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Jack Charles

b. 1943

Jack Charles (b. 1943), actor, Indigenous elder and activist, was born at the Cummeragunja Mission on the Murray River and taken from his mother when he was less than twelve months old. Raised in a boy’s home in Melbourne, he was seventeen when he was jailed for the first time, his heroin habit and consequent regular resort to petty theft seeing him in and out of prison throughout the subsequent decades. Charles became involved in theatre and acting in the early 1970s and in 1971 was involved in establishing Nindethana, Australia’s first Indigenous theatre group. The ensemble was formed, as Charles phrased it, ‘to put on plays where Aborigines have a chance to act … We want to do plays where the Aboriginal actors will play ordinary people – a milkman, a postman – because Aborigines do these jobs’. During the 1970s, Charles had roles in the television series Ben Hall (1975) and Rush (1976); and appeared in Fred Schepisi’s 1978 feature film adaptation of The chant of Jimmie Blacksmith. In 1981, Charles appeared in the Channel 028 (SBS) mini-series Women of the Sun. Further film roles came in 1993 with Blackfellas and Bedevil, (the latter directed by Tracey Moffatt). Since that time, having beaten addiction and re-connected with his cultural heritage, Charles has performed in a number of television and theatre roles, including the 2012 Sydney Festival production, I am Eora. Charles was the subject of the 2008 documentary, Bastardy. Directed by Amiel Courtin-Wilson, the film chronicled seven years of Charles’s life, documenting his experiences of homelessness, crime and addiction and witnessing – as Charles describes it – his transition ‘from a rogue and a vagabond to a person of note and a role model in my community’. Since 2010, Charles has been touring Australia with his one-man, autobiographical work, Jack Charles versus the Crown.

Updated 2018