Senate debates

Tuesday, 2 August 2022


Roach, Uncle Archibald William (Archie), AM

12:41 pm

Photo of Murray WattMurray Watt (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) Share this | Hansard source

I also rise to pay tribute to the memory and the life of Uncle Archie Roach. I give my sincere condolences to his family and thank them for giving us permission to use his name so we may preserve and continue his legacy. Unlike some of the other speakers on this motion, I did not have the privilege of knowing Uncle Archie personally, but I saw him and his late wife, Ruby Hunter, perform on many occasions: at the Woodford Folk Festival, at the Blues Festival, at countless pubs and other festivals and, for the final time, probably about12 or 18 months ago, at the Home of the Arts facility on the Gold Coast. I was just talking with Senator McAllister, and we think one of the first times each of us saw Archie perform was at the Woodford Folk Festival, many years ago.

Every one of those performances that I had the privilege of seeing was memorable—obviously for the music, obviously for the soul and obviously for the stories but also for the wry humour Uncle Archie often contributed between songs. That last time, when my family and I saw him perform at the Gold Coast, was a very memorable occasion. Any of you who've had the opportunity to go to the Home of the Arts will know there's an outdoor amphitheatre, and on a beautiful night—I think it was spring, although I can't exactly remember the time of year—it was a beautiful setting to be outdoors listening to Archie play some of those songs that we all knew so well, with my whole family in attendance. That particular event was one of the first times a major venue at the Gold Coast had put on a show that featured 100 per cent First Nations performers. Archie was the headline act, as he very much deserved, but some other emerging First Nations artists and some stars in their own right, like Jessica Mauboy, also performed. I really enjoyed the night, as did my wife, but, most importantly, so did our kids.

Uncle Archie's songs have touched the hearts and souls of audiences around the world. A Gunditjmara and Bundjalung man whose voice and message has resonated across nations and generations, his beautiful voice and storytelling articulated the injustices inflicted on Australia's First Nations peoples but also the hope for a better future for those peoples—something I know all of us want to see and want to contribute to. As a member of the Stolen Generation, Uncle Archie knew of these injustices all too well. As other speakers have noted, later in life he wrote the song we all know so well, 'Took the Children Away'. Of course, it's wrong to focus only one song of Uncle Archie's, because there were so many great songs, but probably that is the one he became best known for in the wider community. In that song, he wrote:

Snatched from their mother's breast

Said this is for the best—

something that encapsulates the simply wrong attitude that carried the day around that policy in its days.

Again reflecting on this song: probably more than any conversation in our own home or at school, it was this song that truly taught my own children the heartbreak and sorrow of the Stolen Generation and caused them to ask the question we should all ask ourselves: how on earth could this possibly have happened? I remember the conversations with my kids—particularly my daughter, the younger of our two children—about the song, what it was about, what had happened, and what we needed to do to repair the damage and repair the heartbreak that was caused to so many people as a result of that policy.

Archie Roach was placed in a children's home and a series of foster homes until he finally found a family he could call home. Uncle Archie was 14 years old when he received a letter about the death of his mother. Until that day, he didn't know he had a family or who they were. Shocked and angry, he ran away from home at 15, first to Sydney and then to the streets of Adelaide and Melbourne, always searching for his family and his identity—something that has happened to too many First Nations people in our country.

It was while he was in Adelaide that he met his soulmate, the remarkable Ruby Hunter. I remember, in my 20s—and I'm sure you were there, Senator McAllister—seeing many concerts where the two of them performed. While each was an unbelievable performer in their own right, the two of them on the stage or on an album, contributing, complementing each other, and bringing different tones and different emotions, was one of the most amazing double acts Australian music has ever seen. It was such a privilege to ever get to see the two of them perform together.

Uncle Archie was a pioneer of First Nations music. He was the voice of a generation. He was a singer, a poet and a truth teller. His music embodies respect for all and demonstrated an artful commitment to truth telling well before that approach was accepted by mainstream Australia. Fortunately, his legacy will live on in his music and in the footsteps he left on our country and on our hearts. Rest easy in the Dreaming, united with your Ruby again. Vale, Uncle Archie Roach.


No comments