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form y separately published work icon The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith single work   film/TV  
Adaptation of The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith Thomas Keneally , 1972 single work novel
Issue Details: First known date: 1978... 1978 The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith
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AbstractHistoryArchive Description

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.


  • Considered one of Australia's key films of the 1970s, The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith tells the story primarily from the position of its Aboriginal protagonists, which some critics argue is controversial, as neither the writer nor the director is Aboriginal. Powerfully confronting, particularly with regard to the murder of the family (which includes women, teenage girls, and a baby), the narrative was one of the first to shift away from the presentation of Aboriginal people as noble savages and/or victims and to attack the myth that there was no Aboriginal resistance to white settlement.

    Romaine Moreton (Screen Australia) argues that The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith is still strictly organised in terms of 'us' and 'them' or 'non-Aborigine' and 'Aborigine' and, while true to the era before Federation, would have been told differently by an Indigenous filmmaker. Though Tom Keneally believes that he too would have written the novel differently today, saying, 'It would be insensitive to write from that point-of-view now', the 'other' viewpoint still provides a powerful and confronting narrative.

Publication Details of Only Known VersionEarliest 2 Known Versions of

Works about this Work

Recalling Romance and Revision in the Film Adaptations of Robbery Under Arms and The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith Andrew James Couzens , 2016 single work criticism
— Appears in: Adaptation , March vol. 9 no. 1 2016; (p. 46-57)
'This paper interrogates the adaptation of two literary bushranger narratives to film during the Australian Film Revival in the 1970s and 1980s: The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (Fred Schepisi, 1978), an adaptation of Thomas Keneally’s 1972 novel of the same name, which itself was based on the true story of Jimmy Governor, and Donald Crombie and Ken Hannam’s 1985 adaptation of Rolf Boldrewood’s 1889 novel Robbery Under Arms, a text that has seen numerous other adaptations on both stage and screen. Analysis of these case studies demonstrates that the narratives’ ideological positions regarding Australia’s past can be understood in relation to the western genre, their narrative structures, selective deviations from their respective source materials, and the similitude of their bushranger characters to Graham Seal’s ‘outlaw legend’. I relate each film’s ideological stance on bushranging to its production context and argue that Robbery Under Arms depicts a romantic idealisation of Australian history that is closer to Alfred Dampier and Garnet Walch’s 1890 stage melodrama version than the original novel in its appeal to populist nationalism, while The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith attempts a visual translation of the novel’s revisionist approach to bushranger and colonial legends.' (Publication abstract)
From Massacre Creek to Slaughter Hill : The Tracks of Mystery Road Peter Kirkpatrick , 2016 single work criticism
— Appears in: Studies in Australasian Cinema , vol. 10 no. 1 2016; (p. 143-155)
'Ivan Sen’s 2013 feature Mystery Road [dir., 2013. Sydney: Mystery Road Films] seeks to break out of the arthouse mould of most Aboriginal cinema in its calculated adaptation of two seemingly disparate Hollywood genres, film noir and the western: genres which are foregrounded in the style and marketing of the film. Aaron Pedersen in his starring role as ‘Indigenous cowboy detective’ Jay Swan strikes a delicate balance between his compromised role as agent of the state and as freewheeling hero, for his role as a detective is underpinned by the ‘treacherous’ historical legacy of the tracker. In this article, I trace the central importance of the tracker figure in a reading of Mystery Road, taking in, among other texts, Sen's 1999 film Wind [dir., 1999. Australia: Mayfan Film Productions] and Arthur Upfield's ‘Bony’ novels. The troubled status of the tracker feeds into the noirish elements of Mystery Road, which ultimately requires a new kind of hero to emerge so that retribution may be enacted for past and present wrongs. That hero is the cowboy, a part for which Pedersen has been dressed all along.' (Publication abstract)
[Essay] The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (1978) Amanda Barbour , 2016 single work criticism
— Appears in: Journal of Australian Indigenous Issues , September 2016 vol. 19 no. 3 2016; (p. 112-114)

'Fred Schepisi's film (in)famously blurred the line between villain and victim in racially motivated violence. This critique argues that the socio-political landscape, when juxtaposed with Jimmie's life, calls into question myths about national patrimony that stem from Federation. Schepisi's expressionist cinematography engages audiences as both spectator and commentator in the Blacksmith/Governor story. This dialogue concludes with the suggestion that Jimmie's insanity is symptomatic of a society that uses Terra Nullius as a foundation, in the formation of it's national identity.' (Publication abstract)

