Ruby Charlotte Margaret Hunter (31 October 1955 – 17 February 2010), also known as Áunty Ruby, was an Aboriginal Australian singer, songwriter and guitarist, and the life and musical partner of Archie Roach AM.

Early life

Ruby Hunter was born on 31 October 1955[1] on Goat Island,[2] on the banks of the Murray River near Renmark in South Australia. She was a Ngarrindjeri, Kokatha and Pitjantjatjara woman.[3] At the time of her birth, her parents were living in tents on Goat Island, having come to the Riverland to find work after the Swan Reach mission had closed (in 1946,[4]). Aboriginal women were not allowed to give birth in public hospitals at the time.[2]

As a child Hunter lived with her brothers, Wally, Jeffrey and Robert, and sister Iris, with their grandmother and grandfather at the Aboriginal reserve at Point McLeay (later called Raukkan) on Lake Alexandrina in the Coorong region of South Australia.[5] One day, when Ruby was eight years old,[6] Wally was taken off the street by government officials, and then the men took the rest of the children from their home, under the pretext that they were being taken to the circus. Thereafter Ruby lived in institutions and foster care, as one of the Stolen Generations.[5] Hunter was placed in Seaforth Children's Home[3] in the Adelaide seaside suburb of Somerton Park,[7] and later with a foster family.[3] After having an argument with her foster brother, she was placed at Vaughan House, which was a "home for wayward girls" in the northern Adelaide suburb of Enfield.[8]

Hunter met her partner for life, Archie Roach , at the age of 16, while both were homeless teenagers,[8] at the at the Salvation Army "People's Palace", on Pirie Street, Adelaide.[9] It was Roach who inspired Hunter to learn to play the guitar and write her own music.[1]

Performing career

Hunter first performed in public in 1988 during a festival at Bondi Pavilion in Sydney, where she performed "Proud, Proud Woman," the first song she had written.[10] In 1990, she wrote the autobiographical "Down City Streets", which was performed by Roach on his debut solo album Charcoal Lane.[10] In 1994, Hunter became the first Indigenous Australian woman to record a solo "rock" album, and the first Aboriginal woman signed to a major record label, when she released her debut album Thoughts Within.[11][12] The album launched her career as a performer and songwriter.[1]

Thereafter she toured with Roach, both within Australian and overseas, releasing her second album, Feeling Good, in May 2000. Also in that year Hunter appeared in a feature-length documentary film, Land of the Little Kings, which told the stories of Indigenous children affected by being forcibly removed from their families.[1] The name of the film derives from a song by Paul Kelly, which is sung by Roach in the film. In the film, Hunter returns to her childhood home for the first time, and relates the story of her childhood. The film won a Human Rights Award in the television category in 2000.[13]

In 2001 Hunter made her acting debut in the award-winning feature fiction film One Night the Moon, directed by Rachel Perkins and starring Paul Kelly.[3][14]

With Roach, Paul Grabowsky and his Australian Art Orchestra (AAO), she wrote and performed the concert Ruby's Story, which tells her life story through song and spoken word.[15] The production debuted at the Message Sticks Festival at the Sydney Opera House in June 2004,[16] to good reviews.[15] In 2004, the soundtrack won the Deadly Award for Excellence in Film & Theatrical Score, and the show went on to tour nationally and internationally until 2009.[17] The soundtrack was released as an album on CD and as a digital download in 2005.[18]

In October 2004 a new concert, once again a collaboration with Roach, Grabowsky and the AAO, entitled Kura Tungar – Songs from the River, premiered at the Melbourne International Arts Festival,[19] which was directed by Robyn Archer that year.[20] The concert, which was directed by Patrick Nolan, told stories from the two performers' lives, and featured songs about the Murray River and Ngarrindjeri Country, Ruby's home. The music used Roach and Hunter’s lyrics and chords combined with Grabaowsky and the AAO's contemporary jazz orchestration. It played to full houses which gave standing ovations and was later performed at the Sydney Opera House and Adelaide Festival Centre. In 2005 the won the Helpmann Award for the Best Contemporary Australian Concert at the 5th Helpmann Awards.[19]

In 2005, Hunter was invited by Deborah Conway to take part in the Broad Festival project, with three other Australian female artists, where they performed their own and each other's songs.[21][3] With Hunter and Conway were Sara Storer, Katie Noonan and Clare Bowditch.[22][3]

Personal life

Roach and Hunter had a close and lifelong bond from the moment of their meeting, sharing a deep love that nourished both of them. They had two sons and officially fostered three children.[5] They also mentored teenagers in the family home; unofficially, Roach estimated around 15 to 20 further children over the years.[23]

Hunter said that her proudest achievement was keeping her family together as a stable unit.[3]

