The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith
"Jimmie Blacksmith is the son of an Aboriginal mother and a white father. A missionary shows him what it means to be white - already he is only too aware of what it means to be black. Exploited by his white employers and betrayed by his white wife Jimmie cannot take any more. He must find a way to express his rage.
"The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith is based on an actual incident that occurred at the turn of the century. Set against the background of a turbulent Australian history, Thomas Keneally records with clarity the chant of one troubled man."
"Blends history, pyschological insight and epic adventure...it echoes in the head long after it has been put down" - The New York Times Book Review
In June of 1900 Jimmie Blacksmith's maternal uncle Tabidgi - Jackie Smolders to the white world - was disturbed to get news that Jimmie had married a white girl in the Methodist church at Wallah.
Therefore he set out with Jimmie's initiation tooth to walk a hundred miles to Wallah. The tooth would be a remonstration and lay a tribal claim on Jimmie. For Tabidgi Jackie Smolders was full-blooded and of the Tullam section of the Mungindi tribe. To his mind people should continue to wed according to tribal patterns.
Which was: that Tullam should marry Mungara, Mungara should wed Garri, Garri should wed Wibbera, Wibbera take Tullam's women. But here was Jimmie, a Tullam, married in church to a white girl.
Jackie felt distressed, a spiritual unease over Jimmie Blacksmith's wedding. These tribal arrangements should still be made, Tabidgi Jackie Smolders thought. The elders kept the tribal pattern in their heads and could arrange a tribal wedding even if the Tullam buck was on a mission station eighty miles, two hundred miles, from Mungara woman.
From the Penguin paperback edition, 1989.
This novel was shortlisted for the 1972 Booker Prize.
The novel was filmed in 1978. The film adaptation was written and directed by Fred Schepisi and featured Tommy Lewis (as Jimmie Blacksmith), Bryan Brown and Robyn Nevin.
In an article published in The Age newspaper on Friday 19th January 2001, Keneally is quoted as saying that he would take a different approach to writing this novel if he were doing so now, as he is not an Aborigine. "It would be insensitive to write from that point of view now." He believes that in 1972 Aborigines were comfortable for a white man to tell their stories. Now, however, he would probably tell the story through the eyes of one of its white characters, he said.
This page and its contents are copyright © 1998-2002 by Perry Middlemiss, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.Return to Thomas Keneally page.
Last modified: March 28, 2002.