Victorian Seniors Festival Reimagined 2020

Uncle Jack Charles - Week 9

Tristan Meecham

Today, my heart is full, as we welcome national living treasure, respected First Nation Elder and start of stage and screen. It’s Uncle Jack Charles. Uncle, how are you?

Uncle Jack Charles

I’m very well. Happy to be feeling my age.

Tristan Meecham

Uncle, it’s so lovely to have you here. How does your connection to the land inspire your heart?

Uncle Jack Charles

My connection to the land is my communities. Since discovering - you know, I've been - as a stolen person on the discovering of who do I think I am and that, you know. Because of Bastardry the doco, it led me onto a journey to discover my heritage in order to be able to co-write Jack Charles versus The Crown and, in doing so, I found much history about my connections to Melbourne. My umbilical was cut in 1943 at The Royal Women’s Hospital in Grattan Street, Carlton, and there’s that old saying amongst Indigenous people that wherever your umbilical cord is cut, that’s your place of belonging. I’ve been given a full understanding unto me by the Koori Heritage Trust and link up about my family, my connection to country, kinship, community ties.

I know that I am a Bunurong man, Bunurong man on my Mum’s side, a Bunurong Wuta Wuta and, recently, late early ‘70s, 70 year old, I found through the Koori Heritage, they found out who me old man was and he comes from Leek NSW. So, I’m comfortable - comfortable to be able to say that I am Wiradjuri on my father’s side and my connection with La Mama Theatre and also the Ilbijerri Theatre in the production of Coranderrk, the story of Coranderrk. I have my connection to many of the people up there. My great-great-grandfather was a member of that mob up at Coranderrk. So, I have a strong foundation here in Victoria and now realising the strength of my reach into New South Wales via the big – the largest mob up there, the Wiradjuri.

Coranderrk is an important place of significant Victorian history here. Once William Barak, Simon Wonga, Johnny Charles – my great-great-grandfather, Johnny Charles, had been disbanded from the Victorian Native Police Force. Those three retired up at Coranderrk. William Barak, who was the last member of the Nurungita of the Bunurong mob, he worked the land and made it pay. The squatters were unhappy with the people at Coranderrk. They seemed to be working the land and making it pay to the point that they were selling produce - milk, eggs, meat into the town of Healesville and the local squatters and the black hats at parliament really didn't like that. So, they made all efforts to make it look as though the blacks couldn’t work the land. They would pull down the fences, destroy the crops, allowing cattle to roam on other people's property.

Letters of complaints were written by the population of Coranderrk. So many letters to the point that, eventually, even today if you wrote so many letters into parliament, complaining about one issue or another, parliament have to act. And, so, in 1880, parliament had two special inquiries. Virtually royal commissions into the matter of Coranderrk to decide upon the future of the residents and the land. 22 blacks gave evidence and 47 whites gave evidence and every word that was given into evidence was transcribed and written into the parliamentary library. I played William Barak himself in both productions, the La Mama production and the Ilbijerri Theatre production.

Tristan Meecham

As a member of the stolen generation, you have lived through such turbulent times. How have you maintained your resilience?

Uncle Jack Charles

I’m very much an optimist, even in prison, you know, where you have every right to be a pessimistic bugger and that. I was always doing something in prisons, you know. So, I’m an optimistic person, happy, jovial, even in a prison setting and that, I realised that so many people had needed my strengths, wanted to engage with me and etcetra. The teachers, the screws, the governor, the prisoners themselves wanted to engage, so I had that ability to be able to talk and I needed to be in good condition. I needed to be always on the up and up so that these people can communicate with me.

Tristan Meecham

Uncle, how did you start acting? Can you describe your motivation and passion for this craft?

