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Wednesday, 28 September 2022
Page: 159

Mr BURKE (WatsonMinister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Minister for the Arts and Leader of the House) (17:10): Thanks very much, Deputy Speaker Sharkie, and can I say I think it's the first time I've spoken when you've been in the chair. I just want to acknowledge the historic nature of your appointment, Deputy Speaker.

It's both an honour and a real sorrow to say a few words about the wonderful Uncle Jack Charles. When he died on 13 September, we lost a trailblazer, a fearless truth-teller and a remarkable artist. We lost a beloved and respected elder, gifted actor, musician and potter. Above all, we lost a great Australian whose contribution to our country's culture will outlast us all. Uncle Jack was a true trailblazer for First Nations artists across our country. He spent his life dedicated to telling our diverse Australian stories and advocating for equality and respect.

I want to acknowledge three groups of people who'll be especially grieving at this time: First Nations people across our country, who knew Jack as 'King'; people who love drama on screen or on the stage; and a special acknowledgement to the people of Melbourne. Uncle Jack was always on the streets in Melbourne. He was well known and a well-loved presence in that city. As we try to come to terms with the idea of an Australia without his warm and generous presence, without that great shock of hair and those expressive eyes that danced with such light, I extend my deepest condolences to his family, friends and the wider First Nations community, who are grieving his loss.

He was an example of tenacity and strength. As a survivor of the stolen generations, Uncle Jack's creativity formed a platform to earnestly share his painful and personal truths. But the toughness of his life never succeeded in hardening his heart. Every time he opened that heart to us, he opened our eyes. Every time he shared himself and his story, he made the rest of us a little bigger and a little better. In the words of Wiradjuri actor Luke Carroll: 'He was so small in stature, but, once he opened his mouth and his voice came out, it could go across the Pacific.'

I'm so pleased that, in his later years, Uncle Jack received the recognition he deserved. He was acknowledged through multiple awards for his life of advocacy and, earlier this year, he was celebrated as the NAIDOC Male Elder of the Year, honouring his lifetime of activism and his arts contribution. Uncle Jack paved the way in so many ways for the next generation of emerging First Nations artists, and I know the impact of his inspiration will be felt for a very long time to come.

He created a window for us to witness the enduring pain amongst his community. He inspired many to persist with sharing their truths and finding strength through that truth. Uncle Jack often stated that his life was saved through theatre and the arts, but he gave so much back to them in return. As writer and actor Nakkiah Lui said: 'He lit up rooms; he lit up screens and stages.' Uncle Jack's light has gone out, but his glow remains. And what a source of illumination it is for all of us. May he rest in peace, and, as the Minister for Indigenous Australians said this morning, may he rest in power.