Jimmy Chi's magical musical


By Peter Boyle

Bran Nue Dae
A documentary film by Tom Zubrycki
State Film Theatre, Melbourne
Reviewed by Peter Boyle

I wish I hadn't missed the stage musical performance of Bran Nue Dae in Sydney last year — especially after seeing Zubrycki's film about the making of the musical and the life of Jimmy Chi, its creator.

Against considerable odds, Chi put together a full stage musical which blends comedy, a universal story of life, rock opera, Aboriginal music, blues and Broadway.

He was poor, Aboriginal, a diagnosed schizophrenic and living in Broome. He used to tell his mates that he had an idea for a musical, and they'd say "Yes, Jimmy" — just to keep him happy. But then the idea began to take shape, and doubting mates — including the band Kuckles — were soon drawn into the production.

Bran Nue Dae is semi-autobiographical. The main character goes through a journey of self-discovery after fleeing from a Catholic boarding school in Perth. Chi was also sent to such a school but stayed on and later went to university. As he explains in the film, his journey of self-discovery differed in details, but in essence it is the story of the musical.

Apart from Ernie Dingo, most of the cast were not professional actors. But their passion, hard work and raw talent produced a result that stands up well in comparison with much higher budget, higher tech "professional" productions. After a successful season at the Perth Opera House, it moved to Sydney where it received the prestigious Sydney Myer Award. Since the musical is currently not being performed, catch the film.