“I’m no harm to anybody but to myself. And if this is harmful, bring on the hurt please.” 67-year-old Aboriginal actor Jack Charles speaks like a poem and the harm he’s talking about is his former relationship with heroin. We saw his story about drugs, burglary, prison time and theatre in the documentary Bastardy. Now, he is seducing the nation on stage with a one-man show at the Belvoir. I speak to Australian legend, Uncle Jack.
What can we expect from Jack Charles v the Crown that wasn’t revealed in Bastardy? We honour Bastardy as the foundation of the person I’ve become. We’ve got images screening behind me. Since Bastardy, my life’s turned around. I’ve been able to jump off the methadone and start living like a beacon for others in my community. I also found the power of writing my own material.
We do backdrops from Bastardy but the new photos that have come from the heritage mob and the blokes from Box Hill Boy’s Home, my siblings if you will, have remembered me once they saw Bastardy on ABC nationwide. They wrote in and sent me photographs. And we’ve added these into the show. It’s a revelation. It follows from the documentary.
I’d also hooked up with Bunjilaka Melbourne and in essence they brought me home with so much information on the Bringing Them Home program. So much information about my forbearers. My great great greats, where my mother came from. On the opening night, during Christmas time last year, I found who my father was.
Wow. Yea, they weren’t married so therefore a bastard I’ll still remain, thank god (laughs).
How does it feel to be back on stage? Oh it’s great. Being up there is where I’ve always felt comfortable. It’s good being up there, just me alone with three band members on the side. I’ve always felt that every performer, in their lives, should try to do a one-man show.
How do you actually feel when you are on stage? 10 foot tall. I really do ya’ know. I get a realisation that we are getting full houses. Melbourne and Sydney audiences were being treated to light performance from this particular little black duck. I’m being honoured for that and I feel, like I said, 10 feet tall. The performance is more genuine too. Remember that I haven’t trod the boards for over a decade and a bit. When I did the Melbourne Festival, it was a hesitant performance but I whizzed through it and I was so proud to have done it. And now we are ready to take it up to Belvoir.
It’s easy for the rest of us to see your life as an extraordinary one. Do you feel you’ve lived an extraordinary life? I do realise that now. It’s a fair comment to say now. My life’s embedded in the National Archives even. I mean very few people get that opportunity. Very few black fellas get that opportunity. There are more stories to come now. It’s given me the power, as my memories come on with a clarity that I never thought I could ever get. The eagles must be flying over me, protecting me. And I suppose that’s the reason why I’m still here at 67.
What scares you? Not being taken seriously.
What’s your best memory? The memory of former CIU (Criminal Investigations Unit) inspectors, retired, coming to see Bastardy, twice to see JC v The Crown. This is heartening for me. Even people I’ve robbed have come up to me after the show and said “Oh my Charles, we lived in a large house up in Melbourne many years ago and we were robbed and we were wondering…” (laughs). These are good memories for me, connecting with these people. Knowing that they are there in the audience and they enjoyed the show.
What’s your biggest regret? That it took me till I was over 60 to get on the methadone program. I’m the kind of guy that I told myself once I got on the program, I will never use the needle again and I hadn’t so it’s been great staying clean the past seven years.
Would you agree with the saying youth is wasted on the young? Oh my word. Yes, yes, yes. I have been reborn. Not a reborn Christian, religion scares the bejesus out of me.
Uncle Jack, it’s been an honour talking to you. Thank you very much. Thanks mate.
Until Apr 17, Belvoir St Downstairs Theatre, 25 Belvoir St, Surry Hills, 9699 3444, belvoir.com.au