Jack Charles: Born-again Blakfella by Jack Charles with Namila Benson
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.