Death and legacy

Hunter died of a heart attack on 17 February 2010, aged 54.[24] Her partner Archie Roach established Ruby's Foundation to help continue her legacy. The foundation is dedicated to creating opportunities for Aboriginal people through the promotion, celebration and support of Aboriginal arts and culture.[25] As of March 2022 the Ruby Hunter Foundation has a Facebook page, but no website or other presence.[26]

At the 2020 National Indigenous Music Awards, Hunter was inducted into its Hall of Fame.[27]

Wash My Soul in the River's Flow (2021), written and directed by Philippa Bateman and produced by Bateman, Kate Hodges and Archie Roach, is a feature-length documentary based on the 2004 concert Kura Tungar-Songs from the River, featuring Roach, Hunter, Paul Grabowsky and the Australian Art Orchestra,[19] in which Hunter and Roach sing about the Murray River and Ngarrindjeri lands.[28][29] The film also tells of the love story between Hunter and Roach, and is interspersed with vision of The Coorong. Hunter is featured wearing pelican feathers, with Roach explaining that she was a pelican in the Dreamtime and that her spirit has returned to being a pelican.[23] The film had its world premiere at the Brisbane International Film Festival in October 2021[30] and was an official selection for the Sydney Film Festival and the Melbourne International Film Festival in December 2021.[31][32]

In 2021, a group of people in the Riverland region started a campaign to rename Goat Island to Ruby Hunter Island to honour her legacy. As Goat Island is part of the Murray River National Park, the Department for Environment and Water has the final say.[2]

In 2022, two side-by-side pillar-shaped monuments were erected on the shores of Lake Bonney at Barmera, in homage to Hunter and Roach. Glass mosaic artwork on the front side of each monument, designed by Hunter's sister-in-law, Rosslyn Richards, depict Hunter's Ngarrindjeri totem, the pelican (nori) and Roach's totem, the eagle, respectively.[33]

Hunter continues to be known affectionately as "Aunty Ruby".[2][26]


  • "A change is gonna come", poem (1995), published in the journal Republica[1]
  • Co-author (illustrator[34]), with Roach, Took the Children Away (2010), a children's book created from the song; 30th anniversary edition shortlisted in 2021 Australian Book Industry Awards, Australian Book of the Year for Younger Children[1][35]
  • Co-author, with Roach, Butcher paper, texta, black board and chalk (2012), a children's song-book which features Aboriginal songs about land, health and life. Many of the songs were written through songwriting and music workshops held by Hunter and Roach with children across Cape York in Queensland.[1]


The 2004 show, Kura Tungar – Songs from the River, won the Helpmann Award for the Best Contemporary Australian Concert at the 5th Helpmann Awards.[19]

In 2009, Roach and Hunter, as a couple, won the Individual Award in the Sidney Myer Performing Arts Awards.[3][36]

ARIA Music Awards

The ARIA Music Awards is an annual awards ceremony that recognises excellence, innovation, and achievement across all genres of Australian music.[37]

Year Nominee / work Award Result
1995 Thoughts Within Best Indigenous Release Nominated
2000 Feeling Good Best Blues & Roots Album Nominated

The Deadly Awards

The Deadly Awards, commonly known simply as The Deadlys, was an annual celebration of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander achievement in music, sport, entertainment and community. The ran from 1995 to 2013.

Year Nominee / work Award Result
Deadly Awards 2000 Hunter Female Artist of the Year[3] Won
Deadly Awards 2003 Hunter and Roach Outstanding Contribution to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Music[3] awarded
Deadly Awards 2004 Ruby's Story (with Roach and Paul Grabowsky ) Excellence in Film & Theatrical Score[3] Won

National Indigenous Music Awards

The National Indigenous Music Awards recognise excellence, innovation and leadership among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander musicians from throughout Australia. They commenced in 2004.[38][39][27]

Year Nominee / work Award Result
2020 herself Hall of Fame inductee


  • 1989: "Koori", with Archie Roach and Wayne Thorpe[1]
Title Album details
Thoughts Within
  • Released: 1994
  • Format: CD
  • Label: Mushroom (MUSH32309.2)
Feeling Good
  • Released: May 2000[1]
  • Format: CD
  • Label: Mushroom (MUSH332672)
(with Archie Roach, Australian Art Orchestra & Paul Grabowsky)
  • Released: 2005
  • Format: CD, Digital download
  • Label: Australian Art Orchestra (AAO16)



