Beloved actor and Indigenous Elder Uncle Jack Charles dies aged 79

actor and indigenous aboriginal elder uncle jack charles
Image: Nichollas Harrison/Wikimedia Commons

Revered Australian actor and prominent Indigenous Elder Uncle Jack Charles has died aged 79.

The Boon Wurrung, Dja Dja Wurrung, Woiwurrung and Yorta Yorta senior Elder passed away in Melbourne on Tuesday morning.

He died surrounded by friends and family at the Royal Hospital of Melbourne after suffering a stroke, his publicist said.

His family were able to send him off on Country during a smoking ceremony at the hospital as he passed.

They’ve given permission for Uncle Jack’s name and image to be used after his death.

Uncle Jack Charles was a prominent Australian arts figure, gay man, revered First Nations activist and Stolen Generations survivor.

His family said he “will live on in our hearts and memories through his numerous screen and stage roles”.

“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.

“May he be greeted by his ancestors on his return home.”

Earlier this year, Uncle Jack was named NAIDOC male Elder of the Year at the 2022 NAIDOC Awards.

Tributes have flowed for Uncle Jack Charles after his death.

Victoria’s LGBTIQ+ Commissioner Todd Fernando said he was heartbroken “like everyone else in our LGBTIQ+ and Aboriginal communities today, and most others.”

“His life journey, his courage, his cheeky delight in being able to finally live his full authentic self will remain an inspiration for us all,” he said.

Uncle Jack Charles’ acting career spans six decades

Uncle Jack Charles’ acting career spanned six decades, from 1978 film The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith to ABC drama Cleverman.

He has been called the grandfather of Indigenous theatre in Australia. He co-founded the first Indigenous theatre company Nindethana with Bob Maza in 1971.

Uncle Jack frequently used his art to share his personal and often painful life experiences, including of racism and periods of homelessness and incarceration.

In later years, he would work with Indigenous prisoners to fight recidivism.

Last year, Uncle Jack reconnected with long-lost family

Earlier this year, Uncle Jack Charles was the first Elder to speak at Victoria’s truth-telling Yoorrook Justice Commission about his life after being taken from his mother at four months old.

“I wasn’t even told I was Aboriginal. I had to discover that for myself,” he told the inquiry.

However he said the experience was later marred when he was “retraumatised” by being asked to prove his Aboriginality to receive reparations from the Victorian government.

Last year, Uncle Jack travelled around Australia for a moving episode of SBS genealogy series Who Do You Think You Are?

He discovered the identity of his father and his family’s roots back generations across Victoria and Tasmania.

He told the program not knowing his father’s identity earlier was “part of the missing jigsaw, the puzzle, that doesn’t make me complete within myself.”

“I do feel the connection now. I’m not a fatherless child. I’m not a bastard anymore,” he said.

“Family is one of the prized possessions that people have. I’m only [now] learning about this because I’ve never really known it. I don’t have pictures on my wall. People have pictures of their families on their walls but I’ve never done that.

“My story has been lost and with this story I’ve been healed again.”

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Jordan Hirst
Jordan Hirst

Jordan Hirst is an experienced journalist and content creator with a career spanning over a decade at QNews. Since 2012, the Brisbane local has covered an enormous range of topics and subjects in-depth affecting the LGBTIQA+ community, both in Australia and overseas. Today, the Brisbane-based journalist covers everything from current affairs, politics and health to sport and entertainment.

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