CLIFFORD JAMES ‘‘JIMMY’’ RIDGEWAY
JIMMY Ridgeway, a well-respected elder in the Lake Macquarie area, recently passed away aged 72.
Ridgeway was a talented indigenous musician and artist who received many accolades for his creative pursuits. He was also a loved husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather.
Clifford James "Jimmy" Ridgeway was born in 1942 in a segregated area of Taree hospital. He was one of eight children raised in a Christian family who moved into a home in Frederick Street, Merewether.
"Jim thought he'd died and gone to heaven because he saw no racism in Newcastle," his wife, Louise, said.
"He couldn't believe he could go to the movies or get on a bus and sit anywhere."
Jimmy left school at 14 to join the circus as a boxer, and went on to box in Jimmy Sharman's Boxing Tent.
The outfit saw the likes of boxing legends Dave Sands and Greg McNamara over a history spanning decades.
Jimmy met the woman who would become his wife, Louise, when he was 19. He was second-in-command in a motorbike gang known as the Dirty Dozen at the time, and Louise affectionately remembers him as "Mr Cool".
The couple had four boys - Anthony, Matthew, Andrew and Timothy.
Jim was the first indigenous Australian to be employed as a prison guard in NSW. But he left the position because he was saddened by the number of indigenous inmates.
The family moved to Albury in 1972, where Ridgeway worked as an Aboriginal family resettlement officer.
"This is when he came into his own, and most of my worries went out the window," Louise said.
She was pleasantly surprised when she heard Jimmy's singing voice one day.
"I heard Jim singing in the shower one day and I thought, 'Struth! We've got to do something with this!"' she said.
Louise bought Jimmy his first amp, and he went on to win the male division of the first National Aboriginal Country Music Festival.
"He played just about anything he picked up, but he really only stuck with the guitar," Louise said.
His debut record, which featured the Koori classic Ticket to Nowhere launched his musical career, and he went on to sing with Ray Kernaghan, the Singing Kettles and fellow indigenous musician Auriel Andrew among many others.
Jimmy's son Tony remembered his dad as his "hero".
"He couldn't read a bar of music, even though he had a voice of an angel and he taught himself how to play every instrument he ever played," Tony said.
Tony remembered with pride travelling to Taree TAFE once a fortnight with his father to learn the Gathang language, the language of the Warramay, Birreay and Wuringay people.
"It gave him so much strength and pride when he could stand up in front of a crowd and do a welcome in his own language," Tony said.
"In a sense it made him more complete as an Aboriginal person and as an elder."