What I See with Peter Fiorenza: My memorable encounter with the late stage and screen actor Uncle Jack Charles

Peter FiorenzaMidwest Times
Peter Fiorenza with Uncle Jack.
Camera IconPeter Fiorenza with Uncle Jack. Credit: Supplied

Last week, many of us lamented the loss of the Queen.

There is no doubt, her life was impactful, but someone else of note also died around the same time.

Uncle Jack Charles was an Aboriginal stage and screen actor, who was also known for his advocacy for Aboriginal people.

Born in Victoria, Uncle Jack was part of the Stolen Generation who first made his acting name in the role of Harry Edwards in the 1970s critically acclaimed film, The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith.

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But Uncle Jack’s own life could be made into a movie.

From orphanage to boarding school, to countless foster homes, and in and out of jail, his background reads like a script that is eclectic, to say the least.

It was only in the last couple of years that I became interested in this humble man with the wiry white hair and beard shaped around a weathered face.

In 2017, Uncle Jack was the subject on an episode of Anh Do’s Brush with Fame. You know, the TV show, where Anh Do creates his own, unique, portraits of guests, while chatting to them about their lives.

Anh Do tends to have a style that relaxes people, and you learn quite a bit about someone in half an hour, including a revealing portraiture.

It was while watching this episode that I really learnt a lot about Jack Charles — not only the life he led, but also insight into who he was as a person.

In fact, the portrait won the Archibald People’s Choice Award. And the painting was, in my opinion, a dead ringer.

So much so, that two years ago, while coming off a train at Sydney’s Central Station, I spied someone who I thought looked familiar.

I racked my brain trying to put a name to a face.

“Charles. . . ummm. . . Uncle Charles. . . arrrr. . . Jack Charles. . . rings a bell.”

I quickly pulled out my phone and googled. And up came Uncle Jack’s picture.

Yes, the little bearded fella, sitting alone having a coffee was Uncle Jack Charles.

Now, I was a little excited. I walked over somewhat nervous and introduced myself.

Uncle Jack looked up with a big smile on his face. “Hello Peter, would you like to join me?,” he asked.

So, I sat down and spent a couple of minutes “shooting the breeze” with the great Uncle Jack Charles.

And as you do, when meeting a celebrity, I asked him for a selfie, then left him, losing the diminutive figure in the crowd of busy commuters.

Peter Fiorenza hosts Fiorenza on Sunday between 10am and noon on Radio MAMA

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