Artwork featuring the late Uncle Jack Charles to have a new home at Ulumbarra

Media release

The City of Greater Bendigo has purchased a stunning artwork of the late Uncle Jack Charles created by a local emerging First Nations artist.

The artwork celebrates Uncle Jack’s life as an actor, musician and activist and was created by a former Bendigo Senior Secondary College (BSSC) student and First Nations artist Keira Long.

BV&E Coordinator Creative Communities Maree Tonkin said the bold artwork honoured the much-loved First Nations Elder.

“The artwork will be on display at Ulumbarra to celebrate the late Uncle Jack Charles, who enjoyed a prolific career in the performing arts and was highly respected for his work in the community as an Elder and activist,” Ms Tonkin said.

“The theme for this year’s Reconciliation Week at the end of May is ‘Be a Voice for Generations’ and Uncle Jack certainly made a positive difference in so many ways.

“Uncle Jack also played an important role at the opening of the Ulumbarra Theatre in 2015 where he captivated the audience talking about Dja Dja Wurrung history.  

“This artwork has so many synergies with Ulumbarra and it was an opportunity to profile a young First Nations artist who also enjoys a connection to Ulumbarra as a former student at BSSC.”

The Wiradjuri artist Ms Long said she chose to capture Uncle Jack for many reasons.

“The artwork reflects the essence and purpose of a strong Elder who represented our community, Country and people throughout his life and still continues to shine among all Elders,” Ms Long said.

“The bright colours in the background and the clothing represent Uncle’s quirky and outgoing personality and the red and yellows throughout his beard represent the soil and mother nature’s sun from the Aboriginal flag. The Aboriginal symbol on the border represents the journey Uncle has gone through and continues to throughout dreamtime.”

The portrait was first seen at the opening of Bendigo’s First Nations gallery Djaa Djuwima last November (located in Bendigo Visitor Centre).

A new billboard at the back of The Capital has also been commissioned and installed by Bendigo Venues & Events (BV&E), following approval from Heritage Victoria in 2022. 

A copy of Ms Long’s artwork is the first image to appear on a newly installed public billboard at the back of The Capital theatre for the next six months.

BV&E will curate all the billboard’s public artworks. The purpose is to create additional exhibition space to showcase and support local creatives. 

The City purchased the artwork from Ms Long and paid $2,000.

Background on Uncle Jack Charles

Uncle Jack enjoyed an illustrious acting career on stage, film and TV and is best known for films such as The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, Bedevil, Blackfellas, Tom White and Pan. In later life, he appeared in Wolf Creek and ABC drama series Cleverman. 

He established the first Indigenous theatre, Nindethana, with fellow activist and actor Bob Maza, in 1972. He voiced his own powerful story in The 2011 Helpmann Award-winning play, Jack Charles V The Crown.

The performer and activist was part of the stolen generations who endured many personal challenges, including abuse as a child in care. It led to addiction, homelessness, and many stints in jail until 2006. 

As a reformed man seeking to help others, Uncle Jack became a respected Elder across Victoria for his work in supporting and campaigning for all Aboriginal people, particularly as a mentor for Aboriginal youth in the prison system and youth detention centres. 

He was the first Elder to give a testimony at the Yoorrook Commission to establish an official record of First Nations experiences since colonisation in Victoria.

As a gay man, Uncle Jack wanted LGBTQIA+ First Nations people to be true to themselves. 

Uncle Jack was the Victorian Senior Australian of the Year in 2015 and named Male Elder of the Year in the 2022 National NAIDOC Week Awards. He passed away aged 79 last September.

Greater Bendigo