Uncle Jack Charles

Well, I was working as a glass beveller during the day. A bunch of people - Don Monroe and Dot Thompson and Ron Northrope - came in to the Gladys Nicholls Hostel to ask - and pulled all the kids in there to see if any of us would be interested in being a cast member of their production, Lorraine Hansbury's African American woman's play, A Raisin in the Sun, and I and a girl raised our hands. We said, "Ah, we'd give it a go." I went to the place - the theatre. Up a lane, opposite the old Argus buildings, out the back of Elizabeth Street, upstairs above a carpentry shop. The New Theatre. During the day, I'd be glass bevelling and I'd be learning another trade at night, acting. Acting, my second trade I started to master. I was 19 at the time.

Tristan Meecham

Uncle, can you describe the creative climate of the 1970s. The world of the Pram Factory and how you and Uncle Bob Mazza created Australia’s first Aboriginal Theatre Group?

Uncle Jack Charles

Well, if it wasn’t for Bob, you know, I wouldn’t have been able to continue that effort. Bob stood strong behind me. We - we got a grant to kick off the first Aboriginal theatre production and it was at the Pram Factory. The first production was performed by an Indigenous Theatre Company. We used members from Bellbird, Dennis Miller, who plays a cop from Bellbird. He was in it.

Tristan Meecham

Uncle, I hear that even though you’ve reached the dizzying heights of fame, you still don’t mind having your selfie taken with fans and community on the streets. Is that true?

Uncle Jack Charles

Nah, yeah. Yeah, I love it. People still stop me on the streets wherever I am and whatever state I am, whatever suburb, you know, at a mall or some shopping centre or, you know, sitting having my latte, somebody is likely to come up.

Tristan Meecham

Our gratitude, Uncle Jack, for joining us here for In the groove. It’s been such a pleasure talking with you.

Uncle Jack Charles

It’s been an absolute pleasure. Yeah, the older I get, I like to be dusted off and placed in front of a camera or a microphone and say my piece. Love it. I’m grateful that I'm still alive and well and living the high life here at another Seniors Festival.

 

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

Visit Uncle Jack Charles' website: www.facebook.com/unclejackcharles/

 

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.

 

Read his Performer Profile.

 

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An online Festival is completely new for us and we hope you enjoy the performances.

Victorian Seniors Festival Reimagined 2020

Uncle Jack Charles - Week 9

Tristan Meecham

Today, my heart is full, as we welcome national living treasure, respected First Nation Elder and start of stage and screen. It’s Uncle Jack Charles. Uncle, how are you?

Uncle Jack Charles

I’m very well. Happy to be feeling my age.

Tristan Meecham

Uncle, it’s so lovely to have you here. How does your connection to the land inspire your heart?

Uncle Jack Charles

My connection to the land is my communities. Since discovering - you know, I've been - as a stolen person on the discovering of who do I think I am and that, you know. Because of Bastardry the doco, it led me onto a journey to discover my heritage in order to be able to co-write Jack Charles versus The Crown and, in doing so, I found much history about my connections to Melbourne. My umbilical was cut in 1943 at The Royal Women’s Hospital in Grattan Street, Carlton, and there’s that old saying amongst Indigenous people that wherever your umbilical cord is cut, that’s your place of belonging. I’ve been given a full understanding unto me by the Koori Heritage Trust and link up about my family, my connection to country, kinship, community ties.

I know that I am a Bunurong man, Bunurong man on my Mum’s side, a Bunurong Wuta Wuta and, recently, late early ‘70s, 70 year old, I found through the Koori Heritage, they found out who me old man was and he comes from Leek NSW. So, I’m comfortable - comfortable to be able to say that I am Wiradjuri on my father’s side and my connection with La Mama Theatre and also the Ilbijerri Theatre in the production of Coranderrk, the story of Coranderrk. I have my connection to many of the people up there. My great-great-grandfather was a member of that mob up at Coranderrk. So, I have a strong foundation here in Victoria and now realising the strength of my reach into New South Wales via the big – the largest mob up there, the Wiradjuri.

