13 Dec 2017

Jack Charles: 'a reformed and rehabilitated old coot'

From Nine To Noon, 10:05 am on 13 December 2017
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Photo: Photo credit: Bindi Cole

Aboriginal actor, activist and tribal elder Jack Charles has lived a big life.

The former heroin addict, cat burglar and regular prison inmate known affectionately as 'Uncle Jack' was forcibly taken from his mother as a child and ended up at a boys' home where he suffered years of abuse.

Before his appearance at the 2018 Auckland Arts Festival with the show Jack Charles V The Crown, he talks to Kathryn Ryan about his work, life and discoveries.

As a younger man, Jack (now 74) knew nothing about his Aboriginal heritage.

"I was trying to just exist, etc … The distractions of addiction can be a big impediment to any journey of people discovering their identity and heritage."

In the hard times, Jack used to busk at railway stations – "Everybody knew that I was singing for my drugs" – and was well-known in the press as a thief.

He came out of jail for the last time in 2005.

"I was left out of the loop for some time and doing a lot of jail time, but coming out was a hoot."

Bastardy – the 2008 documentary about Jack's life –  led him to become "a bigger and better, blacker, bolder person", he says.

Acting is one of his life's blessing, Jack says, but the most powerful role he's ever undertaken is that of role model – "the bloke you should look to in trying to discover your own journey, your heritage."

Charles has appeared on screen and stage for over 50 years with The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, Bedevil, Blackfellas, Tom White and Pan among his many film credits.

He describes Jack Charles V The Crown as a "full sight and sound show."

"A pottery wheel on stage, no less. On average, I throw three pots per performance."

It's been a hoot travelling the world with the show, Jack says.

"Everybody likes to witness and see for themselves the story of a reformed and rehabilitated old coot like myself."

Watch the trailer for Bastardy below:

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