  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Ruby Hunter". AustLit. 12 October 2015. Retrieved 21 March 2022.
  2. ^ a b c d Bradbrook, Sam (18 March 2022). "Push to rename Murray River island after iconic Aboriginal musician Ruby Hunter". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 19 March 2022.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Ruby Hunter, b. 1955". National Portrait Gallery (Australia) people. 2018. Retrieved 19 March 2022.
  4. ^ "Swan Reach Mission (1926 - 1946)". Find&Connect. Retrieved 19 March 2022.
  5. ^ a b c Roach, Archie (2019). Tell me Why: The Story of My Life and My Music. Simon & Schuster. pp. 125–126, 234–235. ISBN 9781760850166.
  6. ^ Zuel, Bernard (22 February 2010). "Nurturing force of nature sang of Australia's sorry past: Ruby Hunter, 1955-2010". The Sydney Morning Herald.
  7. ^ "Seaforth Convalescent Home (1921 - 1946)". Find&Connect. Retrieved 20 March 2022.
  8. ^ a b "Archie Roach and Ruby Hunter". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Talking heads, with Peter Thomson. 12 May 2008. Archived from the original on 16 November 2013.
  9. ^ Marsh, Walter (3 November 2019). "Archie Roach tells his story right and true in memoir Tell Me Why". The Adelaide Review. Retrieved 15 December 2020.
  10. ^ a b Lusk, Jon (12 March 2010). "Ruby Hunter: Pioneering Aboriginal singer and songwriter". The Independent. Retrieved 8 September 2013.
  11. ^ "Ruby Hunter". Deadly Vibe. March 2003. Archived from the original on 8 September 2013. Retrieved 8 September 2013.
  12. ^ Roach, Archie (2019). Tell me Why: The Story of My Life and My Music. Simon & Schuster. p. 252. ISBN 9781760850166.
  13. ^ "Land of the Little Kings". Ronin Films. Retrieved 22 March 2022.
  14. ^ One Night the Moon at IMDb
  15. ^ a b "Ruby's Story". Sydney Morning Herald. 7 June 2004. Retrieved 20 March 2022.
  16. ^ "Archie Roach & Ruby Hunter". Deadly Vibe. November 2007. Archived from the original on 12 April 2020.
  17. ^ "Ruby's Story". Australian Art Story. Archived from the original on 26 February 2020.
  18. ^ "Ruby (DD)". iTunes Australia. Retrieved 8 October 2018.
  19. ^ a b c d e "About the film". Wash My Soul Film. Retrieved 22 March 2022.
  20. ^ "Melbourne Festival: 08-25 October". Melbourne Festival. Retrieved 22 March 2022.
  21. ^ Elliott, Tim (19 August 2008). "Lady's Night at the Beckoning Microphone". The Sydney Morning Herald. Fairfax Media. Retrieved 5 June 2011.
  22. ^ "Broad 2005". Broad Festival. Archived from the original on 8 July 2011. Retrieved 5 June 2011.
  23. ^ a b Dow, Steve (15 February 2022). "Archie Roach on meeting, loving and losing Ruby Hunter: 'She had this glint in her eye'". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 March 2022.
  24. ^ "Singer Ruby Hunter dies", The Age, 18 February 2010
  25. ^ "About". Ruby's Foundation. Archived from the original on 10 February 2013.
  26. ^ a b "Ruby Hunter Foundation". Facebook. Retrieved 21 March 2022.
  27. ^ a b Gooley, Cameron (8 August 2020). "Baker Boy wins top prize at National Indigenous Music Awards, Ruby Hunter inducted into Hall of Fame". ABC News. Retrieved 9 August 2020.
  28. ^ "Wash My Soul in the River's Flow (2022) - The Screen Guide". Screen Australia. Retrieved 22 March 2022.
  29. ^ Wash My Soul in the River's Flow at IMDb
  30. ^ "Wash My Soul in the River's Flow". Brisbane International Film Festival. 30 September 2021. Retrieved 22 March 2022.
  31. ^ "Home". Wash My Soul Film. Retrieved 22 March 2022.
  32. ^ "Wash My Soul in the River's Flow (2021) - 6 & 7 Dec Music on Film". Australian Centre for the Moving Image. 11 November 2021. Retrieved 22 March 2022.
  33. ^ Landau, Sophie (3 May 2022). "Monuments honouring Aunty Ruby Hunter and Uncle Archie Roach inspires next generation". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 22 May 2022.
  34. ^ "Took the Children Away (2020)". Booktopia.
  35. ^ "ABIA 2021 Shortlist". ABIA. 11 April 2021. Retrieved 21 March 2022.
  36. ^ Beaumont, Lucy (27 March 2009). "Rich award no hoax for Archie and Ruby". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 23 March 2022.
  37. ^ "History: Search results for "Ruby hunter"". ARIA. Retrieved 1 February 2020.
  38. ^ "2014 Winners - National Indigenous Music Awards". Retrieved 28 February 2017.
  39. ^ "National Indigenous Music Awards 2015: Jessica Mauboy, Dan Sultan named joint artists of the year". ABC News. 5 October 2015. Retrieved 21 March 2022.
  40. ^ a b Ruby Hunter at IMDb

External links