In this episode Lidia yarns with Uncle Jack Charles about the importance of Truth telling in order to move forward as a Nation. In this yarn Lidia and Uncle Jack explore what a National Treaty(ies) could look like in this country and the opportunities a modern Treaty(ies) could bring.
Uncle Jack Charles is a Boon Wurrung, Dja Dja Wurrung, Palawa and Yorta Yorta man, an Elder, accomplished actor and co-founder of the first Indigenous theatre company in this country. Uncle Jack is a member of the stolen generations and was taken from his mother when he was only a few months old. Put into institutional care and separated from family and culture, this trauma would heavily impact the course of his life. Uncle Jack struggled with drug addiction and experienced homelesseness. He has been incarcerated 20 times and describes himself as a ‘serial pest’. Today, Uncle Jack is a respected Elder in Melbourne.
These recordings took place on the unceded sovereign lands of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation.
Connect with Senator Lidia Thorpe
Before we can move forward, before we can heal, we must tell the truth. This is truth telling, with me Lidia Thorpe. I'm a proud Djab Wurrung, Gunnai Gunditjmara woman. I'm a human rights, climate and forest activist, a mum, a grand-mum and a survivor of family violence. Now, I'm your Greens Senator for Victoria. This is a place to listen, stay open and learn, as I yarn with First Nations Elders, experts and activists about the injustices facing our people and importantly, the solutions and opportunities that can come from self determination through the right policy.
You just heard a song from the deadly Djirri Djirri, Wurundjeri women who dance and sing on Country for Country. This interview and all interviews will take place on Wurundjeri Country, the unceded sovereign lands of Wurundjeri and the Kulin Nation.
Uncle Jack 1:43
Good to be with you here in Treasury Place in a Parliamentary building. I'm wrapped Lidia, to be in your office.
Deadly Uncle Jack and it's really an honour and a privilege to have you here. I always love having a good yarn with you. And yeah, we're just yarning earlier hey? And thought about how long you've known me and it's basically since the day I was born back in 1973, at the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service. So Uncle Jack, I'm just going to do an intro and let people know that not only that you're an incredible Elder of our people, but you're also a Boon Wurrung, Dja Dja Wurrung, Palawa, and Yorta Yorta man and respected Elder, an accomplished author, actor and co-founder of the first Indigenous theatre company in this country. And Uncle Jack is a member of the Stolen Generation and was taken from his mother when he was only a few months old. Uncle Jack was put into an institutional care and separated from family and culture. This trauma would heavily impact the course of Uncle Jack's life. Uncle Jack struggled with drug addiction and experienced homelessness. He has been incarcerated 20 times and describes himself as a serial pest. Today, Uncle Jack is a respected elder in Melbourne, in Victoria in the country and I think all around the world because there are little girls out there that always talk about Uncle Jack in Peter Pan (Pan, 2015). And yeah, what an amazing Elder and y'know, it was a tribal elder that you played kind of in that movie. So, Uncle Jack, we're here to have a yarn about Treaty today. Which, y'know, you know that our mob have been talking about Treaty for a long, long time. So can you tell me what Treaty means to you?
Uncle Jack 3:53
Well, Treaty means for me personally, that we would be taken seriously by our Parliament, that we would be able to seek an audience with various members of Parliament, the Premier himself as elders as leaders in our own right that we place our concerns before him and our Dreamings our desires. We point out in this treaty process, the pitfalls of closing down community hubs around the State and therefore the rise and rise and rise of young and old ones in our youth detention centres and adult prisons, and ecetera. So, we need a treaty to be able to have a voice in Parliament and I believe that Dan Andrews has got to sign a semblance of Treaty. We have a mob that's coming in there, the mob, that Treaty and we have that same mob. Along with Treaty comes the stories of trauma and ecetera. So, those of us that are of the Stolen Generation, those that have come out of their addictions, lives of crimes, can front Parliament and tell their stories and that's part of the Treaty process too. Having a Treaty can be a big measure of healing for Victorian Indigenous People and indeed, for the nation.
So, I hear in what you've just said that maybe it's truth telling that needs to be part of the Treaty journey that we go on and so, why do you think truth telling should be part of a Treaty? And why do you think even truth telling is important?
