The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (1978)

 

 

 

Director:  Fred Schepisi

Starring:   Tommy Lewis (Jimmie Blacksmith),  Freddy Reynolds (Mort Blacksmith), Ray Barrett (Farrell),  Angela Punch McGregor (Gilda Marshall),  Steve Dodds (Tabidgi),  Peter Carroll (McCready),  Ruth Cracknell (Mrs. Heather Newby),  Don Crosby (Newby),  Elizabeth Alexander (Petra Graf),  Peter Sumner (Dowie Steed),  Tim Robertson (Healey),  Ray Meagher (Dud Edmonds),  Brian Anderson (Hyberry),  Jane Harders (Mrs. Healey)

aborigine follows the white rules but no matter what he does he can't get ahead

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film.

Based on real events that took place in Australia at the turn of the 20th century. 

Minister Neville says to his wife:  "Blasted blacks!  The best of them are likely to disappear at any time."  He is upset because the Aborigine he is raising has suddenly disappeared just as he needed him.  Apparently, the minister and his wife know nothing of the Aborigine custom for Jimmie Blacksmith is just going through a rite of passage.  Jimmie is half-white.  The minister talks to some Aborigine women andhe  tells them that Jimmie knew that he needed him for the Easter choir.  The women just laugh about the minister's complaints. 

Jimmie is out with his father hunting.  When they are finished, they return to the village.  Jimmie is received warmly by the village.  The minister, however, greets Jimmie harshly with criticism.  And the minister gives Jimmie a whipping. 

Some years later.  Jimmie is now a young lad instead of a boy.  Some of the local Aborigines are given liquor to drink and an Aborigine  man gives  a lot of liquor to Jimmie to drink.  With him is an Aborigine prostitute.  The man says this will make Jimmie a man.  As the law passes by, the people drinking have to hide.  As soon as they are gone, however, the drinking starts again.  The man says that Jimmie has been with that reverend for too long.  The three drinkers are thrown into jail.  Jimmie wakes up in jail with his head on the prostitute's chest.   The police come for Jimmie.  The minister has bailed him out. 

At dinner the minister has Jimmie promise that he will stay away from "those drunken rascals".  Jimmie says he wants to start working, so he can get some money and some property.  Then he wants to get married to a nice, respectable girl.  This pleases the minister and his wife..  They suggest he marry a white girl so his children will be only 1/4 Aborigine. 

Jimmie asks at the coal mine, but the boss there tells him to "shove off".  He tries to pick fruit, but the employer says there's a depression on.  Jimmie finally gets a job putting up fences for a farmer.  The farmer says he will cut Jimmie's balls off if he messes up the job.  Jimmie goes to ask two government men how to put a fence up the right way.  The friendly one gives Jimmie a pamphlet on the subject.  Soon Jimmied is hard at work.  He has no boots to help him push the shovel into the ground and no gloves to help protect his hands.  The boss examines his work and says it's not too bad. 

Jimmie goes to the the bad section of the Aborigine village.  He comforts a woman who keeps coughing and coughing. 

Jimmie works even in the pouring rain.  When he finishes a long stretch, he wants to get paid, but the farmer wants to cheat him out of his fair wages.  Jimmie asks him for a reference, but the white man  won't give him one and he wants Jimmie off the property by ten in the morning.  The white man is terribly rude and nasty to Jimmie.  Jimmie gets mad and says the man won't give him a reference because he can't bloody write.  The white man socks Jimmie in the jaw knocking him down. 

Jimmie has sex with a prostitute at night.  Trouble breaks out.  A white man who had sex with an Aborigine woman wakes up not knowing where he is and saying that they tricked him to sleep with the prostitute.  The guy starts breaking up things in the tent and the husband of the woman, Harry, stabs him with a knife.  The white man is dead and Harry knows he's in real trouble now. 

Jimmy works on a fence.  His younger brother Mort shows up.  They wrestle around a bit until Mr. Lewis arrives and they have to stop.  Mort keeps laughing in a silly way and won't or can't stop.  This irritates Lewis.  When Jimmie goes to get his wages, Mort hears him telling Mr. Lewis that he should be getting more money for his work.  With a rifle in his hands the boss tells Jimmie to clear off. 

