'When Jimmie Blacksmith marries a white woman, the backlash from both Jimmie's tribe and white society initiates a series of dramatic events. As Jimmie tries to survive between two cultures, tensions reach a head when the Newbys, Jimmie's white employers, try to break up his marriage. The Newby women are murdered and Jimmie flees, pursued by police and vigilantes. The hunt intensifies as further murders are committed, and concludes with tragic results. Thomas Keneally's fictionalised account of the 1900 killing spree of half-Aboriginal Jimmy Governor is a powerful story of a black man's revenge against an unjust and intolerant society. ' (Publication summary)
Based on real events that occurred in Australia at the turn of the century and adapted from Thomas Keneally's novel, The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith concerns a young man of Aboriginal and European heritage who has been raised by missionaries. A hard and reliable worker, Jimmie is employed on a property in central-western New South Wales. Hoping to achieve assimiliation into white society, Jimmy marries a white girl, but instead this only increases the loathing and ridicule directed at him. In the winter of 1900, an argument ensues between Jimmy and the owner of the property, which leads to Jimmie and his uncle horrifically killing most of the man's family. Jimmie subsequently takes to the bush with his wife, baby, and younger brother, Mort. Pursued by the police and vigilante farmers, Jimmie sends his wife back with a message: 'tell them I've declared war.' He and Mort kill again, but the younger brother becomes increasingly troubled by their actions. Jimmie eventually goes on alone until his inevitable capture and hanging.
'Internationally, Thomas Keneally is one of Australia’s most successful authors, whether in terms of critical reception, book sales, or author profile. He is probably best known as the author of Schindler’s List from 1982—Schindler’s Ark in Britain and Australasia—even if his fame in this regard has been somewhat obscured by Stephen Spielberg’s multi-Oscar-winning movie of 1993. The story of how Keneally came to write this book and its subsequent success is one of the more remarkable episodes in Australian book history, and of course it is by no means confined to Australia, its point of origin only in a very qualified sense. Published simultaneously in London, New York, and Sydney, Schindler’s List appeared in at least eight different English-language and fourteen foreign-language editions even before the release of Spielberg’s movie. It won the Booker Prize for 1982, the first by an Australian novelist, although Keneally had already been short-listed for the award on three occasions. Across the Atlantic, it was one of the New York Times ’ Best Books of 1982, and in the following year the winner of the Los Angeles Times Fiction Prize. The movie’s success meant new English and American editions together with a dozen or so translations in 1994 alone, including Turkish, Japanese, Chinese, and Catalan versions. New Czech and Marathi editions appeared as recently as 2009.' (Author's introduction)
In addressing the question of 'whether or not Australian literature is a world literature', Paul Sharrad looks at three scenes of reading: 'first, the public arena of the literary industry; second, the scenes of our own academic reading; third, the scenes that may result if we do move towards a world literature framework for reading Australian literature' (p.16). His discussion is illustrated with analysis of overseas reception of works by Thomas Keneally and a number of Aboriginal writers.
'A descendent of the O’Brien family, closely related to those who suffered tragic
irretrievable loss at the hands of Jimmy Governor when he murdered a pregnant women and her toddler child in 1900, recounts her family’s journey of reconciliation. The sight of the “posts in a paddock”, the remains of the original homestead in which the deaths occurred and the only disappearing reminder of this tragedy on what is still the family farm near Wollar, north-east of Mudgee NSW, moved the author to explore the stories from her family and also from the Governor family. This realization took her on a journey to gather up, and introduce to each other, members of both families and to workshop their stories as a means of seeking a resolution to the tragedy. This journey eventually came to include descendants of Jimmy and Ethel Governor and led to reconciliation through participation in the development and performance of a play. The final outcome is a theatre piece marked by interracial collaboration and establishing common ground through intercultural dialogue,understanding and an overriding shared wish for reconciliation.' (Source: abstract)
'Set in central-western New South Wales in the 1890s, Fred Schepisi’s film of Thomas Keneally’s award-winning novel is a powerful and confronting story of a black man’s revenge against an unjust and intolerant society.
'Raised by missionaries, Jimmie Blacksmith, a young half-caste Aboriginal man, is poignantly caught between the ways of his black forefathers and those of the white society to which he aspires. Exploited by his boss and betrayed by his [white] wife, he declares war on his white employers and goes on a violent killing spree.
'The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith was one of the most significant films of the 1970s ‘renaissance’. It was the first Australian feature in which the whole story is told from an Aboriginal perspective and it broke new ground in dealing with one of the most tragic aspects of Australian history: the racist treatment of the Aboriginal population. The spectre of the violent and vengeful black had barely been touched upon and the depth of rage that the film put on screen was unprecedented in Australian film at the time.' (Publication summary)