Rachael Maza Long’s first theatre experience was seeing Jack Charles on stage at the Sydney Opera house when she was just nine years old. Now, more than thirty years on, she is directing Uncle Jack’s one-man show, Jack Charles vs. The Crown, as part of the 2010 Melbourne Festival.

Long is the artistic director of The Ilbijerri Theatre Company, a contemporary Australian theatre company creating works by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists. Celebrating 20 years of production this year, Jack Charles vs. The Crown is the ideal show to commemorate this occasion.

“It’s a perfect situation really – Jack is a walking, talking, living legend. He established one of the first modern aboriginal theatre companies in Australia [in 1971] and I am so proud to be honouring this man and following in his footsteps,” says Long. “There’s a real sense of calm with Jack. Maybe there was a professional code of conduct in the old days that isn’t around as much these days but as an artist and actor, he really sets the bar for me. He is one of those rare people that live and breathe the art; the art is inseparable from what he stands for.”

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Jack Charles is better known as Uncle Jack, whose life was made very public in the 2009 AFI-nominated documentary Bastardy, a moving insight into one man’s life as a stolen child, a professional actor, a thief, an addict, a homeless man, an artist and an icon.

“There were two premiers of Bastardy in Melbourne at the film festival because much of Melbourne needed to come and see what it was about,” explains Charles. “This was a big honour for the likes of me – Melbourne was coming to see my story. People were gravitating towards my story and honouring me because I had bared my soul to get people to understand.”

Since to release of Bastardy, further information about Uncle Jack’s journey – from being stolen to where he is now – has come his way, which has directly influenced the writing process for Jack Charles vs. The Crown.

Photography: Bindi Cole

“I never really thought I had the writer trying to burst out of me, but it was more a case of necessity. Through the writing process with [co-writer] John Romeril, I now realise I was taken at three months and placed in a babies’ home in Melbourne and at two years, I was taken to the Box Hill boys’ home,” says Charles.

John Romeril co-authored the upcoming production and also wrote the original play Bastardy for Charles in 1972.

“I’ve written for Jack three times now. The original Bastardy was loosely written around major aspects of Jack’s life and now, because of the doco last year, the public record – as it concerns Jack Charles – is much fatter. And through this public record, things Jack has authentically said can then become text,” explains Romeril.

Charles’s last prison term was where he realised other aboriginal prisoners were treating him as somewhat of an elder – and he realised he should take it seriously.

“Jack’s moved on from junkie-dom. His great fix at the moment is to be a role model and do as much good as he can. He works a lot on the street with young aboriginal people who have fallen by the wayside because he knows so much about them from his own experience. He gives these people the confidence they need to continue with turning point programs, and this is all part of the show,” says Romeril.

At 67 years old, Jack Charles exudes a defiant sense of honesty and a clear determination to create change through his story. Back on the stage where his cheeky charm is most obvious, Uncle Jack is back and ready to share his story at Melbourne’s premier event on the arts calendar.

Jack Charles vs. The Crown runs October 12-17 at The Arts Centre as part of Melbourne Festival.