Mort and Jimmie pay father a visit.  Mort gives them the money he earned.  Jimmie stands back.  Dad asks him for money and Jimmie gets mad and just throws it all on the ground .  This shocks dad and the family.  Jimmie looks depressed and a bit out of it.  He joins the small police force.  He has to sleep in the stables and still gets no boots.  He has to clean up poop in the stables, as well as do lots of other tasks in addition to any police work that might come his way. 

The constable, named Farrell, is an old, mean drunk.  He talks to Jimmie about how he hates this idea of federation in Australia.  A colleague of his says they will all be better off in a federation.  The constable says to Jimmie that it won't be any better for blacks under a federation.  He says it won't be any different "for you black bastards".   He adds:  "Oh, I suppose you'd still have the same rights:  None!"  He laughs.  He keeps shoving Jimmie with his boot to Jimmie's ass.  

Word gets to the constable that a white man has been killed by the Aborigines.  He, with Jimmie present, questions a young white lad named Jack Fisher.  The constable tells the young guy that he was out there with the prostitutes like the other white fellow and won't talk for fear of his father finding out about it.  Ferrell gets Jack to admit he was there on the night the man was killed.  The next morning the constable and Jimmie ride to the bad section of the Aborigine village.  Ferrell gets off his horse and starts bashing the heads of the older men with his baton.  The he tells Jimmie to ride down those that are running away.  Jimmie runs people down, bashing their with his baton. 

The constable is intimidating the blacks to get them to confess as to who is the killer.  He asks them where they buried the man's body?  Jimmie brings back a bashed man who said that Harry Edwards was the one who killed the white fellow.

Harry Edwards is in jail.  He is very afraid of the drunk Ferrell.  Mrs. Fisher gave the policemen a reward, but Ferrell only gives Jimmie a little bit of the handsome reward.  He says Jimmie deserves it:  "You show a lot of talent; you know your place; you take your orders and get on with it."  By night Ferrell is stinking drunk.  Harry is really getting scared.  He asks Jimmie to stay and help protect him, but Jimmie leaves him to his fate.   Jimmie is trying to sleep but is awoken by the shouts of Harry begging for his life.

The next morning Ferrell tells Jimmie that Harry Edwards hanged himself with his own belt.  Jimmie is a bit stunned by the news and upset.  He has to wash down Harry's body and wrap it in a blanket. Then he has to burn Harry's clothes.  Jimmie leaves the force and gets a job sweeping up for sheep shearers.  Jimmie calls his criticizing boss a "dumb bastard" and runs to the farmhouse.  There he sees pretty, thin Gilda Marshall making out with the chef. 

Jimmie peels potatoes in the kitchen while the white men talk about the Boer War in South Africa.  The boss doesn't want to be forced to go to fight in South Africa for the sake of the English.  At night Jimmie has sex with Gilda.  She seems a bit strange because she keeps laughing in a funny sort of way.  

Jimmie is now building a simple house on the property of his boss Mr. Newby.  Jimmie thanks the farmer for letting him build the house.  He is going to go get Gilda and bring her to his new place.  Mr. Newby lets him use one of his horses.  Jimmie plays cricket with the men at a picnic.  Jimmie marries a very pregnant Gilda.  He then takes her to his place.  Gilda is a bit shocked about the primitive house and she cries at night a bit.  Jimmie tells her:  "It's a start."

Mrs. Newby picks up groceries for Jimmy and Gilda.  She is very nice to Gilda.  Gilda brings lunch out to Jimmie while he is working on building another fence.  Soon Gilda has her baby.  The problem is that the baby is completely white with no trace of Aborigine features.  Jimmie and everyone else now knows the baby is not his.  Jimmie is upset about it, but he stays with Gilda and the baby. 

Jimmie's father and brother and some other family members come to stay with Gilda and Jimmie for awhile.  Jimmie is hostile to them at first.  But after a short while, he becomes accepting of them.  Gilda tells Jimmie that she thought the baby was his.  She says she wouldn't have done it to him, if she had known. 

