Jimmy Chi

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Jimmy Chi
Broome, Western Australia
Died26 June 2017 (aged 69)
Broome, Western Australia
Notable workBran Nue Dae
Corrugation Road

James Ronald Chi (1948 – 26 June 2017[1]) was an Australian composer, musician and playwright. His best known work is the 1990 musical Bran Nue Dae which was adapted for film in 2009.

Early life[edit]

Chi was born in Broome, Western Australia in 1948 to a Chinese/Japanese father and a Scottish/Baada/Nyulnyul Aboriginal mother.[2]


From 1981 to 1982 Chi was the lead singer of the band Kuckles, before they disbanded.

Chi's most acclaimed work is Bran Nue Dae, written in collaboration with his band Kuckles, Scrap Metal, the Pigram 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.[3] 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.[4]

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 before an Australian national tour.[5] Corrugation Road concerns mental health, abuse, sexuality and religion, treated with humor and optimism.

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

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. His hymns are regularly sung at Aboriginal funerals in Broome.

Awards and honours[edit]

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.[6]

In 1997, he was presented with the Australia Council's Red Ochre Award for the lifetime achievement of an Indigenous artist.

Chi won the Deadly Sounds National Indigenous Music Award for Excellence in Film or Theatre Score in 1998.

In 2004 he was acknowledged by the WA Government as a State Living Treasure.

Later life and death[edit]

Chi spent most of his later life at home in Broome with his family and friends. He died in Broome Hospital on 26 June 2017.[7]


  • 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)



  1. ^ "Bran Nue Dae playwright, Indigenous 'WA state treasure' dies". ABC News. 27 June 2017. Retrieved 27 June 2017.
  2. ^ Collins, Ben (6 October 2014). "Aboriginal playwright and composer Jimmy Chi on the strength to live with mental illness". ABC Local Kimberley. Retrieved 29 April 2018.
  3. ^ Eckersley. M.(ed.) 2009. Drama from the Rim: Asian Pacific Drama Book. Drama Victoria. Melbourne. 2009. (p. 9)
  4. ^ "Western Australian Premier's Book Awards – 1991 Winners". State Library of Western Australia. Archived from the original on 9 May 2007. Retrieved 11 August 2007.
  5. ^ Eckersley. M.(ed.) 2009. Drama from the Rim: Asian Pacific Drama Book. Drama Victoria. Melbourne. 2009. (p9).
  6. ^ "1991 Human Rights Medal and Awards". Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. Archived from the original on 27 September 2007. Retrieved 21 October 2008.
  7. ^ "Bran Nue Dae playwright, award-winning Indigenous 'WA state treasure' dies".