By CAMERON LUCADOU-WELLS
As a pioneer of Australian “black theatre”, Jack Charles is not afraid of continuing to fight for his rights.
Charles, who is starring in an autobiographical stage show Jack Charles Vs The Crown at The Drum theatre this week, is making a legal stand against the federal government’s arts funding body, the Australia Council.
He says he’ll take action “all the way to the High Court” against the council for its “insulting” insistence that the well-known actor provide written proof of his Aboriginality to receive arts funding.
“To ask an Aboriginal to prove their Aboriginality is racist and an invasion of human rights,” he says.
He argues it can be particularly hard for stolen generation members to provide written evidence of their lineage.
What the case shows is that contempt shown for indigenous people in Australia is still an issue, he says. “We’ll never forget this was our land, that we had sovereignty. They took it from us and have not given anything back for it except British citizenship.”
This week’s stage show, backed by a three-piece band and co-written by renowned playwright John Romeril, makes clear how Charles has overcome immense life challenges.
Charles hopes it will tweak “white Australia’s conscience”.
The show portrays how at two, he was taken from his mother and became part of the ‘stolen generation’.
He was raised, abused and “whitewashed” into becoming a devout Christian at the notorious Box Hill Boys Home — a “weird” time for which he has been compensated a six-figure sum by the home’s manager, The Salvation Army.
As a young adult he claimed back his cultural identity and found his Bururong mother but also was locked up in jail and only recently overcame a long-running heroin and methadone addiction.
His ‘brer rabbit’ (drug habit) started as a way to “elevate” his performances.
Despite the struggles, he became a renowned actor. He founded Australia’s first indigenous theatre group, Nindethana, at The Pram Factory in 1972.
“This show isn’t about ‘poor blackfella me’ but is a celebration of survival, culture, kinship. I know my life is impacting as a role model. People look at me and take a lot from my life.”
He’s become one of the Fitzroy “lawmen” warning young indigenous people from drug addiction. “I tell them white powder is for whitefellas; blackfellas don’t shoot white powder.”
Jack Charles Vs The Crown is at The Drum theatre, Lonsdale Street, Dandenong on Thursday at 8pm. Bookings: 9771 6666 or drumtheatre.com.au.
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