Uncle Jack 5:57
Well, right from the get go, when I subjected myself to that eight year process, two of them spent doing one year jail sentences in documenting the most inappropriate moments of my life, y'know, showcasing on the big screen at Melbourne International Film Festival with Barstardy the doco, showcasing to white Australia, just one stolen persons journey. It was my journey and it was a measure of healing by 2008, I'd realised that I was outing myself in so many ways that I hadn't thought possible. But there it's on film, it's a big statement to be made big, Blak, bold and brilliant, to be able to express your true self, the way I handled life at that time. Melbournians loved it, because they love nothing better than somebody that's well and truly honest with their weaknesses and shame fully, because there's many people that have shown that this is right, y'know, you have to be honest with yourself. If you want to move on, you can't hide it, you have to be honest and that.
`So do you think in that instance that you took people along on the journey that they felt part of it, which also allowed them to be open and to understand the struggles of a lot of our people.
Uncle Jack 7:33
And there's nothing like somebody coming up to you bouncing when I'm having a latte at Friends of the Earth or across the road at Rosa's having a latte and somebody will bounce up real super excited, young or old, y'know, tripping over themselves to tell me: Uncle! I'm off the methadone, thank you very much! I told them how to get off it, take charge yourself, go and see your doctor, tell your doctor that you intend to take charge of your dosage and when you take your doses. So, I'm gonna come in every second, so tell the chemists too of your intentions and wean yourself off in your own time. It took me two years to jump off the methadone after I came out in 2005. That same two years, I finished off the documentary Barstardy. I did the Elders Leadership Skills Course at various venues in the States with Chocko and that, so there you go. This allowed me to take a step back because I was preparing myself to be, y'know, the Muramali Program and that had worked. Lorraine Peeters, and her daughter Shaan had worked a treat with me. So, they were the ones that forced the penny to drop for me. So, I came out expressly to be a key player in the humanities.
And to create a space and to allow healing from a safe space that was created and to create that safe space, we have to deal with some of the hard truth and truth telling.
Uncle Jack 9:21
So Treaty is designed, y'know, in approaching Treaty we have to express our desire for the state to trust us, we're Aboriginal, it should be on a t-shirt, trust me, I'm Aboriginal. And so the point is, we put across to them the evidence that we can understand why you closed certain organisations down. And me as an old thief we cry loudest when we see injustice, especially Blak money being feathered in people running those organisations in their nest and that.
So, do you think Treaty will fix it?
Uncle Jack 10:05
I think Treaty will fix it because we'll point out that, let's go for a new program, let's fund, give us buildings, small towns, we can talk, you can talk the local councils into giving us one of their empty buildings. So, that people coming out of Malmsbury having done time, the young ones, or the older ones coming back into their community of Horsham, Shepparton, Maroubra, Swan Hill and that. We need to really thoroughly invest in solid edifices designed specifically for sanctuary, a hub for people to gravitate towards, to have the cottage industries invested in there, to have meeting rooms in there, professionals coming in and talking.
Like the old days!
Uncle Jack 10:56
Like the old days! Like Jan Chessel's had set up and that. That's why I wrote it in my play, Jack Charles Versus The Crown and that I wrote this very notion, the audience in the second third that became the High Court of Australia and I was pleading to have my criminal record expunged your honour, so that I can reconstitute the new Nindabyre Workshop Co-op.
Really? I missed that.
That's what I wrote. Oh yeah, so I have been ever since, y'know, 2010 I have been pushing to y'know, reconstitute community hubs. I believe it'll keep people out of jail because I believe local police would rather, y'know, deliver some upstarts rather to the community hub, y'know, there'll be beds there, it's gonna be a 24/7 measure. It'll be the centre of excellence for Indigenous people.
Yes. And, and when I say like the old times, it really comes back to self determination and Aboriginal people making the decisions for, with Aboriginal people. The top down approach from government and y'know, all the ideas that come from them about how we should live our life, hasn't worked for 200 years, over 200 years. So, when we talk about the old days and Uncle Jack and I, for the listeners out there, have known as I said earlier, he's known me for all my life. But back in the old days, we had those hubs, we had the Nindabyre (?) Workshop, where I myself used to learn how to burn boomerang with the burner.
Uncle Jack 12:53
That's right, on the free fly boomerangs.
