Cover image courtesy of Dale Lynch
Boon Wurrung, Dja Dja Wurrung, Woiwurrung and Yorta Yorta man, Jack Charles who died earlier this week in Naarm Melbourne will be remembered as a man who fought for the rights and progress of Aboriginal people throughout his life.
Despite amazing successes on both stage and screen… the 79 year old was for most of his adult life a petty thief and drug addict who was sentenced to imprisonment 22 times and convicted many times, for break in and drug offences.
Born to a Bunurong mother and Wiradjuri father at Cummeragunja Mission on the Murray River, Uncle Jack was removed as an infant as part of the Australian Government’s forced assimilation programme .
His early years in state care, saw him physically and sexually abused and he later spoke of how the trauma of his childhood saw him spend the next five decades in and out of prison.
The federal Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney described Mr Charles as a ground-breaking storyteller and activist who brought people in with his warmth and grace, never shying away from his past and who he was.
She said Uncle Jack offered a window for many Australians to see the enduring pain of survivors of the Stolen Generations and inspired people with his strength of character and resilience
A fierce critic of colonialism Mr Charles often shared his thoughts on the future of the crown in Australia.
Uncle Jack was awarded 2022 NAIDOC Male Elder of the Year in recognition of his many and various achievements
A statement from Uncle Jack’s team: Like the rest of the nation, we are absolutely devastated by the passing of Uncle Jack Charles. He was someone we loved and respected, who made time for anyone who crossed paths with him. Uncle Jack loved extending a friendly wave, smile and having a yarn! Always more than happy to pose for a selfie. We take comfort in the thought of Uncle Jack hooning around on his scooter up in the sky and reconnecting with his long time friend, Uncle Archie Roach. The two were inseparable and shared an incredibly strong friendship, brotherhood and Eldership that was evident to all who witnessed them together. They shared so much but their limit was sharing their beloved Monte Carlo biscuits… It created much laughter to realise that was where they drew the line! Since the news of Uncle Jack, it’s been comforting to see this video doing the rounds again. The Uncles – being two Elder statesmen – are sharing their powerful and wise words on a difficult but necessary national conversation about Invasion Day. In this video, they launch into a moving and joyous version of “We Won’t Cry”, which became their signature song together at many public events. Each time the Uncles performed it, they ad libbed to reflect the moment they were in. This version is delightful. The song is, “We Won’t Cry” but it’s definitely okay to cry today.
Uncle Jack and Uncle Archie’s families have given permission for their names and images to be used.