Shortly after being named Victorian Senior n of the Year, Jack Charles was refused a taxi ride. Shortly after being named Victorian Senior n of the Year, Jack Charles, pictured with manager Patrice Capogreco, was refused a taxi ride. Photo: Simon Schluter
Prominent Aboriginal elder Jack Charles was refused a taxi unless he paid the fare upfront, moments after being named Victorian Senior n of the Year in Melbourne on Wednesday night.
The veteran Indigenous actor, 72, was leaving the awards ceremony in Docklands when his manager Patrice Capogreco tried to hail a cab for the pair about 9pm.
“We saw one up ahead and Uncle Jack said to me, ‘you go up and grab it, mate, you know what the cabbies are like with us Aboriginals’,” Ms Capogreco said.
“So I stopped the cab and he was fine, but as soon as he saw Uncle Jack he asked where we were going. I told him where I was going and that I would get out first, and then Uncle Jack.
“And then he demanded that we prepay. I asked why and he said ‘because he may not pay’. I told the cabbie I had a cabcharge and he said it wasn’t good enough. He said ‘I need prepay because he might not pay’.”
Mr Charles’ acting career spans more than 50 years. He co-founded ‘s first Indigenous theatre group and has starred in films including The Chant Of Jimmy Blacksmith, Blackfellas and Pan. He has also performed in many stage plays across the country and toured internationally.
On Thursday, Mr Charles said he would write a formal letter of complaint to the Taxi Services Commission.
He said the incident with the cab driver had spoiled his night. “I didn’t tolerate it,” he said. “I told him that he just racially vilified me. That his behaviour smacks of it.”
“We were just so high after winning the award, I was totally blown away. This dampened the spirits somewhat and I slept a sleepless night last night. But countering that was the joy of actually receiving this high honour in Victoria.”
Mr Charles and Ms Capogreco refused to pay the fare upfront and eventually hailed another cab. But a taxi driver later told them Melbourne cabs were allowed to request pre-paid fares from Aboriginals, Ms Capogreco said.
“This happens all the time to Indigenous ns and particularly to Uncle Jack,” she said. “It happened in Sydney when he was there for a play and his face was on 60 cabs around the city. Now it’s happening again.”
In 2013, Mr Charles said he was discriminated against by a Sydney taxi driver while in town to perform a play. It was reported at the time that he ordered a cab to take him from his apartment to the Belvoir St Theatre, but that when the taxi arrived the driver refused to take him.
Shortly after, Mr Charles saw the cab accepting a fare from a Caucasian couple.
Also in 2013, a group of eminent Aboriginal actors were repeatedly refused service by taxi drivers in Southbank, Melbourne.
Fairfax Media reported at the time that the group, including Redfern Now actor Rarriwuy Hick, Chooky Dancer Djamangi Gaykamangu and Ten Canoes actor Frances Djulibing, were refused fares by four separate cabs booked to pick them up from the Malthouse Theatre.
It was only after the Malthouse’s non-indigenous company manager hailed a taxi for the group, who were in town to rehearse an indigenous adaptation of Shakespeare’s King Lear, that they were able to catch a cab back to their hotel.
Chief executive of the Taxi Services Commission Aaron de Rozario said it took complaints about discrimination very seriously and was investigating the incident.
“Everyone has the right to travel in a taxi without fear of discrimination,” he said. “We are currently investigating this matter based on the information available.”
He encouraged anyone with a complaint about their taxi experience to provide feedback to the taxi company or the TSC.