Yes and we used to make clap sticks and we used to sit around with Aunty Jan and we'd learn about our history and our culture.
Uncle Jack 13:05
And we'd go into primary schools and ecetera.
Yes. That was one hub, we also had the Fitzroy Stars Aboriginal Community Youth Club gymnasium where a lot of our young fellas went in there and Uncle Jock would get them off the street if they were rowing and he would take them into the gym and say, nup youse have got to have a row in the boxing ring,
Uncle Jack 13:26
Punch that bag instead.
And then we had the Aboriginal Health Service down the road and that was a place where you could get a feed and connect with community, it wasn't about health, it was about a holistic, bringing people together and healing holistically. Then we had the Park and we'd go up and look after all the Parkies and have barbecues with the Parkies. So, we had hubs and created safe spaces for our people but those decisions were made by our people. And so is that what you'd like to see again through a Treaty?
Uncle Jack 14:03
Reconstituted though, but this time run with a particularly Blak watch on the Auditor General's, the Government Auditor General's and the Blak watch on financing with Blak people, y'know, keeping a Blak watch on finances and ecetera. And also to follow through with programs, people coming out of jail, need assistance. Probably we should be visiting people before they come out, finishing their time asking them, do you think you're safe enough to go back into your community? Y'know are you powerful enough to knock back the welcome home whack from your peers, from your brothers and sisters, from your father and mother, from your uncle's from your granddad's, y'know from your peers and ecetera. So, we need places designed specifically, sanctuaries, buildings for these people to gravitate towards, y'know even here down in Melbourne if Yarra Council gave us a building down here, it would be run by Aboriginal people, but we'd allow anybody to come in.
Absolutely, absolutely we're always been like that.
Uncle Jack 15:24
And we'd apprise those young ones and the older African Australians, come along to the Nindabyre Workshop mach two, if you want to get on the pottery wheel or do some woodwork, sheet metal, anything
That's right, pottery wheels, that's the first time I touched a pottery wheel. Uncle Jack, how do you think it would have impacted your life if we had a Treaty? From what you know about a Treaty?
Uncle Jack 15:51
I don't think I would have done much, y'know, as much jail time. I think that the penny would have dropped earlier by accessing somebody in a building designed for us to gravitate towards, the hub, the community hub and that we had people giving sage advice to those that they know full well are on the edge of mucking up again. And we know who is likely to muck up and so you give them sage advice, you give them a chop out and you give them certain words that can be spoken. The same words can't be used for everyone else, you have to work on the individual, you have to know them.
That's right. You got to take the time you got to build the trust.
And that's theway I've been working since I've come out, I've worked with the would-be, could-be gangster cousins, dealers and all that kind of stuff as you do y'know. Because they're all proud that I've stopped
Uncle Jack 16:57
And they're pretty happy with it because 'know, I'm performing on stage or in front of a camera with no drug enhancements anymore. Yeah, tending them with honesty and integrity and that's what I tell them.
Deadly, deadly. It just gives people hope, y'know and it's inspiring to have an Elder like yourself, share their story of struggle and how you were able to overcome that and how you want to reach out to everybody else, all our mob that are experiencing the same thing and going through tough times.
Uncle Jack 17:29
And Treaty, Lidia also means that this mob here, allows the likes of myself to come in with the Wodonga mob and other Elders here in Victoria, giving evidence that that series of inquiries a couple of years ago as to the reason why we believe that certain criminal records could be expunged within the space of three, five and 10 years, for some individual three months and that. And I was there for the reading in the lower house. Then I went away to rehearse Black Ties and then when I came back Fitzroy Free Legal Service, Megan Fitzgerald ran, super excited and said Uncle Jack you've had a win, I said what? Daniel Andrews put his own bill in, he's calling it the Spent Conviction Scheme. So, I zoomed immediately into Malmsbury, told those kids and then into Fulham and Barwon and told a gentleman down there that there can be a light at the end of the tunnel, if you choose to see the light though. Are you Blak enough to see the light fellas? That's what I tell 'em and that, so, that's part of the Treaty is that's part of the Treaty process, that you allow Elders because, years ago governments, Federal governments even were saying, we need the Elders to tell us where to go what to do.
So, for me and what Uncle Robbie Thorpe always says is Treaty is about, we need peace.
