Senate debates

Tuesday, 2 August 2022


Roach, Uncle Archibald William (Archie), AM

12:02 pm

Photo of Malarndirri McCarthyMalarndirri McCarthy (NT, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Indigenous Australians) Share this | | Hansard source

I   , and also on behalf of Senators Dodson and Stewart, move:

That the Senate—

(a) marks the passing of Gunditjmara and Bundjalung man Archie Roach;

(b) recognises:

(i) Archie Roach was one of our nation's greatest songmen and truth-tellers, and Australia has lost a giant of the music industry and of the First Nations community,

(ii) Archie Roach was many Australians' first exposure to the horrors of the Stolen Generations, and his voice, his music and his story came out of trauma and pain,

(iii) Archie Roach's powerful songs also brought people together, providing strength and they still serve as a source of healing, and

(iv) the songs of Archie Roach will live forever, etched into more than 65,000 years of history and he will be remembered as one of the early Aboriginal artists to bring Indigenous music into the mainstream; and

(c) expresses its condolences and offers its deepest sympathies to his family.

Archie Roach didn't just make music. He gave an enduring voice to the hurt and hope felt by a generation of Australians. It's a voice that will remain etched in the minds of many Australians and also the consciousness of this country.

Roach was born at the Framlingham Aboriginal mission in Victoria. He was removed from his family at a young age as part of the stolen generations. He was separated from his mother, a Gunditjmara woman, and his father, a Bundjalung man from New South Wales. Uncle passed through several foster homes before he was finally settled with the Cox family. He acknowledged this family as having taken care of him well. He learned the basics of keyboard and guitar from his foster sister, Mary Cox. Uncle was too young to understand his situation, like many other members of the stolen generations, and he was left to assume that biological parents of his had already passed away.

But the truth about his forced removal from his family was discovered when he was a teenager, in a letter from a sister he didn't know that he had. It brought news of the very recent death of his mother. The revelation further complicated issues of mental health, identity and belonging, and is understood to have contributed to his falling into the streets with alcohol and other issues and periods of homelessness. It's to these stories of struggle, of finding his sense of self and identity, that he dedicated his life in song and story.

While living on the streets, Uncle met Ruby Hunter, a Ngarrindjeri woman from South Australia. He credits her as his saviour and his sounding board. She was also a talented musician and a member of the stolen generations. I know at one point she apparently saw Uncle in the studio audience on the Happy Hammond show when they were both kids and said to her foster mum, 'I'm going to marry that boy one day,' and so she did. They were partners in life and music for over three decades. Uncle was reluctant to make his first album, but it was dear Ruby who encouraged him to pursue the challenge. She told him: 'It's not all about you, you know. How many blackfellas do you reckon get to record an album?' They were soulmates, and they embarked on a journey of healing through music. Years later, when they were married with a family of their own, their house would remain open to disadvantaged young people in need of the support they themselves had found in each other. He brought people together through his storytelling and music. I guess in some respects he held up a mirror to our country, a mirror that still is there and continues to be there, because his songs are there and continue to be there.

The last time I saw Uncle was before COVID, here in Canberra. He performed here, and it was so good to see him. I think then I realised just how much of a journey it still had been for him since Aunty Ruby had passed away. It took him a while to get back on his feet and back out singing after she passed, but he was there singing strong here on Ngunnawal and Ngambri country. Despite all of that—the hurt, the struggles, the pain—he was still reaching out to all of us in the audience, all of us who came to listen to him sing, reminding us, 'Look out for others, you don't know the footsteps and the journey that other people have walked, and, no matter how difficult your road, always look out for others.' That was a message I found firmly stayed with me throughout my life in knowing him. I think of his family and his children in particular, and I say thank you for sharing him with us, with the broader First Nations community, with Australia, with the world.

I just want to finish with the song 'Took the Children Away', which resonated across Australia and internationally. Just one song, like all of his songs, telling the stories of pain but also, incredibly, of hope and healing coming from the stolen generations. He reflected in the opening of the song:

This story's right, this story's true

I would not tell lies to you

Like the promises they did not keep

And how they fenced us in like sheep.

Said to us come take our hand

Sent us off to mission land.

