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.
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 script for Bran Nue Dae was included in the 1989 Aboriginal National Theatre Trust Playwrights' Conference after having previously been workshopped in 1986 by the Aboriginal Writers, Oral Literature and Dramatists Association in Perth.
In Post-Colonial Drama (1996), Helen Gilbert and Joanne Tompkins argue that Jimmy Chi and Kuckles display with their choice of musical styles a kind of ideotonal subversion despite seeming to neutalise the oppositional tenor of the text (ideotones are audio-narrative units which suggest an affirmation or challenge to the unity of the dominant ideological discourse of the time). "Using catchy tunes and pleasant rhythms in ironic apposition to lyrics which voice less than mellow protests against European colonialisation, the play provides a sustained challenge to the hegemony of conventional forms of Broadway musical. Singing is enacted in Aboriginal dialects, in English, and in a special blended language called 'Broome Kriol,' while the musical score draws rhythmic inspiration from such disparate sources as country and western, calypso, reggae, gospel, blues, and tribal chant to articulate a syncretic mixture of song/sound/music that reflects the complex genealogies of the characters. In short, the play's music is used to carnivalise boundaries by appropriating borrowed forms, crossing cultural boundaries and fissuring European notions of aural harmony" (p. 198).
An original cast recording was produced at Planet Studios (Perth) between 1 and 5 September 1993. It was released the following year by BD Records. The cast included: Stephen Albert, Sylvanna Doolan, Trevor Jamieson, Alice Haines, Leah Purcell, Steve Kidd, James Hancock and James Edgar. The musicians are: Steve Pigram (guitars, vocals), Alan Pigram (guitars), Chong Lim (keyboards), Duncan Campbell (keyboards), Sue Irvin (keyboards), Patrick Bin Amat (bass guitar), Phillip Pigram (drums, percussion).
After the premiere 1990 Perth season (staged as part of the Perth Festival) Bran Nue Dae toured regional Western Australia, Canberra, Brisbane, and Darwin. It was revived for a 1992/993 national tour and a cabaret version was later devised for an Australian tour (this also included a season in Fiji). The musical has been revived in Broome on a frequent basis since 1990.
Productions and tours of Bran Nue Dae include the following:
1990: Octagon Theatre, Perth; 24 February - 17 March. Bran Nue Dae Productions/Western Australian Theatre Company (WATC); Music Director Michael Manolis and Stephen Pigram; Choreography Michael Leslie; Costumes Cordula Albrecht; Production Design Robert Juniper.
- Cast: John Moore, Ernie Dingo, Michelle Torres-Hill, Lynda Nutter, Stephen Albert, Bob Faggetter, Alan Charlton, Maroochie Barambah, Rohanna Angus, Sylvia Clarke, Jimmy Edgar.
1990: North-West Australia tour; ca. September/October. Bran Nue Dae Productions/Western Australian Theatre Company (WATC); Production credits as for Perth season.
- Cast Includes John Moore, Lynda Nutter, Stephen Albert, Bob Faggetter, Alan Charlton, Michael Leslie, Sylvia Clarke, Brian Saabin, Jimmy Edgar, Josie Lawford, Rohanna Angus, Della Morrison, Rasheeda Bin Omat, Cecilia Dann, Ricky Haji Noor.
1990: Canberra Theatre (ACT); 2-6 October. - Bran Nue Dae Productions/WATC/Canberra Theatre Company. Cast and production mostly as for Perth and North-West Australia tour.
1990: Adelaide Festival Centre; 10 October - ; Bran Nue Dae Productions/WATC. Cast and production mostly as for North-West Australia tour
1990: Lyric Theatre, Brisbane; 12-15 December. Bran Nue Dae Productions/WATC. Production credits mostly as for previous seasons.
- Cast Included: Ernie Dingo, John Moore, Lynda Nutter, Stephen Albert, Bob Faggetter, Alan Charlton, Michael Leslie, Sylivia Clarke, Brian Saabin, Jimmy Edgar, Josie Lawford, Rohanna Angus, Della Morrison, Rasheeda Bin Omat, Cecilia Dann, Ricky Haji Noor.
1991: Riverside Theatre, Parramatta (NSW); 4-19 January. Bran Nue Dae Productions/WATC/Sydney Festival. Production credits mostly as for previous seasons.
- Cast Included Ernie Dingo, Stephen Albert, Rohanna Angus, Sylvia Clarke, Bob Faggetter, John Moore, Linda Nutter, David Sampi.
1991: Seymour Centre, Sydney; 22 January - 9 February. Bran Nue Dae Productions/WATC. Cast and production mostly as for Brisbane/Parramatta seasons.
1993: Playhouse Theatre, VAC (Melbourne); 3-24 July. Bran Nue Dae Productions/Melbourne Theatre Company/Black Swan Theatre Company (BSTC). Director Andrew Ross; Music Director Steve Pigram; Production Design Steve Nolan; Choreography Michael Leslie.
- Cast Included Heath Bergersen, Ali Torres, Steve Kidd, Leah Purcell, Stephen Albert, Trevor Jamieson, Alice Haines, James Hancock, Jim Edgar, Sylvia Clarke, Syvana Doolan, Djunawong Stanley Mirando, John Collard, Brett Dimer, Jac Hill, Vanessa Johnson, Ningal Lawford, Lynette Lewis, Brian Saaban, Richard Talonga (dance captain).
1993: Perth; ca. August. Bran Nue Dae Productions/WATC/BSTC. Cast and production mostly as for previous Melbourne season.
Entries connected with this record have been sourced from on-going historical research into Australian music-film, theatre and television being conducted by Dr Clay Djubal.