Uncle Jack 19:11
I'm absolutely at peace now because, I know with this Treaty process that's happening that I've already been given a leg in the door. I'm on first name terms with the Premier of Victoria, he's come and seen Black ties and he laughed his tits off, he really enjoyed it.
Good on him, it is pretty funny. I came and saw it too.
Uncle Jack 19:37
So, he's up for this other conversation, I believe, to try a new round under this Treaty process.
And let's not leave anyone out hey, because we also know the Victorian Treaty process isn't perfect and there's a number of mobs that aren't included in it.
Uncle Jack 20:01
Well, I didn't know that and that surprises me and I will gently waggle my finger and stamp the foot and point the bone at this behaviour, that people are left out of the loop. Because I've been left out of the loop., it's been some years, it's only because that my longevity in the performing field has led me to be taken seriously. But to be taken seriously as a member in the humanities is another thing. I can be respected and honoured for my longevity in the performing arts and that, but to be a you beaut, Elder statesman, trying to put across, y'know, seemingly outdated ideas and that, y'know.
Well yeah, if we're going to talk about a Treaty for the whole country, then we also have to learn from the State Treatys and at the moment we have Victoria, we have Queensland and we have the Northern Territory, talking about treaty and in Victoria, since they began, they haven't included the 38 Nations yet.
Uncle Jack 21:28
So, I need to understand the reasoning behind the exclusion.
So, we have, y'know, obviously the 38 Nations, 38 Language Groups in Victoria and only, I think it's six are recognised by the government, as part of the Registered Aboriginal Party Process, a Native Title process. And because the rest of the clans and Nations aren't recognised by the government, they haven't invited them to the table and so, the argument is Uncle Jack, do you have to be recognised by the government? Do you have to be a Native Title corporation to be recognised by the government?
Uncle Jack 22:23
No, you shouldn't have to be, you shouldn't have to be. The map speaks for itself, take it from the map, Uncle Jimmy Berg and all those people that set all this up and put that up there, he has to be honoured and respected. That map is where you start from, so you don't exclude anybody.
And Uncle Jack's talking about a map of, well, there's a map of Victoria, of all the different Nations and Clans, which clearly says that there are 38, but through the Treaty process and through truth telling, we might discover more, you know.
Uncle Jack 23:03
Some can be left out of the loop and ecetera. You got to remember that the Victorian Native Police Force had a big hand in eradicating the small pockets of parcels of land that squatters needed to be shot of Indigenous peoples and so they were killed outright. Many of them were in the state of Victoria, were massacred and ecetera and there is a an imprint on the land of their existence, but not in the written text.
Yes. That's something that I think and I'm sure you would agree that if we're going to have a treaty, all family clans and nations need to have a real, genuine conversation about what it means for them. We can't have the deadly big leaders saying we want all of these things if they haven't spoken to the people who it's going to ultimately affect right. So, Yorta Yorta aren't at the table
Uncle Jack 24:15
No and Bidwell mob aren't at the table. So, there's a number of mob, Wemba-Wemba aren't.
Uncle Jack 24:23
So, it needs somebody to organise an incursion into the minds of these people that are from these areas, as to what's holding you back?
They want to be part of it, but they don't want to be recognised by the government either. See, they are their own sovereign Clan and sovereign Nation
Uncle Jack 24:54
It has to be eventually acknowledged by the State of Victoria, the government, y'know.
So, that's going to be one of the difficulties, hey, with Treaty across the country.
Uncle Jack 25:06
You got to realise that there are 38 of us.
Yeah, but also across Australia the whole country, y'know and that's what we're talking in the context of here, the whole country.
Uncle Jack 25:18
It will never happen with Scomo and company and the country party.
Uncle Jack 25:25
It's beyond their kin and we're too much of a serious threat to them, ecetera, because we might stop them. Y'know, we might be empowered down the track, to stop them from digging up that black coal and poisoning the world and indeed, y'know, stopping future growth through y'know with windmills and ecetera and electric cars and I know that Scomo's jumping on the bandwagon with electric cars just recently and that. And of course he has every right to do so, but it's a piecemeal gap, the way he's gone about it and that, y'know, we need these electric cars to be cheaper. But they've made them expensive.
