Page 2779 - Week 09 - Thursday, 8 August 2013

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It is a remarkable show. Jack has been seen by all of us at one stage or other. If you are as old as my parents are and watched Bellbird in the 60s and 70s you may know he was the first Indigenous person to appear in Bellbird. He was the fully naked Bennelong who was dragged centre stage at the Sydney Opera House when that play was performed. He has appeared in films, TV stories and hundreds of plays, including Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith, Bedevil, Ben Hall, The Marriage of Figaro and was, as I have said already, the subject of Amiel Courtin-Wilsons’ award-winning documentary Bastardry. He was awarded the prestigious Tudawali award at the Message Sticks festival in 2009 honouring his lifetime contribution to Indigenous media.

It is a fascinating story. It was put together by director Rachael Maza whose father set up the Ilbijerri Theatre Company, and then she took over. As soon as she had seen the story she said that this certainly had to be made into a film. She had, in fact, seen Jack as the young Bennelong and went and spoke to him. She said:

Jack’s story is not dissimilar to many other Aboriginal people who were victims of past Government policies. He was stolen from his family at three months and placed in a boys’ home, where he would endure years of abuse. He then spent the majority of his adult life doing “burgs” and “doing time” to feed his addiction. There is no doubt in my mind that all of this got in the way of what would have been a truly brilliant career on stage and screen. Melbourne-born and bred, a true Gentleman, generous in spirit, warm of heart, sharp of wit … Jack Charles is a true Elder! It is such a great honour and privilege to work so closely and intimately with one of Australia’s great living legends.

The front of the flyer says:

This fleet-footed, light-fingered one-man show is a theatrical delight and a celebration of black Australia’s dogged refusal to give up on getting on.

It was, in fact, a one-man show with a three-man band, and credit goes to the co-writer, Jack Romeril from Dramaturg. He assisted Jack in putting the show together. The three-man band was Nigel Maclean, the musical director as well as guitar and violin, Mal Beveridge, who played the bass, and Phil Collings, who was on percussion. It really was a very, very good show.

But I think it is best to just read Jack’s artist biography. I apologise for a certain word that is in it, but I think it is important to read it as he wrote it:

Born in 1943, Jack was well and truly a child of the Stolen Generation. He spent many of his formative years in the boys’ homes of Melbourne, which he took on with his usual laconic outlook. “It was all right by me—I was happy to assimilate. The only trouble was I wasn’t ever going to fit in. I’m fucking brown, mate.”

MADAM DEPUTY SPEAKER: Stop the clock. Mr Smyth, I know you forewarned me about this word.


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