Kamilaroi rapper Michael Graham, who was known widely by his stage name Boomalli, has been remembered as cheeky, talented and passionate about his people.
Hailing from Walli Reserve outside of Collarenebri in north-west NSW, his shock passing over the weekend has devastated the communities he was a part of.
Michael, who was known for his slick rhymes, started making and releasing tracks when he was just 15-years-old through mentoring program Desert Pea Media (DPM) - fronting local group The Colli Crew and later establishing himself as Boomalli, meaning ‘strike with power’ in his language.
DPM co-founder and Gamilaroi man Matthew Priestly says despite being shy at first, Michael grew to be a role model for his community.
“He might’ve been a short little fulla like me - like all of us Gomeroi people - but he stood tall as anyone,” he said.
“You know the most beautiful thing I ever seen Mick do? Inspire all his little mates to go right through school.”
As frontman for The Colli Crew - a group of young mob from Collarenebri who were all mentored by DPM - Michael wrote tracks about the pride and pain his community experienced.
Their track Change the Game reached more than 200k views on Youtube, and the Crew were invited to perform at events across the country - including the 2010 ARIA Awards.
Michael’s talent turned heads from an early age, according to DPM CEO Toby Finlayson, who says he remembers him as a “little kid with a mohawk”.
“You know just his natural capacity to spit a rhyme… like he would just stick it down, first time every time without fail when he was 14-years-old,” he said.
Michael’s popularity soared following the release of his first solo EP under MC Boomalli in 2015 - the same year he was awarded Walgett Shire's Youth of the Year.
Michael performed at All-Stars games, the 50th anniversary of the 1965 Freedom Rides in Walgett and kept a day job as a youth worker in Collarenebri.
Speaking at the Freedom Rides anniversary in 2015, Michael told the Guardian newspaper he wanted young mob to stop being shame and be proud of themselves.
"The kids are really talented here they just don't know it, or they do know it and they're afraid to show it. I guess they're scared of what other people think," he said at the time.
"That's something they need to get over - that shame factor."
"When I was growing up I was told shame isn't a word, so yeah, we don’t believe in shame around here.”
He went on to work as a mentor and music facilitator for DPM, and eventually would drop the MC to become Boomalli, releasing his debut album in January 2020: a tribute to his late mother called, The Promise.
Michael wrote on Facebook at the time of its release, “in loving memory of my beautiful mother and all of our old people and ancestors who have gone before us”.
Mr Finlayson says Michael will be remembered for his cheeky grin and empowering his people.
“His daughter’s gonna know him and gonna know his story… he’s created a legacy for his whole family, for everyone,” he said.
“Saying goodbye to him is quite a joyous thing at the same time as being really hard, because there’s just so much to celebrate.”
“He touched our lives in such an amazing way. All of us.”
A tribute to Michael Graham will play on NITV (Ch34) The Point's 'Young Warriors' episode, Thursday night at 8.30pm.