Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and other Australian political leaders have paid tribute to revered actor and Indigenous Elder Uncle Jack Charles after his death at age 79.
On Tuesday morning, the Boon Wurrang, Dja Dja Wurrung, Woiwurrung and Yorta Yorta senior Elder died peacefully surrounded by loved ones in Melbourne after a stroke.
Tributes poured in following Uncle Jack’s death, including from the Prime Minister who said the beloved performer “uplifted our nation” with his heart, passion and contribution to the arts.
“A victim of the Stolen Generation, he was removed from his mum and sent to a mission in Shepparton, then Brunswick and Box Hill Boys Home where he was a victim of abuse in his early life,” Anthony Albanese said.
“He was incarcerated 22 times for burglary and drug offences, involved in establishing Indigenous theatre in the 1970s, including co-founding Australia’s first Indigenous theatre group.
“His film career, an area will be familiar to so many Australians, began in 1979 with The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith, which I studied for my HSC. Many Australians are familiar with that work.
“He was the first Indigenous elder to speak at the Yoorrook Justice Commission.
Albanese said Uncle Jack Charles “lived a very hard life but leaves a joyous legacy.”
“He endured cruelty, he endured pain. But he uplifted our nation with his heart, with his genius, his creativity and his passion. And I pay tribute to him today.”
Jack Charles lived a hard life and he leaves a joyous legacy. He endured cruelty, he knew pain. He survived every turn of the vicious cycle, holding on to his humanity. Jack Charles uplifted our nation with his heart, his genius, his creativity and passion. pic.twitter.com/MvJwJ6usps
— Anthony Albanese (@AlboMP) September 13, 2022
‘We have lost a legend’
Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney remembered Uncle Jack as a “remarkable truth-teller” in a statement.
“He was a groundbreaking storyteller and activist who brought people in with his warmth and grace, never shying away from his past and who he was,” Burney said.
“Uncle Jack offered a window for many Australians to see the enduring pain of survivors of the Stolen Generations and inspired people with his strength of character and resilience.”
Burney said Uncle Jack is widely considered to be the “grandfather of Indigenous theatre”.
“We have lost a legend of Australian theatre, film and creative arts. Vale Uncle Jack,” she said.
It was with great sadness I learned today of the passing of Uncle Jack Charles.
We have lost a legend of Australian theatre, film and creative arts.
Vale Uncle Jack. pic.twitter.com/C82cMIzUrC
— Linda Burney MP (@LindaBurneyMP) September 13, 2022
‘Uncle Jack Charles spent his life searching’
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said in a statement there is “no actor, no activist, no survivor and no Victorian quite like Uncle Jack Charles.”
“Uncle Jack’s breakthrough was his first hit play, Jack Charles is Up and Fighting,” Andrews said.
“He couldn’t have chosen a more prophetic title if he tried.
“At a time when Aboriginal actors were overlooked for even Aboriginal roles, he co-founded Australia’s first Indigneous theatre – Nindethana.
“And against all odds he’d become a household name.
“With his powerful voice, and even more powerful story he blazed a path in Australia and around the world.
“But his most important work was always right here in Victoria.
“As a child, he was stolen from his mother, separated from his family and from his culture.
“Like so many members of the Stolen Generations, Uncle Jack would spend his life searching.
“One of the last time’s he’d tell his story would be at the Yoorrook Justice Commission – and in doing so he permanently etched it into our state’s history.
“With his stories he gave us so much. Laughter, anguish, insight – and justice. He will be sorely missed.
“Vale Uncle Jack.”
Vale Uncle Jack Charles. pic.twitter.com/JbeNiocuWd
— Dan Andrews (@DanielAndrewsMP) September 13, 2022
‘Unforgettable wit and energy’
Arts Minister Tony Burke said Uncle Jack was “a trailblazer, a truth-teller and an incredible artist”.
“Uncle Jack Charles was a beloved and respected Elder, gifted actor, musician and potter,” Burke said.
“His familiar face, remarkable voice and dry sense of humour have been a mainstay for decades now.”
Greens leader Adam Bandt also paid tribute to Uncle Jack Charles’ “unforgettable wit and energy and generosity and courage.”
“What a life. What a storyteller. Vale,” Bandt tweeted.
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