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The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith

3.68  ·  Rating details ·  1,431 ratings  ·  79 reviews
The extraordinary Booker Prize shortlisted story of a black man's revenge against an unjust and intolerant society. Thomas Keneally was born in Sydney Australia in 1935. He studied to be a Catholic priest but abandoned his vocation to take up teaching and writing. He is the author of numerous works of fiction and non-fiction including "Schindlers Ark" which won the Booker ...more
Paperback, 178 pages
Published December 1st 2001 by A&R Classics (first published 1972)
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3.68  · 
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Nov 19, 2011 rated it really liked it
The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith by Thomas Keneally is based on the life of an Australian bushranger called Jimmy Governor. Fictionalised as Jimmy Blacksmith, the character takes several steps down the social ladder in terms of his name, but remains at the bottom of the pile in reality by virtue of being not only black, but also an Aborigine. As Jimmy Blacksmith, however, the character is not without skills. He speaks English and can build a uniform fence as strong and even as anyone. He can work a ...more
Jan 07, 2009 rated it liked it
Based purely on how he seems to come across in interviews, I'd avoided reading any Thomas Kenneally. I had always suspected that his books would be a little too smug, too self-satisfied for me to handle.

Thankfully, The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith proved me wrong.

The novel - now a curriculum staple - is a fictionalised tale of crime and punishment, but mostly is about the interaction between Caucasian and Aborigine circa Australian Federation. The titular character is a half-caste, so not at home i
May 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was very impressive. It didn't contain any of the 'poor aborigine' condescencion that usually occurs when a white person writes about the struggles of Indigenous life; the lack of white mans guilt writing was very refreshing.

What struck a chord with me most deeply was the idea that if you are not part of the status quo, no matter how hard you try to fit in, you will never be rewarded with the spoils of the status quo. The ideal life is held out to everyone as what you should aspire to
Jan 05, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a really good read and now I understand why Keneally is held in such high regard. The central theme of the novel is war - the whites are at war with the blacks and British rule (Federation looms as the novel's backdrop), whilst the blacks are at war with themselves as their culture is subverted by the dominate white rule. And of course poor Jimmie who is at war with himself. Jimmie is displaced as he neither identifies with his clan nor the whites but not through lack of trying and his u ...more
Jul 29, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: booker
The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith is a slightly fictionalised account about Australia's first Aboriginal outlaw (Jimmie Governor). Kenneally leaves no stone upturned in making a story out of a piece of history- the way he handled Schindler's Ark.

Jimmie Blacksmith is a half-black aborigne whose tribal resignation and faith in Emu-Wren's spirit is outweighed by his Methodist upbringing under the tutelage of Mr.Neville. He harbors the hope of owning land, marrying a white woman and becoming an equal
Nov 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
I have been sitting for quite a time trying to order some words for a review of this.
I have not read any Keneally before. I have many on my To Read.
A brutal story. A peep at the brutality of colonial occupation of this continent and airing of attitudes toward the original peoples. Attitudes that I so wish were ones we could say were well in the past. But sadly no, talking with many people in daily life makes me sadly aware of attitude to race in modern Australia.
I am glad I read this title vi
In July 1900, in New South Wales, two aborigines, Jimmy Governor and his brother, violently revenged themselves for injuries done to them by their white employers. With ingenuity and courage, they evaded their pursuers for five months in the mountains south of Brisbane...


The novelist Thomas Keneally, then still only in his mid-30s and not widely known outside his native land, took this real-life story from the Australian past and fashioned out of it a sweeping epic of vengeance and pursuit. One
Nov 26, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
It would be fair to say that the majority of the Book Club I belong to (ie everyone but me) hated this book - the violence, the narrative, the characters. It met with near universal approbation. At the time of Book Club, I hadn't finished it but was enjoying it - enjoying the metaphor, the story and I generally like Tom Keneally's writing. I thought his forward to this most recent edition was suitably modest. Then we hit the last 3 chapters and the book really fell away. The enormity of the stor ...more
A tragic novel and yet so good at integrating the way racism In Australia paralleled some of what was going on in the Empire at the time Federation, or Australian independence, was being achieved. Just so hard for people of color to ever get ahead even when they are trying to play by the rules.
Aug 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: australia
Riveting. Powerful. A great book. Loved it. 5 stars
Tim Edison
Nov 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
"And here the history of mean death and lust for booze and acquiescence to the white phallus, gun, and sequestration and all the malaise of black squalor, here it was, legible in the fracture lines of soft stones."
Jun 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
Certainly gives a person a lot to think about. The Australian history between the whites and the aboriginals is very painfully tragic and the story of Jimmie Blacksmith lays that tragedy out before us. All sides in this book were both victims and perpetrators. I was struck with sorrow for all of them.

According to the back cover, this book is based on a true incident. Jimmie Blacksmith is a half breed, born of a black mother and white father, a very common occurrence I am sure, as it also was in
Apr 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith is the 7th novel by Thomas Keneally. Set around the time of Federation, it tells the story of half-caste Jimmie Blacksmith, initiated into tribal manhood by his aboriginal elders, he was, at the same time, taught by a Methodist minister. Under the minister’s influence, his criteria denoting the value of human existence were home, hearth, wife and land. And a white wife, say a farm girl, would mean his offspring would be quarter-caste, theirs but an eighth. Jimmie w ...more
Anna Spoore
Dec 10, 2017 rated it did not like it
This book was loosely based on the Breelong Murders. I am a descendant of the Mawbeys aka the Newbys that we’re murdered by Jimmy Governor aka Jimmy Blacksmith. I hav done quite a bit of research on the Breelong Murders and I found this book insulting to my family and to upstanding aboriginal citizens. Jimmy Governor was a violent man and became brain damaged in a pub brawl as someone hit him over the head with a brick. He wasn’t torn apart at all. Yes people mocked him not just my family but I ...more
Dec 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: australiano
The Good:
This book is haunting. It's incredibly well written (and here I mean fancy prose) with a desperate cast of tragic human beings and amazing sense of time and place (northern New South Wales around the time of Federation).

