Last night I went to see the theatre production Jack Charles V The Crown by the Ilbijerri Theatre Company at The Fairfax Studio in the Melbourne Arts Centre. Jack Charles is an aboriginal actor, now in his 60's and a few years back he was the subject of the documentary Bastardy. I had seen the documentary and was moved by the tragic nature of his life and his ability to persist and even positively engage with his reality. He is an incredibly charismatic character with an infectious humour and curiosity for life.
One of the Stolen Generation, Jack spent his childhood in and out of foster and state care. He founded the first Aboriginal theatre company in 1970 and has had a successful career as an actor but has also succumbed to heroin addiction and crime, spending a large part of his life incarcerated.
When he walked into Northcote Pottery a few months back, to have publicity shots taken for this production, I felt relieved to see him well and out of jail. It turns out Jack is a potter. He learnt to throw in Castlemaine jail and went on to become a teacher of ceramics, telling all his students "from clay we come and clay we shall be."
The play is his own telling of his life story and part of his continuing process to reclaim his identity and gain a sense of self. On stage he talked about living in the suburb in which I now live and having committed thefts to support his addiction from houses near to my childhood home. It feels odd (to say the least) to have lived such wildly different existences in such close proximity, treading the same land and having that commonality of passion for pottery.
I feel glad to have been able to loan Jack my potter's wheel for the production and it was very special to be included at the indigenous community preview of his play.
Jack Charles V The Crown
12 - 17 October 2010
The Melbourne International Art Festival