Kuckles is a Australian band which emerged out of the vibrant music scene which had been established in Broome, Western Australia, as early as the late 1960s and early 1970s (long before the town had access to television). The band actually formed in Adelaide (South Australia) in 1981, however, when a number of Broome musicians moved to the city to study at the Centre for Aboriginal Studies in Music (CASM). Kuckles comprises Jimmy Chi, Stephen Pigram, Mick Manolis Mavromatis, Gary Glover and Patrick Bin Amat. After recording an audition tape titled Milliya Rumarra (1982), the band won a trip to Germany to perform at the Third Annual International Cologne Song Festival in 1982.
The Kuckles repertoire, which comprised various genres - including acoustic, calypso, country, reggae, church music and rock - effectively helped create a distinctive "Broome sound." Some of the band's original songs have been included in Jimmy Chi's musicals Bran Nue Dae and Corrugation Road, with the band members also being involved in the early workshopping of the stage musical. The band's three principal writers - Chi, Manolis and Pigram - have together created the songs that have since become national icons in the Indigenous community. In the 'Introduction' to the joint Currency Press/Magabala Books (qq.v.) edition of the libretto, Peter Bibby writes: 'Kuckles itself was a band defying the odds, for Broome is such a long way from anywhere that it might as well be anywhere... But far though it might be, the old pearling port has a musical tradition as potent as the brews and brawls of its past... Kuckles was a kind of rambunctious nursery, five men making music without thinmking that one day the world might hear their work as a spiritual/rock/reggae opera' (p. vi).
Each of the band members has performed with other Broome musicians in all of the stage productions of Bran Nue Dae. In 1993, for example, Steve Pigram and Patrick Bin Amet formed the Saltwater Cowboys with Alan and Philip Pigram, Duncan Campbell, Sue Irvin and Chong Lim to back the production of Bran Nue Dae then being toured around Australia. Jimmy Chi and Mick Manolis have also been involved in another band, Bingurr (which means 'moonlight' in Bardi), while Steve Pigram is also associated with the bands Scrap Metal and The Pigram Brothers.
Based on the stage musical of the same name by Jimmy Chi and the band Kuckles, Bran Nue Dae is set in 1969 and follows Willie, a young man who struggles to find a balance between the three things that drive his life: his love for his girl Rosie, his respect for his mother, and his religious faith. Willie's uncomplicated life of fishing and hanging out with his mates and his girl in the idyllic world of Broome is turned upside down when his mother returns him to the religious mission for further schooling and entry into the priesthood. After being punished for an act of youthful rebellion, he runs away from the mission on a journey that leads him to meet his 'Uncle Tadpole' and eventually return to Broome. Along the way, Willie and Uncle Tadpole meet a couple of hippies, spend the night in gaol, and meet a gun-toting roadhouse operator, while managing to stay one step ahead of Father Benedictus, who wants to bring Willie back to the mission.
The story of Bran Nue Dae concerns Willie, who having been expelled from the missionary school in Perth returns to Broome on the far north coast of Western Australia. Before leaving Perth, however, he finds his Uncle Tadpole and together they make the journey home with a hippie and a German tourist. Willy discovers sex and true love and their adventures end in the revelation that all the principle characters are related to each other. The whole is a celebration of the multi-cultural life of Broome and of the failures by government and church to make the black population assimilate and conform.