Jack Charles (b. 1943), actor, Indigenous elder and activist, was born at the Cummeragunja Mission on the Murray River and taken from his mother when he was less than twelve months old. Raised in a boys’ home in Melbourne, he was seventeen when he was jailed for the first time, his heroin habit and consequent regular resort to petty theft seeing him in and out of prison throughout the subsequent decades. In 1971, he was involved in establishing Nindethana, Australia’s first Indigenous theatre ensemble, and subsequently had roles in the television series Ben Hall (1975) and Rush (1976), and the film The chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (1978). In 1981, he appeared in the Channel 028 (SBS) mini-series Women of the Sun. Further film roles came in 1993 with Blackfellas and Tracey Moffatt’s Bedevil. Since then, having beaten addiction and re-connected with his cultural heritage, Charles has performed in a number of television and theatre roles, and was the subject of the 2008 documentary, Bastardy, which, as Charles put it, chronicled his transition ‘from a rogue and a vagabond to a person of note and a role model in my community’. Between 2010 and 2013, he toured Australia with his autobiographical work, Jack Charles versus the Crown.
Rod McNicol’s portrait of his friend Jack Charles won the National Photographic Portrait Prize for 2012.