Jimmy Chi

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Jimmy Chi was born in 1948 in Broome, Western Australia, to a Chinese/Japanese/Anglo-Australian father and a Scots/Bardi Aboriginal mother. He is a composer, musician and playwright.


Chi's most acclaimed work is Bran Nue Dae, written in collaboration with his band Kuckles, Scrap Metal, the Pigrim brothers and friends. Bran Nue Dae, is a partly autobiographical work which took Jimmy many years to write. It celebrates family, forgiveness and reconciliation and was a hit at the Festival of Perth in 1990 where it was performed by the Black Swan Theatre.[1] It went on to tour Australia extensively and it was Australia's most successful musical play of the early 1990s.

One of the famous verses from a song in the musical sums up Chi's dry humour and sharp political approach:

There's nothing I would rather be

Than to be an Aborigine
and watch you take my precious land away.
For nothing gives me greater joy
than to watch you fill each girl and boy

with superficial existential shit.

The musical won the prestigious Sidney Myer Performing Arts Awards in 1990. The following year the published script and score won the Special Award in the Western Australian Premier's Book Awards.[2]

It brought acclaim for many Aboriginal artists including Ernie Dingo, Josie Ningali Lawford and Leah Purcell. The musical's success was also instrumental in the formation of the Black Swan Theatre Company.

He also wrote the musical Corrugation Road, which was first performed by the Black Swan Theatre at the Fairfax Studio in Melbourne in 1996.[3] It toured Australia and broke box office records. It smashed taboos surrounding mental health, abuse, sexuality and religion with humor and optimism.

Both musicals played a significant role in the development and direction of Indigenous performance.

In 1991, Chi was awarded the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Drama Award for Bran Nue Dae, for the musical about a young Aborigine's journey to consciousness.[4] This award was followed by a Deadly Sounds National Indigenous Music Award for Excellence in Film or Theatre Score in 1998.

In 1997, he was presented with the Australia Council's Red Ochre Award for the lifetime achievement of an Indigenous artist. His songs have been covered by such artists as the Irish singer Mary Black, and Aboriginal singer Archie Roach.

Chi's music has come to represent the colour of Broome. Broome's Opera Under the Stars festival has featured Chi's Child of Glory, from Bran Nue Dae, at every festival since 1993. It has been adopted as this festival's theme song in tribute to Jimmy Chi. His hymns are regularly sung at Aboriginal funerals in Broome.

In 2004 he was acknowledged by the WA Government as a State Living Treasure. He now chooses to spend most of his time at home in Broome with his family and friends. In spite of life's challenges, his work continues to be imbued with an underlying sense of hope and humanity.


  • Broome songwriters with Michael Manolis and Ron Harper (Hodja Educational Resources, 1985) ISBN 0-949575-37-2
  • Bran Nue Dae (Currency Press, 1991) ISBN 0-86819-293-7
  • Corrugation Road (sound recording - Angoorrabin Records, p1996)


  • Aboriginality in Recent Australian Drama [1], Katharine Brisbane.
  • WA State Living Treasures [2]


  1. ^ Eckersley. M.(ed.) 2009. Drama from the Rim: Asian Pacific Drama Book. Drama Victoria. Melbourne. 2009. (p9)
  2. ^ "Western Australian Premier's Book Awards - 1991 Winners". State Library of Western Australia. Archived from the original on 2007-05-09. Retrieved 2007-08-11. 
  3. ^ Eckersley. M.(ed.) 2009. Drama from the Rim: Asian Pacific Drama Book. Drama Victoria. Melbourne. 2009. (p9).
  4. ^ "1991 Human Rights Medal and Awards". Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. Retrieved 2008-10-21.