The power of sharing an authentic story to inspire, to connect and to evoke change cannot be underestimated. 

This idea was explored in the theme – ‘Sharing stories, changing lives’ at this year’s 19th Annual Bruce Woodcock Memorial Lecture held at Arts Centre Melbourne.

Esteemed actor, Indigenous leader and keynote speaker Uncle Jack Charles drew on his own life as a member of Australia’s Stolen Generation to talk about how he shares his experience with others to challenge discrimination and influence change.

Uncle Jack knew nothing of his Indigenous heritage growing up, but went on to found Australia’s first Indigenous theatre group. Despite his struggles with addiction which led to stints in jail, Uncle Jack overcame his criminal past and battled the justice system to get permission to visit prisons and mentor Indigenous inmates. 

“The headline ‘Movie star turns to burglary’ fattened up my CV in prison”, Uncle Jack said. “But I fought to visit prisons because I believe it’s important to lead by example and step into areas that make you uncomfortable.”

Following the keynote speech, Wellways Chief Executive Elizabeth Crowther facilitated a panel discussion with Uncle Jack who joined Swinburne University’s Associate Professor of Psychology, Neil Thomas; Wellways Director of Mental Health Services Laura Collister and Peer Services Manager Ben Matthews. 

The panel spoke about how sharing stories helps people to realise that those with mental health issues deserve the same basic human rights as others. 

“The story is about getting to know the person, not the illness and trust is key in the peer to peer relationship which can unlock lives,” Ben Matthews said.

During the evening Wellways CEO Elizabeth Crowther launched the Well Said program - which recruits and trains people with lived experience of mental illness to share their story in ways that inspire and help others in their local community. 

The evening concluded with a rousing performance by the Moon’s a Balloon choir and an opportunity for people to explore how to get involved with Wellways through our Well Said and Advocacy programs, Brainwaves radio show and our Helpline.

It’s a testament to the power of stories to change lives that an audience member commented “Thanks Uncle Jack, I can actually breathe easier having heard you talk tonight.”

Our heartfelt thanks go to Frank Woodcock whose generosity and foresight has over these past 19 years brought to light issues significant to people who experience mental health issues, their families, carers, friends and the broader community. Wellways gratefully acknowledges all who made this event possible.

Visit our Facebook page to replay a live-stream of the lecture and stay tuned for edited highlights on our YouTube channel.