “I don’t know” says Uncle jack “I wonder. People like myself are adverse to the crown and it is my responsibility to highlight this. Reconciliation can never truly happen until white Australia abandons its deep rooted entrenchment in its sorry and racist past – and I personally can truly never be reconciled until I have had my criminal record sealed. There is no Aborigine who is willing to go to the prisons and share their journey and experiences with our Indigenous peoples but I’m ready. But black and white bureaucracies, with their lack of original thinking are stuck in a murky quagmire and can’t see I’m staring them in the face".

It’s a sad and sorry state of affairs when seeking to make a change in the justice systems a man such as Jack Charles is refused, shunned and ignored. But even in the midst of openly acknowledging such very depressing scenarios he still manages a joke: “I guess the Australian justice system can’t stand the glare of the big black beacon of light”.

Ultimately, the story of Jack Charles vs the Crown is not just another polemical theatrical performances that enages with history and politics. It is a story of identity and self – and reflects the selves of the Australian people. “This is the year when we’re swapping white Australia for black history” says Uncle Jack, “this is the moment we’re making new history and to do that we need to seek the truth - in ourselves and in our past."

Jack Charles vs the Crown opens at the Arts Centre, as part of the Melbourne International Arts Festival - Tue 12 Oct 2010. Further details»

Image Credit:-
Top Right - Jack Charles. Photo - Bindi Cole

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