Uncle Jack Charles was born to a Wiradjuri father and a Bunurong mother in an aboriginal reserve on the Murray river. His great-great-grandfather was among the activists who resisted government policy in Victoria in 1881.

He was a victim of the forced assimilation programme, raised in a Salvation Army boy’s home where he was the only Aboriginal child. He once said in an interview with Geraldine Doogue:

"I've employed my Aboriginality as my religion now ... instead of God, I've found that the Godhead is within me ... I'm solely directed towards making an accommodation between Black and White."

In 1970, Jack Charles started his acting career. He was involved in establishing     Indigenous theatre in Australia. In 1971 he co-founded, Nindethana in Melbourne, Australia's first Indigenous theatre group. Their first hit play was called Jack Charles is Up and Fighting, in 1972, for which he composed the musical score. Since the he has been involved in many stage, television, and film productions, including the role of Bennelong

Charles was the subject of the 2008 documentary Bastardy which followed him for seven years. The film's tagline describes him as: "Addict. Homosexual. Cat burglar. Actor. Aboriginal.".

Charles was nominated for a Helpmann Award, and was the first indigenous actor to receive a Lifetime Achievement award from Victoria's Green Room Awards, and received a Red Ochre Award in 2019.

 He appeared on Playschool Story Time reading the much loved children’s book ‘Go Home Cheeky Animals’ by Dion Beasley and Johanna Bell.