Born in Broome in 1948 to a Bardi Aboriginal mother with Scottish heritage and a Broome born father whose parents were Chinese and Japanese, Jimmy Chi embodies his hometown’s cultural diversity. Although he left Broome to undertake an engineering degree in Perth, the cultural dislocation caused mental problems and he abandoned his studies to return home. Broome’s blend of cultural and creative influences was the right environment for Chi. In this respect they played a significant role in nurturing a rich artistic society where music was the dominant expression. Indeed, by the late 1970s the town had developed a distinctive style which became known as the “Broome Sound”). In 1981 Chi and several other musicians from Broome formed the band Kuckles in Adelaide while they studied at the Centre for Aboriginal Studies in Music (CASM). 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 band returned to Broome and with Chi (as author) later became the inspirational heart and creative drive behind the acclaimed stage musical Bran Nue Dae. A hit at the 1990 Festival of Perth, the musical eventually toured Australia winning numerous awards (including the prestigious Sidney Myer Performing Arts Award). Bran Nue Dae, which celebrates family, forgiveness and reconciliation, has not only become one of Australia’s most successful musicals but also brought acclaim for many Aboriginal artists including Ernie Dingo, Josie Ningali Lawford and Leah Purcell, as well as helping to play an instrumental role in the formation of the Black Swan Theatre. Its success led Chi to creating a second musical Corrugation Road, which similarly toured Australia and broke box office records. With Corrugation Road Chi has sought to break down the ignorance surrounding mental health, abuse, sexuality and religion through the use of humour and optimism.
Jimmy Chi’s dedication to Australian artistic endeavour and justice for Indigenous people has seen him recognised with a number of prestigious awards. He has been honoured by the State of Western Australia as a Living Treasure and the Australian federal Government awarded him the Centenary Medal for his contribution to Australian society. Chi, who is the patron of SANE Australia, was also presented with the Red Ochre Award at a ceremony in Broome in 1997.