One day Gilda comes to the Newby farm to give in her list of groceries that she and her family need.  Mr. Newby tells her that he told Jimmie that he cannot keep paying him in the form of groceries because Jimmie has turned his home into a black's camp.  He says that Jimmie's work has slacked off ever since his family came.  Mr. Newby tells Gilda to talk to Jimmie about it because the cure lies in Jimmie's hands. 

Mr. Newby sends Gilda into the house for a cup of tea.  A young woman teacher staying in the house says that she is getting married and offers Gilda a position in her household with her own room for just her and the baby.  (Jimmie will not be in the picture.)  Mrs. Newby tells Gilda that she will lose her baby if she continues to stay with the blacks.  Gilda protests:  "But I'm married to Jimmie.  Christian married."  When Jimmie finds out about all of this, he goes ballistic.  He says Mr. Newby still owes him for 900 yards of fencing. 

Jimmie and his dad go to Mrs. Newby to ask where Mr. Newby is.  She tells him where they are and Jimmie and his dad go to talk with Mr. Newby.  Jimmie has a rifle with him.  He tells his boss that they don't have anything to eat.  Newby won't relent.  He calls Jimmie a black bustard and Jimmie sticks the rifle in his stomach.  Dad taps Jimmie on the shoulder to cool him down.  Newby says that Jimmie and the blacks have to leave the property. 

Jimmie's dad goes up to talk to Mrs. Newby, who soon grabs her gun to threaten him.  Jimmy runs to his father's rescue and strikes Mrs. Newby with an axe on the top of her left shoulder.  The school teacher tries to talk to him but he hits her with the axe in the stomach.  He then strikes her with the axe in the back.  Dad kills one of the young girls with an axe and then the other.  The little boy comes into the kitchen area to see what is going on and dad hits him in the back of the head with the axe.  Jimmie considers killing the baby, but decides against it. 

Jimmie comes home covered with blood.  This frightens Gilda.  He tells her to get packed.  Dad acts as if he has gone crazy, chanting and staring off into the darkness of night.  The whole family now leaves the property.  They go up into the mountains and do a good job of covering their tracks.  After awhile, Gilda says she can't go on.  Jimmie tells her:  "I've declared war.  That's what I've done." 

There's a lot of activity at the Newby Farm.   Of those in the farm house that fateful night, only Mrs. Newby is still alive, but very poorly off.   Jimmie leaves Gilda behind.  He tells her to tell the whites that he has declared war.  The posse has a hard time tracking the blacks.  Dad and another family member drop out.  So now it's just Jimmie and Mort on the run with two rifles and some food.  Things are very gloomy at the Newby house at night.  The men learn that Mrs. Newby has now passed away. 

Minister Neville and his wife are very upset over what Jimmie did.  Mrs. Neville says everything they did for Jimmie was just a waste of time.   She calls him a black savage.  Her husband reminds her that Jimmie is half-white.   The hangman for the murderers is the town butcher.  He gets a lot of unwanted attention from his customers about the case.  Jimmie and Mort go to the home of a white man and his wife who they know.  The man invites them in and they drink, sing and dance together.  The posse makes camp for the night.  They talk about the Boer War. 

Jimmie and Mort run across an open field.  They arrive at the home of his first employer.  A woman there shoots a gun at Mort as he advances on the house, but misses.  She is going to fire again when Mort shoots her in the left shoulder.  She goes down hard.  Jimmie runs into the house.  Mort runs to the wounded woman saying he is sorry, but she shot at him.  Inside the farmhouse Jimmies shoots and kills the wife and the baby.  Mort sees this and doesn't like Jimmie killing women and children.  As Mort is leaving, the husband comes home.  He stops to check on the wounded woman in the yard.  Jimmie wants to give the man a good look at what he caused before he kills him.    The farmer shoots at Mort, but misses.  Jimmie runs out and shoots the man in the stomach area.  Jimmie balls out Mort because the man did not get to see what he had caused.   

Jimmie promises Mort that he won't kill any more women.  Mort calls Jimmie a devil man. He runs a distance away from Jimmie.  Jimmie and Mort return to the worst section of their old village.  They hide in the place of one of the prostitutes they know.  She has sex with Mort and then she asks them to please go quietly so as not to bring any blame on her.  The problem is that the posse has come into the area.  As the men mess with the villagers, Jimmie and Mort start to get away.  Mort kills a white man that accidentally runs into them.  The fellows run for their lives now. 

