Senate debates

Tuesday, 2 August 2022


Roach, Uncle Archibald William (Archie), AM

12:28 pm

Photo of Dorinda CoxDorinda Cox (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I was heartbroken to hear of the passing of Gunditjmara—Kirrae Whurrong/Djab Wurrung—Bundjalung senior elder, songman and storyteller Archie Roach. For a moment, time stood still on Saturday evening when I got the news. I want to indulge the Senate with just a little bit of information and honour Senator Thorpe, Senator McCarthy and Senator Dodson's words as well.

Archie Roach was born in central Victoria in a small town on 8 January 1956. He was the youngest of seven siblings, and his mother was Nellie Austin, a Gunditjmara woman from south-west Victoria. His father was Archie Roach Sr, a Bundjalung man from the North Coast of New South Wales. At only four years old, Uncle Archie and two of his sisters were forcibly removed from their parents. As Senator Thorpe says—and I echo this—they were stolen from their parents. Uncle Archie was put in the child protection system by the state and into foster care with Scottish immigrants.

At the age of 14, Uncle Archie found out about his First Nations heritage through a letter from his sister. Upon learning this, he left his foster family to find his real family. Uncle Archie spent years travelling and living on the streets, and while spending some time in Adelaide at the Salvation Army's People's Palace he met the wonderful and beautiful woman Aunty Ruby Hunter. Aunty Ruby was also a member of the Stolen Generations, and together they forged a life of music and raised a family with many children of their own, including their sons, Amos and Eban, as well as their foster children, Kriss, Arthur and Terrence. They also supported many young people over the years.

Uncle Archie's sons released a statement over the weekend saying:

We are so proud of everything our dad achieved in his remarkable life. He was a healer and unifying force. His music brought people together.

Uncle Archie was a songman, a guitarist and a writer. His rich and extensive career spanned nine albums, a soundtrack, compilations, a children's storybook about the Stolen Generations, a memoir and a poetry book.

Over 25 years ago Uncle Archie Roach wrote and released his debut album, Charcoal Lane, which included his story, 'Took the Children Away'. 'Took the Children Away' shed light on the impact for First Nations children who were forcibly removed and deliberately taken from their parents by police, governments and church missions. His song received an international human rights achievement award—the first time the award has ever been bestowed on a songwriter, and well deserved.

Uncle Archie was the voice of Stolen Generations, and in 2002 he wrote this:

My recent bouts of illness, I'm sure, are a result of the Pain of from being removed from my family at a young age, and more recently the loss of someone I loved so dearly.

He also said:

Pain can also bring about change in one's life for the better. We can choose to ignore the pain until it becomes unbearable, or we can do something about it.

I can relate to the words Uncle Archie sang in his song, 'Took the Children Away', through my own family's history as members of the Stolen Generations and, in fact, five generations of Stolen Generations. His music represented vibrational healing for First Nations people. And although our pain is sometimes so insurmountable, pain that is unable to be put into words, Uncle Archie put that pain into song and into music which brought it to a whole other level. His words were part of the healing journey for lots of Stolen Generations people, and they've been the subject of many conversations I've had over the years with my elders.

In 2008 Uncle Archie performed the 'Took the Children Away' song in Federation Square after former Prime Minister Rudd delivered the National Apology to the Stolen Generations. This song was so powerful for so many. It was the cornerstone of his truth-telling to this nation and amplified the apology. We saw a First Nations man be able to give his own personal recollection and story, which enabled the voice for so many across this nation. This remains true right up until today. We can still see children being removed today, as Senator Thorpe has already mentioned, which is the ongoing legacy of colonialism in this country. The apology was only one part of it, and we still have so much work to do.

Uncle Archie was a recognised leader in the community, and in 2014 he established the Archie Roach Foundation to nurture meaningful and life-changing opportunities for First Nations artists. The foundation seeks to walk alongside those working in the arts, and young people heading down the wrong track, to support them to be the best that they can be. Two years ago, Uncle Archie launched the Archie Roach Stolen Generations Resources—a free package of educational support materials, developed by First Nations curriculum writers, to teach young Australians about Indigenous Australia, cultural identity and the Stolen Generations.

I want to also pay tribute to the important work Uncle Archie did in the drug and alcohol space. Uncle Archie's own personal recovery from alcoholism was his story, and he shared that story. It was a symbol of the pain and the disconnect from culture that he felt acutely. On becoming the patron of the Western Regional Alcohol & Drug Centre, Uncle Archie reflected, and he said these words:

Recovering from alcoholism is part of my story. It's so important for people with alcohol and drug problems to have a service like WRAD that they can access for health. Rehab, as well as music, saved my life.

Speaking about the foundation, Uncle Archie also said:

The Foundation is a way for me to give back and pass on what's been given to me from people I've met on my journey who have pointed me in a different direction to a better way of life and understanding, to freedom.

I hope to be a signpost for others, to walk alongside and empower them to tell their story through the arts to point them in a deadly direction; in particular young people within the youth justice system.

Together we'll fly.

Uncle Archie was a once-in-a-lifetime person whose legacy touched so many. We remember and recognise his contribution not just in regard to music but also across First Nations communities across Australia. His contribution is in important community conversations, and it wasn't just his music, his song and his poetry; it was merely just his presence that people felt. Rest in power, Uncle.


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