Words: Matt Innes
Beloved Aboriginal actor and artist Uncle Jack Charles has passed away, aged 79.
Tributes are pouring in for the esteemed Boon Wurrung, Dja Dja Wurrung, Woiwurrung and Yorta Yorta elder, who is being remembered for his contributions to Australian theatre as well as his warmth and cheeky sense of humour.
Uncle Jack passed away peacefully at Royal Melbourne Hospital after suffering a stroke. A statement from his publicist reads:
“Before he passed away, his family were able to send him off on Country during a smoking ceremony at the Royal Melbourne Hospital,” the statement said.
“We are so proud of everything he has achieved in his remarkable life — Elder, actor, musician, potter, activist, mentor, a household name and voice loved by all — as is demonstrated by his numerous awards including this year’s NAIDOC Male Elder of the Year.
“He will live on in our hearts and memories and through his numerous screen and stage roles.
“May he be greeted by his Ancestors on his return home.”
Lovingly known as the ‘father of black theatre’, Uncle Jack co-founded Australia’s first Indigenous theatre group Nindethana Theatre with Bob Maza in 1971.
His career spans multiple decades and disciplines, working in theatre, film, music and pottery among his tireless advocacy efforts.
As a survivor of the Stolen Generation, Uncle Jack’s work illuminated the damaging trauma of dispossession, gravely informed by his harrowing experiences at institutions such as Salvation Army Boys’ Home at Box Hill in Melbourne.
A former heroin addict who spent much of his life in and out of prison, Uncle Jack became a respected elder and an influential mentor for Aboriginal youth in the prison system.
In this role, Uncle Jack partnered with revered Australian musician and fellow elder Archie Roach, who passed away earlier this year in July. The two shared a passion for mentoring young Indigenous Australians through the Archie Roach Foundation.
It was a rare privilege to interview Archie Roach in 2019 [click here to read the story], a man who contributed so much to Australian music, culture and society.
His music continued the proud oral tradition of passing down stories through song, preserving the fragile language of Indigenous Australia.
The passing of Uncle Jack Charles and Archie Roach follow the death of David Gulpilil in late-2021, a legend of Australian screen who brought Aboriginal culture to the world through his work in films like ‘Walkabout’, ‘Storm Boy’, ‘Crocodile Dundee’, ‘Rabbit-Proof Fence’ and ‘The Tracker’.
Uncle Jack, Archie Roach and David Gulpilil were trailblazing pioneers who, through their creative endeavours, gave voice and vision to the persevering experiences of Indigenous Australians.
Their works form an integral part of the Australian national identity, and their legacies will be honoured for years to come as subsequent generations seek inspiration from their forebearers.
MADCAP Global offers our solemn respect to Uncle Jack Charles, Archie Roach and David Gulpilil, as well as their families and friends.