Yes, well, hopefully, the more people y'know, the more rich people that buy them well they can start making cheaper cars for everybody else.
Uncle Jack 26:24
Well, I ride an electric bike, because everybody knows I'm a green Blak fella.
You're probably more of a greener of Blak fella than I am Uncle Jack. So, Uncle Jack, let's give you the job of Prime Minister right now. And you've said, right, we are going to have a treaty in this country and the first thing I'm going to do is...
Uncle Jack 26:58
Recognise everyone that's on the map of Australia, all the Indigenous clans and mobs and that, that are on that map of Australia and those that are seeking to be placed on that map of Australia, belatedly, let's include them too, because it would be an asset for Australia to actually recognise the true history. Each state has got its own unique stories to tell and it should be bled onto our state schools curriculum. As Prime Minister of Australia, I would insist that the Federal Education Minister places on each State's school curriculums, their truth in history, some of that truth is understandably horrific, but there's still very many good stories amongst that, and that. But we need truth In history, we cannot hide, every other country in the world that has had wars have had truth in history bled onto their State, onto their schools curriculums about why Germany went to war, Japan went to war, Croatia, all thesecountries now teach their kids the beginning how these wars started and etcetera.
So, that means that you would be the first Prime Minister ever, to say, I'm not gonna lie anymore, I'm just going to tell the truth from now on.
You have to tell the truth because it's about time. Australia is ready. I know that many year 12 students that are hungry, primary school kids are hungry, they want to know upon whose Country that school, that primary school, that college, that university is sited on.
Yes, yes. Treaty is like a blank canvas. We could rewrite the Constitution the Constitution is racist, it was written by y'know, a bunch of white fellas who didn't even think about women in those days.
Uncle Jack 29:16
It needs to be reconstituted. \
We could reconstitute the Constitution, we can Blakify it a bit, which would mean that it would give equality to everybody. It would create a safe environment, look after Country and water and it would empower the most disempowered people in the country and it is the First People of these lands. So, Uncle Jack, what is the role of non-Aboriginal people in a Treaty process?
Uncle Jack 29:55
Why am I hesitating? Because somehow or another some part of me believes that government is white, government is white and so consequently, it's gonna be a humongous hurdle to jump over. And the only way we can jump across is by having white people side with us, genuinely side with us and the numbers are building. We are being taken seriously by a large portion of white Australia, they want to know, y'know, why is there so many young kids roaming the streets not being looked after? For instance the Larrakia (?) mob up there y'know. Archie and I went and spoke to those Don Dale kids and except we understand what's happening, the State isn't allowing local Larrakia (?) Elders into Don Dale, to start working on the trams and trains, the brains of those kids and etcetera. And we need places outside for them to gravitate towards when they come out again, a hub. The Northern Territory trouble government is that, y'know, doesn't want to have a bar of anything like this. So, like y'know, the original two Pricey and that other bloke, a cheap territorian, or whatever it is, I think he's retired down here in Country down here, saw him on a train. So anyway, they still have the attitude, that they should be thrown in jail and just left there in the youth detention centre and left there. I mean, they need them to become dedicated recidivists, every jail, every institution, every youth detention centre needs those kids to be dedicated recidivists to keep on returning.
There's a lot of money involved for the private prisons particularly.
Uncle Jack 32:16
There's a lot of money. So, y'know Treaty you could be a very big threat to the prison industry and etcetera.
So, getting back on to white fellas and getting white fellas involved and supporting, do you think a Treaty is just going to be good for Blak fellas?
Uncle Jack 32:39
I think it'd be good for the nation.
Uncle Jack 32:41
That we have a full understanding of where we intend to go. We are now recognising all these Clans that are placed on the map of Australia and acknowledge their history and that many of the generations that are floating in our communities nowadays are from these places and many of them are suffering, many of them are homeless, we can stamp out homelessness, the overflow of prisons, if we had the assistance of white people in particular to allow us to go through this Treaty and understand what Treaty really means. There's a lot of people I know, that are dead set rejecting it (?) these treaties are meant to be broken. Yes, but can we for once in 2022, for instance, develop a treaty where it can't be broken, where it won't be broken, where we deal with each other with honesty and integrity.