The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith Rewatched – Beautiful but Savage Luke Buckmaster , 2014 single work review
— Appears in: The Guardian Australia , 12 September 2014;

— Review of The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith Fred Schepisi , 1978 single work film/TV
Empathic Deterritorialisation : Re-Mapping the Postcolonial Novel in Creative Writing Classrooms A. Frances Johnson , 2012 single work criticism
— Appears in: JASAL , vol. 12 no. 1 2012;
'Michael Dodson has commented that the 'repossession of our past is the repossession of ourselves' - yet since the 1980s, the translation of such imperatives within literary and historical colonial archival research has been tightly circumscribed by controversial, often agonistic identity debates. Reflection on the broad emotional imprimateurs guiding intellectual and creative research activity have been muted, variously repressed or backgrounded, voided by (white) shame or tact, and often deferred to Indigenous commentators for framing commentaries. Vehement stoushes between the disciplinary cousins of history and literature have also erupted as part of recent local history and culture wars debates. With hindsight, these seemingly 'emotional' yet supra-rational debates, focusing righteously on entitlement and access to colonial archives, seem to have lacked so-called emotional intelligence and (inter)disciplinary imagination. The arguments of the protagonists have now have been 'tidied away', leaving a subsidence of unscholarly embarrassment in their wake.

I aim to show that despite the problematic inheritance of these public debates, many historians, novelists and cultural critics (Elspeth Probyn, the late Greg Dening, Kate Grenville, Kim Scott and others) have managed to rigorously contest and (re)present colonial archival material without repudiating their own emotional involvement with 'the Australian past' in order to maintain scholarly distance. They have understood, in Marcia Langton's phrase, that 'some of us have lived through it, are living through it. This is not an exercise in historiography alone, and therefore presents problems beyond that of traditional historiography.' My analysis of these writer's commentaries will be contextualised against Langton's idea of intercultural subjectivity, which emphasises a discursive intextuality that can be engaged with equally by black and white artists, critics and writers across the genres. Langton, Dening, Grenville, Scott and others will be shown as thinkers who lead the way in suggesting and/or demonstrating how postcolonial novels can be taught and made.' (Author's abstract)
Historian's Critique of a Famous Film 2008 single work review
— Appears in: Koori Mail , 7 May no. 425 2008; (p. 49)

— Review of The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith Fred Schepisi , 1978 single work film/TV
Blacksmith Blues : History, Film and the Outlaw Sean Gorman , 2008 single work review
— Appears in: Senses of Cinema , 2008 no. 48 2008;

— Review of The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith Fred Schepisi , 1978 single work film/TV
A Dreamlike Requiem Mass for a Nation’s Lost Honour Pauline Kael , 1980 single work review
— Appears in: The New Yorker , 15 September 1980; (p. 148)

— Review of The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith Fred Schepisi , 1978 single work film/TV
A Cry in the Dark : The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith and the “New Australian Cinema” Adam Bingham , 2005 single work review
— Appears in: Senses of Cinema , April - June no. 35 2005;

— Review of The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith Fred Schepisi , 1978 single work film/TV
The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith Rewatched – Beautiful but Savage Luke Buckmaster , 2014 single work review
— Appears in: The Guardian Australia , 12 September 2014;

— Review of The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith Fred Schepisi , 1978 single work film/TV
Breaking the Frame: The Representation of Aborigines in Australian Film Graeme Turner , 1988 single work criticism
— Appears in: Kunapipi , vol. 10 no. 1-2 1988; (p. 135-145)
Shared Dreamings Waiting to be Filmed Mark Byrne , 2005 single work column
— Appears in: The Australian , 31 May 2005; (p. 15)
Tracking Gulpilil on Screen: Changing Representations of Indigenous Identity Jane Steinhaeuser , 2004 single work criticism
— Appears in: Credits Rolling: Film & History Conference, Canberra Australia 2-5 December 2004 : Selected Papers 2004; (p. 43-48)
y separately published work icon The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith Henry Reynolds , Strawberry Hills : Currency Press National Film and Sound Archive , 2008 Z1491067 2008 single work criticism

'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)

The Truth about the Fiction James Massola , 2008 single work column
— Appears in: The Canberra Times , 26 April 2008; (p. 8)


1978 nomination Australian Film Institute Awards Best Screenplay, Adapted
Last amended 31 May 2017 17:28:56