In court Jimmie's dad is sentenced to death.  The dead school teacher's fiancÚ wants to catch the killers.  The friend of the fiancÚ says that those guys are clever bastards.  He also says that the fiancÚ did not really want to marry the school teacher anyway. 

The boy stops at the house of a school teacher and his wife.  Jimmie shoots at Mr. McCreadyhim, but misses.  The man is very clever and a good talker and he saves everyone's lives in the house by talking kindly with the boys.  Jimmie is still suspicious of the man, mentioning that the Australian outlaw Ned Kelly was turned in.  The teacher says they can take his horse.  The nearest place of habitation is 22 miles away and that would take him many days to walk.  The boys relax a bit and get some supplies from the house.  McCready shows the boys a cartoon in the Bulletin about them.    Jimmie gets mad at the guy talking too much and slaps him down.  In the paper mentions that the Blacksmith brothers have been on the lose for two months.  In the cartoon the police dogs catch up with the brothers.  The boys tell the dogs to go back to their boss and tell him they ain't seen nothing.  The three guys start laughing about the cartoon. 

The laughing stops when Jimmies says he is taking the man as his hostage.  The school teacher McCready begs them not to take him because he has serious respiratory problems.  Jimmie has them pack some blankets and supplies for the husband and they go off.  At night they make camp.  The school teacher is having a lot of trouble breathing.  Around the fire the teacher says that the whites killed more than a quarter of a million blacks.  He tells Jimmie he understands his being angry. 

A man intensely interested in the case tells the butcher/executioner that some 20,000 people are out looking for the brothers.  The butcher tolerates the fellow. 

Jimmie abuses the teacher a bit out of resentment of how the blacks are treated.  Mort comes to the teacher's defense.  Later the teacher tells them about a place sacred to the Aborigines.  They climb the escarpment to get to the top.  The place has been desecrated by the whites writing all kinds of graffiti on the rocks and boulders.  The teacher says they must restore the place to the way it looked before (not counting the graffiti).  So they work on their project.  When they finish they rest for a bit.  The teacher tells Jimmie to give Mort a chance to save himself.  He asks Jimmie to take off by himself and leave Mort and him behind. 

The next morning Mort wakes up and finds Jimmie gone.  He calls out for him, but Jimmie is long gone.  Mort has to carry the teacher to a place of rescue.  He comes to a farmhouse and a white man starts shooting at him.  Mort tells the man to stop firing or he'll hit McCready.  The white man tells Mort to put McCready down and "bugger off".  A posse later finds Mort with face painted all white, sitting and chanting.  The men open fire and execute Mort.  Later the men have their pictures taken standing over Mort's body. 

Three men of the posse see Jimmie swimming to the other side of a river.  One wounds Jimmie.  He is seriously grazed across his left cheek.  Jimmie has to complete his swim and then make a mud pack to place on his cheek.  The wound looks serious and ugly.  Then Jimmy goes back to moving onwards.  He stops at a convent and sneaks up to the second floor.  He goes into the guest room up there, closes the door and goes to sleep on the bed.  The nuns call for the authorities and they bust in and capture Jimmie.  Jimmie is hurting so much that he doesn't put up any fight. 

Outside the posse rough him up some by hitting him with their rifle butts.  Jimmy is put in a wagon and driven to prison.  The one time fiancÚ and his friend go into the cell to look at Jimmie, but don't say anything because he looks so wretched.  Minister Neville visits with Jimmie and he says his wife and he both feel they share some of the blame for what happened and are extremely sorry. 

The butcher/executioner looks through the keyhole to gauge how long the rope should be for the hanging of Jimmie Blacksmith. 

 

 

Strong film and a shocking film.  My wife and I were both shocked at Jimmie's turn for the very worst.  It was also sad to see how badly the Aborigines were treated in Australia, although being American we both know how bad the blacks were and still are treated here.  Nevertheless, it's still upsetting.  What makes the movie so effective is the sudden turn of events that surprises and shocks.  Some people can take the abuse and some people can't.  Apparently, Jimmy couldn't or wouldn't take it anymore.  His being half-white and being well educated by a white minister and his wife made the prejudice and discrimination that much harder for Jimmie to accept.  He was the classic person caught in-between two very different worlds. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 


Historical Background:

 

1770  --  Captain James Cook of Great Britain took possession of the east coast of Australia and named it New South Wales.

