Indigenous elder Uncle Jack Charles has been honoured with the prestigious Red Ochre Award for Lifetime Achievement at the recent National Indigenous Arts Awards (NIAA).

The awards, which were held at the Sydney Opera House on Monday, help to recognise the centrality of First Nations artists to Australian culture.

The event is held on the 27th of May each year to coincide with the anniversary of the 1967 referendum.

Other winners this year included Pakana shell artist, Aunty Lola Greeno, who was also honoured with a lifetime achievement award, visual artist Jenna Lee, who received the Dreaming Award for a young and emerging artist, and theatre maker Jacob Boehme, who was the recipient of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Fellowship.

Australia Council Deputy Chair, Lee-Ann Tjunypa Buckskin, said that it was important to support and celebrate First Nations artists at important stages in their careers.

“There is a profound sense of cultural strength as we acknowledge these artists from across the generations, from emerging to mid-career, to some our most celebrated and acclaimed elders,” she said.

Australia Council CEO, Adrian Collette, said the event was a significant moment to reflect on the achievements of First Nations artists.

“It will be a proud moment when we see these extraordinary artists on stage being honoured for their achievements across multiple artforms,” he said.

“It’s a powerful demonstration of the centrality of First Nations arts in Australia’s cultural fabric.”

Uncle Jack Charles is a Boon Wurrung and Dja Dja Wurrung man, a beloved and respected elder, an actor, musician, potter and gifted performer.

He is acknowledged as the grandfather of Aboriginal theatre in Australia and co-founded the first Aboriginal theatre company, Nindethana Theatre, with Bob Maza in 1972.  

Charles’ acting career spans over six decades and has touched many across the globe. He has showcased his work in many nations including Ireland, Japan, New Zealand, the United States.

As a member of the Stolen Generation, he has spent many years without a home, and in a cycle of addiction and prison time. His resilience shows an extraordinary generosity of spirit, as well as his determination and passion for working with those ‘on the inside’.

He can be heard in prisons, fighting against recidivism, saying “who better to talk to these men, then someone who understands all too well their experience”.

Related reading: Uncle Jack Charles on helping incarcerated Indigenous youth – gay and straight alike

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