‘Everybody loves the story of a reformed, rehabilitated, old coot that they feel that know so well.’

It was the realisation that others considered him to be an Elder that prompted Uncle Jack Charles to turn his life around.

The activist, actor, author, and former cat burglar and drug addict was unwittingly born into a life of crime simply by being Aboriginal. Under the government’s policy of the day, he was taken from his parents when only four-months old and put into a boys home.

‘When you were taken in those days, during the 40s and 50s, you immediately got a criminal record. Your first offence was, “Aboriginal child Jack Charles. The offence — child in need of care and attention”,’ he says.

Uncle Jack began acting at age 19 but, like many other members of the Stolen Generations, he battled drug addiction and homelessness and spent periods in jail for offences including theft.

I was a serial pest … being one of Melbourne's notable cat burglars, stealing only from the wealthy areas,’ he says.

It was when doing his last stint in jail he realised that younger indigenous prisoners were looking up to him as an Elder.

‘I said to myself, “Well if people are so respectful of me, calling me Uncle even in prison, I should take on that role. I should pull up and be the leading black light for others.’

Uncle Jack is now heavily involved in the Archie Roach Foundation, with a mission that includes mentoring young Aboriginal inmates.

He is also agitating to make Indigenous history mandatory in schools.

‘Once truth in history is unleashed, I believe that we might have a better arrangement with white Australians and black Australians getting to know the struggles, the real struggles. Each state has unique stories to tell, and each state should tell them, and that should be on a curriculum.’

Throughout all this, he has continued to perform in films, plays and to present his own one-man theatre show Jack Charles v the Crown around Australia to a very diverse mix of audience members. He performs a slice of Jack Charles v the Crown for the 2020 Victorian Seniors Festival reimagined and has no doubt the older audience will enjoy his performance.

‘Everybody loves the story of a reformed, rehabilitated, old coot that they feel that know so well.’

Watch Uncle Jack Charles 2020 Victorian Seniors Festival reimagined interview.

Watch Uncle Jack Charles Versus the Crown performance.

Watch Jack Charles V The Crown through the Art Centre Melbourne, available from 7pm Friday 10 July until 7pm Friday 24 July.

Recommended for ages 15+. Contains strong language and adult themes.