1788  --  the beginning of British colonization of Australia. 

1788-1900  --  through disease, violence and lost of land, 90% of the numbers of Aborigines died.

1824  --  in the Bathurst massacre in New South Wales about 100 Aborigines were killed (following the killing of seven Europeans). 

1833  --  Yagan, leader of the Noongar of south-western Australia who resisted the white invasion, was killed.

1833-1834  -- one of the largest massacres in Victoria occurred in Portland and was called the Convincing Ground massacre.

1834  --  at the Battle of Pinjarra, Western Australia, 14 (and possibly more) Aborigines were killed. 

1835  --  escaped convict William Buckley found after living for 32 years with the Aborigines (the Wautharong people) near Melbourne.

1838  --  Sydney mounted police carried out the Waterloo Creek massacre at an encampment of Kamilaroi Aboriginals. 

1838  --  28 Aborigines killed at the Myall Creek massacre.

1841  --  responding to the spearing of a white man by an Aborigine at Capel, Western Australia, led to the Wonnerup Massacre in which over 250 Aborigines were killed. 

1850s  --  large numbers of white farm workers left the stations for the Australian gold rushes. 

1864  --  at the Richmond River massacre, 100 people were killed  in New South Wales.

1865  --  during the La Grange expedition in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, 20 Aboriginal people were killed.

1867 --  first Australian cricket team to tour England; it was made up of Aborigine players.

by the 1870s  --  all the fertile areas of Australia appropriated; the Aborigines now lived in poverty on the fringes of white communities.

1881  --  ill-fated Burke and Wills expedition; John King lived with an Aborigine tribe for two and a half months after the expedition. 

1884  --  a massacre of over 200 Kalkadoons of Queensland occurred at Battle Mountain.

1890-1920   --  in what became known as The Killing Times, about half of the Aborigines in East Kimberley were massacred (in response to cattle spearing and payback killings). 

1906-1907  --  in the Canning Stock Route an unknown number of males of the  Mardu peoples were massacred and a number of their women raped. 

1915  --  at Mistake Creek, East Kimberley, 7 Kija people were killed by men under the control of  Constable Rhatigan.

1924  --   in the Bedford Downs Massacre, a group of Kija men were jailed for spearing a bullock; later they were poisoned and had their bodies burned. 

1926  --  in the Forrest River Massacre, a police party massacred 11 Aborigines.

1928  --  massacre at Coniston in the Northern Territory in which 32 Aborigines were shot.

as late as the 1930s  -- some Aborigine communities in the most arid areas survived with their traditional lifestyles intact.

World War II (1939-1945)  --  quite a few Aborigines served in the Australian military. 

1962  --  Aborigines were given the right to vote in Commonwealth elections.

1967  --   the referendum of this year that allowed for Aborigines to be included in the count to determine electoral representation was passed..

1968  --  the Federal Pastoral Industry Award required the payment of a minimum wage to Aborigine station workers; this was followed by mass layoffs of Aborigine workers across northern Australia and consequent poverty. 

1972  --  a group of activists representing the Aboriginal peoples established a kind of tent city (called the Aboriginal Tent Embassy) on the steps of Parliament House in Canberra. It constitutes a kind of permanent protest and has stayed in existence for over thirty years.  One of their demands is for sovereignty for Aboriginal peoples.

1975  --  the Whitlam government drafted the Aboriginal Land Rights Act.  Its aim was to start granting "inalienable" freehold title to some traditional lands.

1976  --  the first of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act was passed; it established a basis for Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory to claim rights to land based on traditional occupation.

1992  --   the Australian High Court in the Mabo Case decided to legally recognize some Aborigine land claims prior to British Settlement.

1998  --  the forced removal of indigenous children from their families caused a great deal of damage to the Aborigine peoples;  a National Sorry Day was instituted.

1998-2000  --  the life expectancy of an Aborigine male was 21 years less than that of an average Australian; for the female it was 20 years less..

(Source: Wikipedia)

 

 

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