Jabby is a puppet character created by Gwen Knox.
He is based on the old Aboriginal men that had such an impact on Gwen’s childhood as the daughter of a Kimberley cattle station manager and butcher, men that taught her to ride horses and filled her head with stories.
The name Jabby comes from the Walmatjarri (south of Fitzroy Crossing) word for grandfather “Jappi”. He is a generic Aboriginal man who has retired from the life of a stockman on a Kimberley cattle station. As a puppet, his initial role was, and still is that of a storyteller and demonstration model when Gwen teaches puppetry in schools and community workshops.
He has taken on the role quite accidentally with the help of his grandson “Nyili”, as a health promoter in trying to educate people about:
- Trachoma creation of a short film called “Jabby’s Friend” video by Desert Pictures and Gwen Knox for Kimberley Public Health
- Smoking awareness making puppets with Members Kadjina Community resulting in an education package and film “Jabby Don’t Smoke” and extensive TV advertisements by Desert Pictures, Gwen Knox for Kimberley Public Health.
- Scabies, making puppets with residents of Wingalina community, Central Australia resulting in an education package and film “Under you Skin” with Desert Pictures.
- Use of seat belts and installation of car ute role carriages for carrying people on the back of utilities (this TV advertisement won an award).
As part of the Jabby don’t Smoke project (sponsored by Healthway and Kimberley Public Health) Gwen ran Puppet making workshops at Wulungarra School in Kadjina Community south of Fitzroy Crossing, facilitated writing the script, and coordinated community members as puppeteers and voice overs to perform for a twenty minute video. Out of that project Jabby acquired a wife “Ngunju” (pron. Ngoonjoo) two sons a daughter, a nephew and a new magic grandchild “Larmparrn”. All new puppets remain the property of the people who made them.
Gwen has made other “Jabbys” along with other puppet characters as part of puppet kits to be used in schools to promote understanding of “code switching” in language use with Indigenous children from non English speaking backgrounds. For example, students use the various puppets, be they Jabby, a European schoolteacher, a court judge, and Aboriginal health worker to identify the different Traditional languages, levels of English and Kriol language used and to learn appropriate language behaviour for a variety of occasions.
Jabby is a very popular character. For example: On a trip to Wingelina near the Northern Territory, South and West Australian border, he upstaged, by accident, the federal minister for education who was also visiting the community.
Jabby’s image has been reproduced into posters, stickers, pencils, hats and screen savers, and TV advertisements.
Gwen wrote a song to go with the “Jabby Don’t Smoke” project that was used in the advertisement. It became the most requested song on the children’s hour on Radio Goolarri (Broome’s Community Aboriginal Radio) Gwen has children (and often their parents) stopping her in shopping centres all over the Kimberley so they can sing the song to her.
When Jabby appears people reach for him and instantly treat him like an old friend.
The following is some informal feed back received during the question and answer sessions at the end of the puppet show and in talking to teachers.
Jabby’s grandson pictured here with Gungi Laurel. The puppet arrived at Kadjina Community nameless. The men of the community had a discussion in good fun and decided with much amused solemnity that his name should be Nyirrli. We had a naming ceremony complete with cups of tea.
- It is the most relevant piece of educational theatre I have ever seen. (teacher)
- Jabby is my favourite puppet (a common sentiment from 100’s of children)
- Hey who am I ? (teachers husband imitating Jabby driving the Toyota when they were on a camping trip.)
- This is fantastic, the students were captivated all the way through.(teacher)
- Oh thank god you’ve got here, The kids are driving us nuts with asking “When is Jabby going to get here?” (a common teacher greeting when we arrived at a school)
- “I liked the bit where Jabby said he gave up smoking because the bull got him up the bum and now he can run really fast….. but he’s old….Miss, how can he run really fast?” Child 2 “No silly he was telling a true story but he exaggerated to make it more interesting for us. That’s why Ngunju growled at him for telling fibs. It was a story about when he was young. He could chuck a bull over the fence then couldn’t he Miss.” (two students discussing the puppet show)
- I liked it when Clinton got the Goanna ‘cos he stopped smoking. (a popular response.)
- I liked to see Aboriginal puppets. (High school student)
- How come you see these people jogging, and popping health pills end everything then you see them smoking. I think that’s really stupid of them. (high school student)
- How can you stop your parents from smoking? I hate it! (a common question)
- I loved this show. I wish more people could see it. My mother died from cancer last year, she was always smoking. I hope my kids have taken notice. (Aboriginal mother watching the show.)
- What’s Jabby made from? (One of the most popular questions.)
- Can Jabby come and look at the students work? (teacher)
- “Nah I think we’ll only have the one show. We had this other crazy puppeteer here last week and the kids ran riot!” after the first show “Hey this is fantastic, the other classes will mutiny if they miss out.”
- Can we do the song for our assembly item? Can you teach me the chords? (several teachers.)
- I like the use of language. English, Kriol and recognisable Aboriginal words (teacher)
- My granny is just like Ngunju. She’s always looking for tobacco to chew and telling us kids to go and get it for her.(student)
- How can we say no to our parents when they tell us to go and get the tobacco and smokes? (student)
- Hey listen to Jabby, he’s your man! Your crazy if you start smoking!(Tony Modra from the Dockers football team to a group of high school students)
- Oh! (squeel) Tony Modra shook Jabby’s hand and said that? Oh (sigh) can I shake that same hand. I’m giving up smoking today! (teacher in the staff room)
Jabby Don’t Smoke by Gwen Knox
(To be played with feeling, and a slow country feel. Twangy out of tune guitars welcome.)
Jabby Don’t Smoke
Jabby don’t chew,
This old man knows what to do
G C G
He’s got to tell all the young kids
not to make a start.
It’s bad for your lungs
Its bad for your heart.
G C G
He’s got to tell all the people
that tobacco is wrong.
Tobacco will kill you
you must stay strong