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Uncle Jack Charles
Photograph: Arts Centre Melbourne

Vale Uncle Jack Charles: legendary actor, musician and Victorian Aboriginal elder

The "father of black theatre" passed away at 79 in Melbourne this morning

Written by
Bianca O'Neill
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Uncle Jack Charles' family has given the media permission to use his name and image in relation to this news story.

Boon Wurrung, Dja Dja Wurrung, Woiwurrung and Yorta Yorta actor and musician, Uncle Jack Charles, has passed away in Melbourne this morning. According to a statement from his publicist, Charles was sent off with a smoking ceremony at the Royal Melbourne Hospital after suffering a stroke.

"We are so proud of everything he has achieved in his remarkable life," said the statement. "Elder, actor, musician, potter, activist, mentor, a household name and voice loved by all — as is demonstrated by his numerous awards, including this year's NAIDOC Male Elder of the Year."

"He will live on in our hearts and memories and through his numerous screen and stage roles. May he be greeted by his Ancestors on his return home."

Uncle Jack Charles was a Victorian legend of the stage and screen, beginning his career in the 70s by co-establishing Australia's first Indigenous-led theatre group, which was based in Melbourne. He went on to feature in a raft of critically acclaimed roles in films including The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (1978), Bedevil (1993), Blackfellas (1993), Tom White (2004) and Pan (2015). His earlier life was marked by the trauma of abuse, drug use and incarceration, and he was a Stolen Generation survivor who dedicated his later life to supporting Indigenous youth caught in the prison system. 

In a tweet earlier today, prime minister Anthony Albanese said: "Jack Charles lived a hard life and he leaves a joyous legacy. He endured cruelty, he knew pain. He survived every turn of the vicious cycle, holding on to his humanity."

"Jack Charles uplifted our nation with his heart, his genius, his creativity and passion."

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