The Bad:
The portrayal of the protagonist is about as apologetic as anyone could hope, yet he still isn't exactly sympathetic. This is somewhat mitigated by the provision of sympathetic peripheral characters. The story also sort of fizzles toward the end.

'Friends' charact
Michelle Heeter
Sep 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
If you live in Australia and like literary fiction, you must read this book. As a "new Australian," I was fascinated by the descriptions / explanations of Aboriginal culture. A beautifully written, truly great work.
Geoff Wooldridge
Jul 30, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a fine classic Australian story, based on true events, set mostly in rural New South wales in 1900, just before the States of Australia agreed to federate into a common nation.

The story of Jimmie Blacksmith is based on the exploits of Jimmy Governor, an aboriginal man, who brutally murdered a number of white people, including women and children, and who was hunted down for almost 100 days before he was captured.

Keneally has changed the names and many of the details, but has remained true
Max Davine
Mar 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Thomas Keneally is one of Australia's most interesting authors. He breaks the conventional small-town attitude the Australian arts tend to have, in that everything we produce has to have some distinctly Australian flavor, and must of course be set in Australia, most notably with his entirely Aussie-free novel "Schindler's Ark", which Steven Spielberg adapted into his most respected film, "Schindler's List".

"The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith", however, is an entirely Australian novel, and one that
I’ve only read Keneally’s Schindler’s List prior to this book. While I like the subject matter quite a bit, it was a chore to read. There was no flow and it was a bit too long. So when I had to read Chant, I was understandably wary.

But this is a good one. Both the subject, that of one Jimmie Governor of real life, who went on a killing spree in the early days of the 20th century and the pacing and length. I don’t read much by way of Australian fiction, so the subject was new to me. Kind of depre
Mary Byrne
Feb 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I read this book many years ago and have watched the movie several times. On rereading this book remains remarkably powerful and still one of my favourite novels. The relationship of Jimmy to people around him, the white pastor and wife who raised him, the farmer settlers, his uncle and especially his full-blood brother Mort are all passionately presented with the racisms subtly interwoven into plot. A cry for the past, a cry for respect and recognition, the ceremonial site vandalised, the loss ...more
Dec 21, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A typical piece of historical reclamation work from Kenally's penetrating, & occasionally poisonous, pen! This deals with his home country - Australia not Ireland! - & the prejudices of Edwardian empire- builders & opportunistic chancers, & the explosion of Aboriginal despair at the immigrant 'whites' casual indifference to their inevitable extinction under the relentless over-whelming power of progress & modern, prosaic civilisation. Keneally's grasp of the contemporary vern ...more
Feb 21, 2018 rated it it was ok
Set in Australia about the time of their Federation (1900). The story of Jimmie Blacksmith a half white half Aborigine young man with aspirations to own property and marry a white woman. He gets so fed up with being cheated and put down by the white population that he goes on a murder spree. Based on the life of Jimmie Govenor. I did learn a bit about Australia's history and quite a bit about how horridly the Aborigine population was treated. I didn't care for the author's writing style.
Mar 24, 2019 rated it liked it
First off. Interesting one star review from Anna who is descended from people represented in the book. It’s worth reading. A short and sparse story based on murders committed at the turn of the last century which no doubt caused a considerable stir in Australia at the time of publication. The attempt at indigenous speech is quite awkward at times and I’m not sure how accurate it is. However, an interesting and awful story dealing with racism and the murders are depicted fairly graphically.
Matthew Stuart
Oct 08, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I like this book but somehow it missed the mark with me. I did not know Keneally was Australian till I read his bio on the back page. The book never really gets to why Jimmy Blacksmith did what he did. I read the actual book not the audio one by the way.
Aug 13, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Steve Gill
Mar 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
Wonderful words, shattering disturbing story.
David Becker
May 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Classic novel of atrocity and revolt in colonial Australia only seems a bit culturally problematic in hindsight.
Susan Gitchell
Mar 23, 2018 rated it liked it
It took a while to get into this book because of the language barrier. On the other hand, the storyline was so compelling that I had to read to the end.
Oct 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Literate, touching, an explanation of the otherwise inexplicable.
Oct 15, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
This was the final book I had to read this book for my English topic at university. Before picking it up I hadn't heard much about it beside that it had something to with Australian history. In the copy I have, there was an introduction by the author. In this, Thomas Keneally is not Aboriginal, but he wrote it from an Aboriginal point of view as he was intrigued by animisms. Though he is not Aboriginal, Keneally grew up in Kempsey, New South Wales, which had two Aboriginal reservations.

'The Chan
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Thomas Michael Keneally, AO (born 7 October 1935) is an Australian novelist, playwright and author of non-fiction. He is best known for writing Schindler's Ark, the Booker Prize-winning novel of 1982, which was inspired by the efforts of Poldek Pfefferberg, a Holocaust survivor. The book would later be adapted to Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List (1993), which won the Academy Award for Best Pict ...more
“In the mind of a true snob there are certain limited criteria to denote the value of human existence. Jimmie's criteria were: home, hearth, wife, land. Those who possessed these had beatitude unchallengable. Other men had accidental, random life. Nothing better.” 2 likes
“Coitus is random, children are definite.” 2 likes
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