Bran Nue Dae became one of the top 50 Australian films of all time at the local box office. (Roadshow Films)
Indigenous playwright Jimmy Chi, who penned acclaimed Australian play Bran Nue Dae which was later turned into a major motion picture, has died.
Chi passed away in Broome hospital on Monday afternoon aged 69.
His sister, Maxine, told the ABC he suffered a turn.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised the following story contains images of people who have died.
Chi’s family later released a statement confirming his death and paying tribute to him and his achievements.
“Never one to promote himself, Jimmy gained joy and happiness from the delight of audiences and lovers of his music alike,” his family said.
“But it wasn’t a smooth ride for Jimmy, for many years he suffered from mental illness.
“Jimmy is much loved by his family, friends and the Broome community. He was a brilliantly intelligent man who had a wicked sense of humour and time for everybody.
“He was more than an artist for Australia, he was a family man.”
Chi also wrote the acclaimed musical Corrugation Road, set in a mental hospital. (Supplied: Black Swan Marketing/Francis Andrijich)
Chi was awarded the Western Australian Premier’s special book award for Bran Nue Dae in 1991, with the play turned into a film in 2009 starring Jessica Mauboy and Rocky Mackenzie.
He was made a State Living Treasure in 2004, which recognised him as a creator of landmark Indigenous theatre and as an ambassador for the cultural diversity and energy of Broome.
Chi’s father was Chinese-Japanese and his mother a Scottish-Bardi woman from WA’s north.
He played in the band Kuckles for more than 15 years, and also wrote the acclaimed follow-up play Corrugation Road — a musical which drew heavily on his experiences with mental illness.
Mauboy said she was sad to head about Chi’s passing.
“So sad we have lost Uncle Jimmy … but his dry wit and sharp vision will live on forever in his music,” she said.
“My heart is with his mob in Broome.”
Chi had ‘genius mind’, director says
The director of the original Bran Nue Dae stage production, Andrew Ross, described Chi as an extraordinary musician and songwriter.
“I just feel extraordinarily blessed and privileged to have worked with him,” he said.
“I’ve worked with very good writers and performers and artists over my career, but he’s possibly the only genius that I’ve worked with.”
Mr Ross said Bran Nue Dae was a “gamechanger” for Australian theatre.
“What really stood out for me was that it was such a unique voice, such a unique take on things a lot of people were talking about but never viewed in the way that his eccentric and I think genius mind saw things and understood them,” he said.
Chi was awarded the Human Rights Award in the category of Literature and Other Writing for significantly contributing to the understanding of human rights issues in Australia in 1991.
He also won the Australia Council for the Arts’ Red Ochre Award for the lifetime achievement of an Indigenous artist in 1997.
Chi is survived by his partner and three children.