Tuesday, 2 August 2022
Roach, Uncle Archibald William (Archie), AM
My family cried the day Archie Roach died, despite the fact that, unlike others here, we had never met him. But we cried because he meant so much to us as individuals and he helped us as a family know ourselves better as Australians—to know ourselves better in a way that was profoundly meaningful to us as a family and, I really believe, also to us as a nation.
Our country is built on stories and from stories—stories that help us know who we are as a nation and as a people. I guess the story of the stolen generation, for an Australian like me, was not a story I knew or understood in the same way that my colleagues here as First Nations Australians know from their own lives and the lives of their kin and families. But, for me, Archie Roach opened up the visibility of First Nations stories about mission life, about racism, about dislocation and institutionalised racism. We saw that visibility and capacity to talk as an Australian people—and, in my case, as a family—about the experiences of First Nations people within our country but also with our friends and family, when we'd been unable to easily open up a way of talking about these issues.
Archie Roach's story Took the Children Away is, of course, a children's storybook, and I've been able to teach my son in a way that he understands—in a way that I was deprived of as a child in knowing our nation's history—about the truth of stolen generations. His music showed us immense suffering over our 200 years of colonial history and a very personal journey of suffering and resilience through this. He did this in a way that has brought us all closer together as a nation. It's not a black armband version of history at all. These are stories of resilience that are a source of great pride for our nation—stories of resilience, delight and joy in lifting the visibility of First Nations peoples lives.
Archie Roach sang of boxing, country and land, homelessness, intergenerations, family, racism, colonial dispossession, removal from country, but most of all, he also spoke of love. They're First Nations stories that resonated with us all as a nation and speak to who we are. So, as we move towards, I hope, voice, treaty and truth, I reflect on Archie Roach's words when he speaks of dark times and how you can come back good. That is something I reflect on. For us as a nation, it doesn't make up for our nation's colonial past wrongs, but it speaks to us and who we are as a nation in coming together to recognise this history.
So, as we remember today this immense titan of Australian cultural history, I reflect on one of his songs, 'The Jetty Song':
Oh your face appeared before me
And then I began to cry
I remember all the stories
That you told me long ago
It was time to leave the jetty
It was time to leave Loch Lomond
Oh but you did not forget me
Ever since you watched me go
Ever since you watched me go.
Vale, Archie Roach. Rest in power. We won't forget you.