Jack Charles (actor)

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Jack Charles
Uncle Jack holding his record.jpg
Uncle Jack holding his record (2019)
Born (1943-09-05) 5 September 1943 (age 78)

Jack Charles (born 5 September 1943) is an Australian actor, musician, potter, and Aboriginal elder.[1][2] His screen credits include the landmark Australian film The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith[3] (1978), Bedevil (1993), Blackfellas (1993), Tom White (2004) and Pan (2015), among others.[4]

Early life[edit]

Born to a Bunurong mother and Wiradjuri father, Charles' great-great-grandfather was a Djadjawurrung man, among the activists who resisted government policy at the Coranderrk reserve in Victoria in 1881.[5]

Charles was a victim of the Australian Government's forced assimilation programme which took him from his mother as an infant. He was raised in the Salvation Army Boys' Home at Box Hill, suburban Melbourne, where he was the only Aboriginal child, and was sexually abused.[6]

Charles received a Christian education from the Salvation Army, and continued to observe Christian values into his 70s, when he told Geraldine Doogue,

"I've employed my Aboriginality as my religion now ... instead of God, I've found that the Godhead is within me ... I'm solely directed towards making an accommodation between Black and White."[7]

For a large chunk of his early life, he was a petty thief and drug addict.[7]

Acting career[edit]

In 1970, Jack Charles started his acting career. The director of the New Theatre Melbourne, Dot Thompson, cast Charles in Athol Fugard's The Blood Knot, which was followed by a non-Aboriginal role in Rod Milgate's A Refined Look at Existence.[8]: 115 

Charles was involved in establishing Indigenous theatre in Australia.[9] In 1971, he co-founded, with Bob Maza, Nindethana ('place for a corroboree') at The Pram Factory in Melbourne, Australia's first Indigenous theatre group. Their first hit play, in 1972, was called Jack Charles is Up and Fighting,[10] and included music composed by him.[11]: 26 

In 1972, Charles auditioned for the role of the Australian Indigenous title character in the television show Boney but was declined because they were "looking for an actor with blue eyes". The job went to New Zealand-born James Laurenson who wore black face make-up for the role.[12]

In 1974, Charles played Bennelong in the Old Tote Theatre production of Michael Boddy's Cradle of Hercules, which was presented at the Sydney Opera House as part of its opening season. Also in the cast was a young David Gulpilil.[8]: 116 

Stage work includes Jack Davis' play No Sugar for the Black Swan Theatre Company in Perth.

Charles was the subject of Amiel Courtin-Wilson's 2008 documentary Bastardy,[13] which followed him for seven years. The film's tagline described him as: "Addict. Homosexual. Cat burglar. Actor. Aboriginal." The film was in the official selection for Singapore, Melbourne, Sydney and Sheffield Doc/Fest film festivals.

In 2010, Ilbijerri Theatre staged Charles' one-man show called Jack Charles v The Crown at the Melbourne Festival.[2] Charles was nominated for a Helpmann Award for Best Male Actor in a Play for his performance. Jack Charles v The Crown has since toured across Australia and internationally. In 2012, he performed in the Sydney Festival production I am Eora.[14]

Charles played Chief Great Little Panther in Joe Wright's 2015 film Pan.[15]

In 2016, Charles played the role of Uncle Paddy in two episodes of the television horror drama series Wolf Creek. Also in 2016, he played the role of Uncle Jimmy in the television drama series Cleverman.



Year Film Role Notes
1978 The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith Harry Edwards
1993 Bedevil Rick
1993 Blackfellas Carey
2004 Tom White Harry
2013 Mystery Road “Old Boy”
2015 Pan Chief


Charles' memoir, authored by Namila Benson, Jack Charles: Born-Again Blakfella,[16] was published on 18 August 2020 by Penguin.[17] The memoir was shortlisted by the Australian Book Industry Awards and was named as 2020 Biography Book of the Year.[18]


Charles received a Lifetime Achievement award from Victoria's Green Room Awards in April 2014, the first Indigenous recipient.[19]

Australia Council for the Arts[edit]

The Australia Council for the Arts is the arts funding and advisory body for the Government of Australia. Since 1993, it has awarded a Red Ochre Award. The award is presented to an outstanding Indigenous Australian (Aboriginal Australian or Torres Strait Islander) artist for lifetime achievement.

Year Nominee / work Award Result
2019[20] himself Red Ochre Award Awarded


  1. ^ "'I'd rob to collect rent for stolen Aboriginal land'". 30 September 2019 – via www.bbc.co.uk.
  2. ^ a b "Jack Charles V The Crown". Melbourne Festival 2011. Archived from the original on 6 July 2011. Retrieved 3 June 2014.
  3. ^ "The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (1978) - IMDb" – via www.imdb.com.
  4. ^ "Jack Charles". IMDb.
  5. ^ Kaye, Amanda (8 June 2017). "TEDxSydney 2017 Speakers—Uncle Jack Charles". Tedx. Retrieved 2 January 2018.
  6. ^ Anna Krien, Anna (October 2010). "Blanche's Boy". The Monthly (61). Retrieved 3 June 2014.
  7. ^ a b "The Return of Jack Charles". ABC, Compass. 2014. Retrieved 22 January 2017.
  8. ^ a b George, Sheena (2003). Celebration of aboriginality through theatre of hybridisation:An analysis of the plays of Jack Davis (PDF). Department of English, University of Calicut.
  9. ^ Documented in 'Bastardy'
  10. ^ "Blanche's Boy". The Monthly. October 2010. Retrieved 13 November 2012.
  11. ^ Casey, Maryrose (2004). Creating Frames: Contemporary Indigenous Theatre 1967–1990. Univ. of Queensland Press. ISBN 9780702234323.
  12. ^ Don Storey. "Boney". Retrieved 5 July 2017.
  13. ^ "Bastardy" – via www.imdb.com.
  14. ^ Sydney Festival. "I am Eora". Archived from the original on 2 September 2012. Retrieved 13 November 2012.
  15. ^ "Amanda Seyfried Joins Warner Bros.' Peter Pan Adaptation". The Hollywood Reporter. 24 April 2014.
  16. ^ M Pavilion (12 November 2020). "M Pavilion - Namila Benson". M Pavilion. Retrieved 13 March 2021.
  17. ^ Pengin Publishing (18 August 2020). "Jack Charles Born-again Blakfella". www.penguin.com.au/. Retrieved 13 March 2021.
  18. ^ Australian Book Industry Awards (28 April 2020). "Australian Book Industry Awards". www.penguin.com.au/. Retrieved 13 March 2021.
  19. ^ Puvanenthiran, Bhakthi (28 April 2014). "Jack Charles win a first at Green Room awards". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 22 January 2017.
  20. ^ "Uncle Jack Charles honoured with Red Ochre Award". The Stage Show. ABC Radio National. Retrieved 31 August 2019.

External links[edit]