‘His vision will live on forever’ – musical pioneer dies

A scene from Bran Nue Dae, the brainchild of the late Jimmy Chi. Photo: Inside Film magazine.

Renowned playwright and musician Jimmy Chi has passed away in his hometown of Broome in WA at the age of 69.

Mr Chi won acclaim for his musical Bran Nue Dae — the first mainstream Aboriginal musical — and Corrugation Road, an award-winning musical that drew on his own experience with mental illness.

Born to a mother who was of Bardi Aboriginal and Scottish background and a father who was Chinese-Japanese, Chi grew up in Broome and passed away on Monday at Broome Hospital.

WA Culture and Arts Minister David Templeman paid tribute to Mr Chi in the WA Parliament this week.

“We will all miss Jimmy Chi,” Mr Templeman said. “We should all be proud of him. He was a great West Australian.”

Mr Chi used his experience with the Kuckles band in Broome and his Catholic education to come up with Bran Nue Dae, the 1990 musical that tells the story of a Bardi boy expelled from school who hitches his way home.

It was hailed as an extraordinary Indigenous theatre piece and was later made into a 2009 film directed by Rachel Perkins and starring Jessica Mauboy, Missy Higgins, Dan Sultan and Ernie Dingo.

A car accident at the age of 21 left Mr Chi unconscious for three weeks and battling long-term health problems.

He found solace with his Aboriginal family in Broome and became a gifted storyteller and musician.

Chi’s awards over the years were many. In 1991 he was awarded the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Drama Award for Bran Nue Dae. In 1997 he won the Australia Council’s Red Ochre Award for the lifetime achievement of an Indigenous artist.

In 2004, Mr Chi was acknowledged as a ‘WA State Living Treasure’ for his talents as a playwright, songwriter and musician, and a creator of landmark Indigenous theatre.

Former Not Drowning Waving musician David Bridie was among those offering tributes to Mr Chi.

“He challenged prevailing winds. He was a legend,” Mr Bridie tweeted.

Jessica Mauboy told the ABC her heart was with Mr Chi’s mob.

“So sad we have lost Uncle Jimmy … but his dry wit and sharp vision will live on forever in his music,” she said.

Wendy Caccetta

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