Coranderrk is an important place of significant Victorian history here. Once William Barak, Simon Wonga, Johnny Charles – my great-great-grandfather, Johnny Charles, had been disbanded from the Victorian Native Police Force. Those three retired up at Coranderrk. William Barak, who was the last member of the Nurungita of the Bunurong mob, he worked the land and made it pay. The squatters were unhappy with the people at Coranderrk. They seemed to be working the land and making it pay to the point that they were selling produce - milk, eggs, meat into the town of Healesville and the local squatters and the black hats at parliament really didn't like that. So, they made all efforts to make it look as though the blacks couldn’t work the land. They would pull down the fences, destroy the crops, allowing cattle to roam on other people's property.

Letters of complaints were written by the population of Coranderrk. So many letters to the point that, eventually, even today if you wrote so many letters into parliament, complaining about one issue or another, parliament have to act. And, so, in 1880, parliament had two special inquiries. Virtually royal commissions into the matter of Coranderrk to decide upon the future of the residents and the land. 22 blacks gave evidence and 47 whites gave evidence and every word that was given into evidence was transcribed and written into the parliamentary library. I played William Barak himself in both productions, the La Mama production and the Ilbijerri Theatre production.

Tristan Meecham

As a member of the stolen generation, you have lived through such turbulent times. How have you maintained your resilience?

Uncle Jack Charles

I’m very much an optimist, even in prison, you know, where you have every right to be a pessimistic bugger and that. I was always doing something in prisons, you know. So, I’m an optimistic person, happy, jovial, even in a prison setting and that, I realised that so many people had needed my strengths, wanted to engage with me and etcetra. The teachers, the screws, the governor, the prisoners themselves wanted to engage, so I had that ability to be able to talk and I needed to be in good condition. I needed to be always on the up and up so that these people can communicate with me.

Tristan Meecham

Uncle, how did you start acting? Can you describe your motivation and passion for this craft?

Uncle Jack Charles

Well, I was working as a glass beveller during the day. A bunch of people - Don Monroe and Dot Thompson and Ron Northrope - came in to the Gladys Nicholls Hostel to ask - and pulled all the kids in there to see if any of us would be interested in being a cast member of their production, Lorraine Hansbury's African American woman's play, A Raisin in the Sun, and I and a girl raised our hands. We said, "Ah, we'd give it a go." I went to the place - the theatre. Up a lane, opposite the old Argus buildings, out the back of Elizabeth Street, upstairs above a carpentry shop. The New Theatre. During the day, I'd be glass bevelling and I'd be learning another trade at night, acting. Acting, my second trade I started to master. I was 19 at the time.

Tristan Meecham

Uncle, can you describe the creative climate of the 1970s. The world of the Pram Factory and how you and Uncle Bob Mazza created Australia’s first Aboriginal Theatre Group?

Uncle Jack Charles

Well, if it wasn’t for Bob, you know, I wouldn’t have been able to continue that effort. Bob stood strong behind me. We - we got a grant to kick off the first Aboriginal theatre production and it was at the Pram Factory. The first production was performed by an Indigenous Theatre Company. We used members from Bellbird, Dennis Miller, who plays a cop from Bellbird. He was in it.

Tristan Meecham

Uncle, I hear that even though you’ve reached the dizzying heights of fame, you still don’t mind having your selfie taken with fans and community on the streets. Is that true?

Uncle Jack Charles

Nah, yeah. Yeah, I love it. People still stop me on the streets wherever I am and whatever state I am, whatever suburb, you know, at a mall or some shopping centre or, you know, sitting having my latte, somebody is likely to come up.

Tristan Meecham

Our gratitude, Uncle Jack, for joining us here for In the groove. It’s been such a pleasure talking with you.

Uncle Jack Charles

It’s been an absolute pleasure. Yeah, the older I get, I like to be dusted off and placed in front of a camera or a microphone and say my piece. Love it. I’m grateful that I'm still alive and well and living the high life here at another Seniors Festival.