Pioneering Aboriginal singer-songwriter Ruby Hunter has died

February 18th, 2010 |

Ruby HunterRuby Hunter 1955 - 2010
A Ngarrindjerri Kukatha Pitjantjatjara woman

Performer, Singer, Songwriter, Instrumentalist snd Aboriginal rights activist

Ruby was born in 1955 near the banks of the Murray River in South Australia.

She was a member of the Stolen Generations, having been forcibly removed from her family at the age of eight.

Ruby met her lifelong partner and musical soul mate Archie Roach when she was 16. Both were homeless teenagers at the time.

Archie Roach and Ruby Hunter have been described as a singing/songwriting team of extraordinary spirit.

Their music took them around the world. They have sung alongside musical greats Tracy Chapman, Paul Kelly and Bob Dylan.

Ruby was the first Indigenous woman to be signed to a major record label.

In an interview with the ABC's Talking Heads in 2008, she revealed her proudest moment was when she released her first album, Thoughts Within, in 1994.

"I asked one of my brothers to name this album. He came back, I said: 'So what do you think, brother?' He said: 'Oh, you know what sister? I never knew you had those thoughts within'," she said.

In her lifetime, Ruby was nominated for two ARIA Awards - best Indigenous release and best blues and roots album.

'A great Australian'

In 2004, Archie and Ruby collaborated with Paul Grabowsky and the Australian Art Orchestra to produce Ruby's Story - a musical documenting Hunter's own life and search for identity.

The production won the Deadly Award for excellence in film and theatrical score.

Ruby also won a Deadly in 2000 for female artist of the year and in 2003 for outstanding contribution to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander music.

"The thing about Ruby is, you can look at her life and say that she's done something amazing," said Ann Moir from the Art Australia Orchestra.

"I think she's going be really sadly missed," she added.

Grabowsky says Hunter is irreplaceable.

"She was an extraordinary artist, an extraordinary woman, a great leader and a great example to all of us who knew her. People like her are irreplaceable," he said.

"I don't use the phrase 'a great Australian' that often, but I have absolutely no hesitation in applying it to Ruby Hunter."

He added: "There is no sound like the voice of Ruby Hunter. It really is the sound of our first peoples, a sound that really evokes a sense of country."


Manager Jill Shelton said Ruby died overnight at home in Victoria's western district. She reportedly suffered a heart attack.

"She's a mother and a grandmother and a sister - she's all those things," said Bart Willoughby, a spokesman for her family.

"A beautiful woman... And she was very, very strong.

"She always believed in Aboriginal culture. As a woman [she was] very uplifting for other Aboriginal women."

Mr Willoughby says Ruby Hunter's death will have a big impact.

"To the community, they lost a hero; she's our hero. Ruby was a natural-born hero," he said.

"She was born from this country. She was the heart and soul of it all.

"Archie's lost a soulmate," he added.


Some Tributes from Ruby's facebook page

“Ruby ‘got’ people, was flexible and was generous with culture and causes. She was ironic and humorous. So many little girls have been named after her!
Ruby didn’t just survive, she transcended, created and inspired. She mothered the whole hurting country. Her passing is a deep loss for Australia and for everyone close to her.”

“Ruby, small in size, but her voice and her presence were huge, she could fill an amphitheater with love. She gave a voice to so many who were voiceless, she sang the songs that gave hope to our spirits, and eased our pain when it seemed insurmountable. She will be missed by thousands who she graced with her music, and her spirit lives on in her children, her music & the love she shared with Archie.”
“First time I sang at the Fly By NiteClub Perth as a soloist, it was as a support act for her and Archie….she had such a warm heart….and with her beautiful heart and warmest, down-to-earth, personality, she squeezed my hand and told me, “you’ll be right bub!”….and I will never EVER forget that! My deepest condolences to the family…praying for peace, strength & comfort during this time. Saddest lost…but what a life & testimony to celebrate & remember always! LEGEND!”
“Sometimes I would be hosting a women’s group for Aboriginal Health /d.v. services and was always mindful that there were some things that were not my place to discuss, areas I couldn’t really go to because I’m not an Aboriginal woman. So I’d put on her album “Thoughts Within” …we’d listen to tracks like “Sister”…”Women’s Business” and it would be RUBY HUNTER who would bring the story and the conversations to the room.

I can not find words to express what this has meant over the years except to say move over Mary Mackillop! “

“As a young Aboriginal Woman…she was my “AUSTRALIAN IDOL ! !”


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