We have lost a true great. The most magnetic, captivating character who sounded 10 feet tall when his voice boomed. A truly singular presence and personality. Vale Uncle Jack Charles.
In 1970, Jack Charles started his acting career. New Melbourne theatre director Dot Thompson played Charles in Athol Fugard’s The Blood Knot, followed by a non-Aboriginal role in Rod Milgate’s A Refined Look at Existence.
Charles was instrumental in founding Aboriginal theatre in Australia. In 1971 he co-founded Australia’s first Aboriginal theatre company with Bob Maza Nindethana (“Corroboree’s Place”) in a stroller factory in Melbourne. Their first hit in 1972 was called Jack Charles is Up and Fighting and featured music he composed.
In 1972, Charles auditioned for the role of the Aboriginal lead character on the TV show Boney, but was turned down because they were “looking for a blue-eyed actor”. The job went to New Zealand-born James Laurenson, who blackfaced the role.
In 1974, Charles Bennelong starred in Michael Bodie’s Cradle of Hercules in the Old Handbag Theatre production at the Sydney Opera House as part of his inaugural season. Also in the cast is a young David Gouplier.
His stage productions include Jack Davis’ play “Sugar Free” at Perth’s Black Swan Theatre Company.
Charles was the subject of Amiel Courtin-Wilson’s 2008 documentary “Assholes,” which followed him for seven years. The film’s tagline describes him as: “Junkie. Gay. Snitch. Actor. Aboriginal.” The film is the official selection of the Doc/Fest Film Festivals in Singapore, Melbourne, Sydney and Sheffield.
In 2010, the Ilbieri Theatre staged Charles’ one-man show “Jack Charles v The Crown” at the Melbourne Festival. Charles was nominated for a Hepman Award for Best Actor for his performance. Jack Charles v The Crown has since toured Australia and internationally. In 2012 he starred in the Sydney Festival production I am Eora.
Charles played Chief Panther in Joe Wright’s 2015 film Pan.