• "He turned up in a black limo and we went over to Fitzroy": Garry Murray recalls of the night he showed Ali around the inner city of Melbourne. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
Australians pay tribute to a man who from the moment he threw his Olympic Gold medal away in protest after being refused service in his home town became a powerful figure respected for both his sporting powress and his convictions.
Craig Quartermaine

6 Jun 2016 - 4:11 PM  UPDATED 6 Jun 2016 - 4:15 PM

'The Greatest of all time' is a phrase synonymous with Muhammad Ali, but there is no possible way it only applies to his boxing.

The Louisville Lip as he was known became a cultural icon for oppressed people around the world.

Three World Heavy Weight Titles almost seem like the an afterthought compared to Ali’s achievements outside the ring.

“He was a sporting hero to all the world not just sporting people," according to Australian boxing legend Jeff Fenech  who had Ali join him at training camps through his career.

"When somebody says lock me up because I don’t wanna go to war, because I don’t believe in the war is what I should be fighting for, it’s pretty bold statement.” 

The former Bantam Weight Champion was one of many champions and sports stars who named Ali as their biggest inspiration.  

Anthony Mundine followed in Ali’s steps when he converted to boxing from Rugby League, but also to Islam.

“He inspired me, he was just real as an athlete, as a fighter he was the best, but as a person and as a human being he was just real."

Ali’s refusal to enlist only added to his legendary status but it also cost him the prime years of his boxing career.

Court battles and fraud from associates left the champ all but bankrupt before his comeback against Joe Frazier in 1971.

Eight years after Ali had cemented his place in history and before the diagnosis, and symptoms of his battle with Parkinson’s Disease became apparent he visited Melbourne as a guest presenter at the 1979 Logies.

While in Melbourne in the 1970s a small group of people, including Garry Murray, disguised as Indigenous journalists whisked the champ off to a pub in Fitzroy, where he met and spoke with local Kooris as he had in similar communities across the globe.

"He turned up in a black limo and we went over to Fitzroy," recalls Mr Murray who accompanied Ali and showed him around the inner city.

"We got out of the limo on the corner of Gore Street and Gertrude Street opposite the Builders Arms Hotel - a black pub at that point - and the great man stood in the corner and in a few minutes the pub was packed with 800 to 1000 people.”

Upon hearing of the champ's death over the weekend Mr Murray made his own personal tribute.

"I grabbed a cab and headed over to Fitzroy which is about 20 miles from my place, just to stand in the place where that Great Man once stood.”

Mr Murray took photos to commemorate the life changing evening he spent with the People’s Champ.