Tom E. Lewis

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Tom E. Lewis (traditional name: Balang Lewis; 25 August 1958 – 10 May 2018) was an Australian actor and musician.[1] He was an Indigenous Australian from the Murrungun people. His first major role was the title role in the 1978 Fred Schepisi film The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith.[2]


Early life[edit]

He was born and grew up in Ngukurr, Arnhem Land, Northern Territory. He worked as a bricklayer and stockman before moving into theatre.

Theatre career[edit]

He spent many years working in the Melbourne theatre scene, having worked with Playbox, Melbourne Theatre Company, Melbourne Workers Theatre, Arena and Handspan Theatres. With Handspan, he devised the internationally successful Lift Em Up Socks, a semi-autobiographical multi-media work. In 2006, he played Othello in the Darwin Theatre Company's production of Shakespeare's classic.

In 2013, Tom played "an indigenous version of King Lear" in the Darwin Theatre Company production The Shadow King.[3]

Music career[edit]

Lewis was also a musician and played the didgeridu, flute, clarinet and guitar. Past musical projects include the band Circle of Breathing. In the 1990s he toured in acclaimed jazz duo, Lewis & Young through Europe, Asia and Australia. He has played with Jane Rutter, Eve Duncan, Uli Klein and composer George Dreyfus. In 2000 he was chosen to run with the Olympic torch in Melbourne. In 2005, he released the album Sunshine After Rain through label Skinnyfish music. In 2013, he released Beneath the Sun, also through the Skinnyfish label.

Movie career[edit]

He played the title role in the 1978 Fred Schepisi film The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, after being discovered by Schepisi's wife at an airport. He co-wrote a short documentary film, Yellow Fella, about his experience of coming from a mixed race heritage, for which he was awarded the 2005 Bob Maza Fellowship by the Australian Film Commission. Directed by Ivan Sen, it was selected to screen at the Cannes Film Festival, the first Australian Indigenous documentary ever chosen for Official Selection.

Lewis considers his artistic creations to be "medicine and good stories for people - like a Corroboree ground but in the modern world". He worked on Dust Echoes, an Indigenous animated website of Dreamtime stories produced by the ABC. Dust Echoes is important he says, "to preserve our culture by using the whitefella technology to embrace our stories. You see the 'propaganda' is bigger than our stories in the dust and so we now are raising those stories from the dust and share it, so people can more understand our culture and bring them to our fireplace." He played one of the leading roles in the psychological thriller Red Hill.[4]

Personal life[edit]

Lewis had been living in Beswick, South Arnhem Land since 2001 where he has initiated a cultural foundation, the Djilpin Arts Aboriginal Corporation, which hosts the "Walking with the Spirits" festival each year.[citation needed]


Lewis died of a heart attack on 10 May 2018 in the Northern Territory town of Katherine.[1]



  • Recorded Messages: Violin
  • Sunshine After Rain (2005)
  • Beneath the Sun (2013)


  • Best actor:Canberra Short Film Festival:International Category (2017)[5]
  • Red Ochre Award (2006)
  • Bob Maza Fellowship (2005)[6]


  1. ^ a b McLennan, Chris. "Katherine actor-musician Barlang Lewis dies". Katherine Times. Retrieved 11 May 2018.
  2. ^ "Tom E. Lewis (2006)". Australian Council for the Arts. Government of Australia. Retrieved 22 February 2010.
  3. ^ "Campfire king Tom E. Lewis delivers an indigenous version of King Lear". The Australian. Retrieved 30 November 2014.
  4. ^ A Sales Explosion for Arclight's Revenge Thriller 'Red Hill',; accessed 10 May 2018.
  5. ^ "2017 Winners". CSFF - Canberra Short Film Festival. Retrieved 11 May 2018.
  6. ^ "Bob Maza Fellowship". Australian Film Commission archive. Screen Australia. Retrieved 11 May 2018.

External links[edit]