A couple of days ago I went to a fundraiser organised by some friends for the community environment park, CERES. They showed the documentary Bastardy, which is a portrait of indigenous actor Jack Charles, a wonderfully charismatic little man who was a heroin addict for thirty years. He was in and out of jail over that time. The documentary pretty much follows Charles over a number of years, from his time on the streets of Fitzroy and Collingwood to his return to jail and his final release. Bastardy is not a typical documentary, but rather a character portrait. There is little discussion of Charles’ early years as a member of the stolen generation, or his time as a ‘ward of the state’. There are no interviews with Charles’ friends or family. Briefly covered is Charles’ role in founding the first Aboriginal theatre company. Wonderful is director Amiel Courtin-Wilson’s slow transformation from biographer to friend and accomplice. In the end it is Charles’s infectious personality – his humour and character – that stands out. This from the film’s website:
Born in 1943 Jack Charles was well and truly a child of the Stolen Generations and spent many of his formative years in the boy’s homes of Melbourne which he took on with his usual laconic outlook. “It was alright by me – I was happy to assimilate. The only trouble was I wasn’t ever going to fit in. I’m fucking brown mate.” In 1971 he founded the first Aboriginal theatre company Nindethana and has performed with the cream of Australia’s actors and directors including Geoffrey Rush, Neil Armfield, John Romeril and Tracey Moffat. His work has spanned feature films, TV series and hundreds of plays including The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, Bedevil, Ben Hall, The Marriage of Figaro and the 1972 Bastardy, the play about the life of Jack Charles, which the film title comes from. Jack was awarded the prestigious Tudawali Award at the Message Sticks Festival in 2009, honouring his lifetime contribution to Indigenous media.