Jack Charles: Born-again Blakfella

Jack Charles

Jack Charles: Born-again Blakfella
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Jack Charles: Born-again Blakfella

Jack Charles

Stolen from his mother and placed into institutional care when he was only a few months old, Uncle Jack was raised under the government’s White Australia Policy. The loneliness and isolation he experienced during those years had a devastating impact on him that endured long after he reconnected with his Aboriginal roots and discovered his stolen identity. Even today he feels like an outsider; a loner; a fringe dweller.

In this honest and no-holds-barred memoir, Uncle Jack reveals the ‘ups and downs of this crazy, drugged up, locked up, fucked up, and at times unbelievable, life'. From his sideline as a cat burglar, battles with drug addiction and stints in prison, to gracing the nation’s stages and screens as he dazzled audiences with his big personality and acting prowess, he takes us through the most formative moments of his life.

By turns heartbreaking and hilarious, Jack Charles: Born-again Blakfella is a candid and uplifting memoir from one of Australia’s finest and most beloved actors.


Told with heart-wrenching honesty and humour, Jack Charles’s story is a history of necessary change. Charles is an actor, musician, potter and gifted performer, but in his seventy-three years he has also been homeless, a drunk, a heroin addict, a thief and a regular in Victoria’s prisons.

He is the son of Blanchie Charles. He is Boon Wurrung, Dja Dja Wurrung, Woiwurrung and Yorta Yorta. Charles is not only Koorie, but also a Wiradjuri man from his father’s side. This is his account of his undeniably successful acting career,but it is, moreover, a narrative of being part of the Stolen Generations, of being an activist, and of believing that people are good and can change.

There are laugh-out-loud moments in this memoir. I was particularly taken with a story about how Charles shared a cup of tea with the homeowners of a place he had just broken into. I guess that is one of his gifts; he can make friends in any place, in any situation. He can likewise tell a great tale and his book is a terrific read. It traces the trajectory of his life and of a nation in the throes of transformation.

Jack Charles’s story is so much a part of Melbourne that several of his tales of film and theatre work are already known to me. However, I didn’t know about his experiences of what it was like to be in a prison cell, or to steal food, or to be terrorised by police. So much of his life is simply not fair. It’s not how we imagine our country. This is a book we all need to read.

Chris Gordon is the programming and events manager for Readings.

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