Who is Uncle Jack Charles?
It’s strange I never was plucked out of obscurity with the intention of being a you beaut actor. It was accidental when the New Theatre came to the Gladys-Nicholls Hostel and asked would any of us be interested in acting on the stage? I raised my hand and that’s how I got into theatre. I was going on to 19 then. I haven’t looked back.
What would you do differently to what you do now?
If I wasn’t acting the billy-goat on stage as I’m doing now, I would continue my effort in trying to impress upon the state government the need for elder leadership in our prisons and youth detention centres. It’s been a bugbear of mine and a passion. I realised I do have this inherent obligation to do as much as I can for those stuck behind walls, those who don’t know as much about their heritage as I do now.
My criminal record is still on the books. I haven’t really asserted myself and gone to the high court here in Melbourne town to have it expunged but I will be doing that. It’s a big wet dreaming of mine but I can’t wait around for that. I have to run with who I am now because at 75 – you haven’t got much time left – so you need to keep moving, being in the front and pushing forward.
What would you do to make a difference in the world?
I’m the special roving ambassador for the Archie Roach Foundation here in Victoria. We want to make an impression on our institutions, and those institutions that incarcerate our people. We want to keep a black watch on them you see. I get the opportunity of going back into jails and youth detention centres, regardless of my still-functioning criminal record.
Since Bastardy gave instant rise to my profile, and consequently co-writing the production of Jack Charles vs. The Crown which toured right around Victoria then across Australia and overseas, I believe I am in a unique position to use my profile to waggle the finger, stamp my foot and point the bone at some insidious behavior by individuals and corporations.
I believe that I am a kind of shapeshifter in my community in the landscape of Australia. I believe I could have significant influence on the lives of others, whether it’s through my performing arts or my keynote addresses. It’s a responsibility when I’m asked to give voice to my opinions. People like to hear what I’ve got to say.
Favourite holiday destination and why?
It’s a holiday even being here in Melbourne, when I’m not doing anything. To spend Christmas at home here in my unit, with my sister and my two nephews. Sometimes I get a chance to see the other nieces and nephews but basically I like to stay at home. There’s no real destination across the landscape that’s truly attractive for me other than the West. I like going to Western Australia and I like staying at Freo and being part of the Fremantle landscape.
When friends come to town, what attraction would you take them to, and why?
I’d take them down to the Arts Centre if there’s something happening down there or the Koori Heritage Trust in Fed Square. Anything that might be happening in the community. I keep an eye on the small local theatres because there are a wealth of small theatres that are producing some great actors on the rise. I like to showcase them. This is my country. Wominjeka, welcome to my country. This is what I’ve got to show. I won’t be able to get you a free pass but if you’re down here and you’ve come by plane you can afford a ticket.
What are you currently reading?
At the moment, a few different plays by different people. I’m reading a Carré spy book that I’ve read four times already. I like to read, before I drop off actually. There are heaps of books by my bed because sometimes I read four books at a time. That’s been my life-saving-grace really because I read a lot in my time I was in jail. It took me out of prisons, in a sense, you can travel beyond the walls.
What are you currently listening to?
Nothing. I’m really eyeballing the American news. You’ve got to know what your enemies are thinking. I also keep an eye on our lot too.
Happiness is treading the boards, fronting a camera, struggling with someone, a straggler on the Smith Street strip who’s really finding it difficult. I’m able to give him a couple of bucks but also words of advice and send him hopefully in the right direction. I know it works when I’m engaging because there’s nothing better, I like when someone comes up to me and proudly boasts “I’ve just jumped off the methadone.” “You be like me”, I say, “Don’t regress. Take yourself seriously.”
What does the future hold for you?
Well I can’t envisage bloody retiring you know? If there’s any place I’ll drop dead it’ll probably be in front of a camera or on stage or at an event or marching at some gay parade. My book is coming out, that’s my written legacy. I’m calling it Jack Charles, A Born Again Blackfella.
My new-found aboriginality has lifted me out of the stratosphere into the heavens and beyond. I’m working with Namila Benson and Penguin. With my age, with where I’ve been and what I’ve done, I’m obligated to write the book. My story resonates with so many stories based on similar themes through many people’s lives.
Uncle Jack Charles is currently appearing in Dan Lee’s heart wrenching and side-splittingly funny play, Bottomless – at fortyfivedownstairs until 14 December 2018. For more information, visit: www.fortyfivedownstairs.com for details.
Image: Uncle Jack Charles (supplied)