Yes, this is an opportunity of the 21st century we can have a Treaty of the 21st century by learning from our brothers and sisters internationally, who have had treaties broken and we can put safeguards up. They've been economically empowered, it's not perfect, there's a very high incarceration rate in New Zealand.
Uncle Jack 34:19
Maori people, yes. So we, y'know, through that journey and through the truth telling is also looking at what others are doing internationally, learning from that and creating this new nation in this country.
Uncle Jack 34:39
Conceived in liberty and dedicated to the cause that all men were created equal.
There you go.
Uncle Jack 34:49
So, Treaty from your standpoint, why are you pushing this Lidia?
Well, Uncle Jack, it's something that I've been been hearing a lot of since I was a little kid, y'know, when our old people used to have meetings in the Builders and the Health Service and that, the Embassy in Canberra.
Uncle Jack 35:12
And your brother too.
And Uncle Rob and it's just something that I've heard our people calling for, for decades and decades throughout my life and I believe that it will create peace in this country. I do believe that it is a blank canvas and that we can rewrite the Constitution so that it is more inclusive and that it has more protections around cultural heritage and land and water. But also treaty, fundamentally, is an agreement, it's a peace making agreement between two sovereigns. Now, we are the sovereign people of these lands, we've never ceded our sovereignty, we've never given it up and we've never ever had any agreement in this country to settle this Country to settle the lands. So, the other sovereign is the question. Now, the Queen says that she's sovereign and the Queen's representatives who came here and set up the Parliament here and the government here, they now say that they are sovereign. So, the heart of Treaty is about two sovereigns, sitting at the table equally, to negotiate a way forward for this country.
Uncle Jack 36:51
And when I say equally, we can't be experiencing deaths in custody, we can't be experiencing the removal of our children, we can't be experiencing the destruction of our land and then be expected to sit equally and negotiate equally when we're traumatised from the continued oppressive regimes of the colonial project that we're dealing with. So, we want the government and we want the so called other sovereign, to stop, stop killing us, stop taking our children, give us a break from that. So, we can negotiate a way forward in this nation, where everyone can celebrate who they are here, rather than have this continued divide that we've experienced since 1778, y'know and we've never been able to bring this country together and Blak fellas can do that. We're conciliatory people and we're prepared to sit at the table and negotiate a settlement, we even might be prepared to negotiate sovereignty, maybe we share sovereignty. But what does that mean? Does that mean that we're going to share our sovereignty and get nothing and continue to be treated like we are?
Uncle Jack 38:32
Yeah, well, we're almost there, every States building, every Federal Building, have the three flags flying andnd that. That should be the the way, we're thinking excetera and that, y'know, but I would like to get rid of that confounded Union Jack. That's part of the Treaty you have to get rid of that Union Jack, ecetera.
Well, Uncle Jack, I think we'll end it there and I just want to say thank you so much. But before we do go, just on your last words there, let's negotiate removing the Union Jack from our flag, well, let's put that on the negotiation table and let's invite all of our listeners here today to start writing their list of what they'd like to see in a Treaty in this country. So thank you.
Uncle Jack 39:42
It's been a pleasure Lidia.
Love ya and I'm with ya and if you see Uncle Jack out there on his scooter, on his electric scooter with his fluro jacket, make sure that you either beep the horn or give him a wave and make sure he's very safe when you're doing it. You're so popular.
Uncle Jack 40:01
Don't frighten me.
No, don't frighten him. So, thanks, Uncle Jack.
Uncle Jack 40:06
It's been a pleasure Lidia coming in here of all places, Treasury Building and having a nassar (?) tea. Y'know, these are Dreamings of mine, y'know thought across to you and you're thinking very similar thoughts to the way I think too. People in our position, we are the ones that are pushing to heal the country to heal our people to heal the land and heal the nation.
That's all we want, we want peace, we want our Mother Earth to have peace and we want everyone to love eachother again, look after eachother. We're going through a pandemic, we have to start caring for eachother and looking after eachother like our old people taught us.
Uncle Jack 41:00
Well said Lidia, thank you.
If you have been inspired by anything you've heard in this podcast, check out the show notes for ways to continue your learning and how you can take action and be part of taking this country forward.
This podcast is authorised by me, Senator Thorpe at 4 Treasury Place, East Melbourne, Victoria 3001.