Taught us to read, to write and pray

Then they took the children away,

Took the children away,

The children away.

Snatched from their mother's breast

Said this is for the best

Took them away.

The powerful messages and music of Uncle put into words and articulated that familiar feeling of heartbreak, loss, disempowerment and also hope.

I urge the Senate to play his songs. I urge senators to play his songs. Let's not just feel sadness, but let's celebrate an incredible man, a wonderful family and just give thanks to the way that he held the stories of our people and still sang with hope about the future. Thank you, Uncle.

12:09 pm

Photo of Lidia ThorpeLidia Thorpe (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Before I begin, I'd like to request that Senator Cox's name and my name go on the condolence motion as co-sponsors.

Photo of Andrew McLachlanAndrew McLachlan (SA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator McCarthy, are you happy with that?

Photo of Malarndirri McCarthyMalarndirri McCarthy (NT, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Indigenous Australians) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes, Mr Deputy President. We spoke last night. I'm more than happy.

Photo of Andrew McLachlanAndrew McLachlan (SA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Please continue.

Photo of Lidia ThorpeLidia Thorpe (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you. The silence across this nation is deafening from the passing of a beautiful soul—a beautiful uncle, grandfather, father, brother, son—of Gunditjmara, of Djab Wurrung, of Keerray Woorroong, of my people. Framlingham Mission is where Uncle Archie came from. It was tough on Framlingham Mission in those days. Our people were given rations. Our people were treated like animals on mission reserves around this country.

Uncle Archie Roach was a baby on Framlingham Mission, where he was born. He was treated like an animal because of the colour of his skin. He was disrespected by the society he lived in. He was taunted with racism for most of his life. But he's fighting Gunditjmara, and he got through those difficult times at Framlingham Mission, where my grandmothers grew up, where my grandmothers come from and where my grandmothers were a part of Uncle Archie's care and love.

He was stolen from Framlingham Mission. He was a stolen Aboriginal child in this country. He wrote songs about being stolen, which everybody listens to. They love putting on Uncle Archie's healing, soulful music. The story behind the man and the song goes so much deeper than putting on his CD or turning on the radio. His story in song was a call to this nation to stop stealing our babies, because his babies were also at risk of being stolen—his two beautiful sons, Amos and Eban, whom I've seen grow up with beautiful love and care from community and his beautiful parents, Uncle Archie and Aunty Ruby.

They were a dynamite couple when I was growing up in Fitzroy. Everyone loved Uncle Archie and Aunty Ruby. He'd sing in the park, with the parkies, with his guitar. He even sang at my 21st with Aunty Ruby, because he's family. He wasn't that famous when he played at my 21st, but I'll claim it!

I just hope that a condolence motion also means that people are listening to the heartache and the pain that this man endured all his life. He turned that around. He put it into words of music and song to share with the rest of the country, to learn and to heal from. Aunty Ruby was his backbone, and, when she passed, a piece of Uncle Archie went with her. They were inseparable.

I just want to pay my respects to Aunty Diane and Aunty Myrtle. Aunty Myrtle still lives in the public housing unit in Collingwood; Archie's sister still struggles with the day-to-day life of being black in this country. Uncle Archie's family aren't immune to how this country treats First Nations people, and I know Uncle Archie was proud of me getting into the Victorian senate and of me getting in here. I know that because he told me. I know that because I'm still connected to his boys, and the intergenerational trauma of being stolen from your mother when you were four years of age never, ever ends. The symptoms that you all call 'issues'—'Aboriginal issues'—are symptoms of colonisation; stealing children was part of the plan to colonise this country, so we could lose our language, our identity, our connection to country, and our connection to totem and to song and dance.

I pay my respects to the absolute resilience and warrior man that was, and still is, Uncle Archie. Next time you put on Uncle Archie's music, remember his story—and remember that his story is happening today, that it will happen tomorrow and that it will happen the next day. Unless everyone in this chamber is willing to change that, it will continue forever.

So no more stealing children. Let's ensure that Uncle Archie's legacy and fight didn't go unheard. Let's continue his legacy, to ensure that no more children are stolen from their mothers' arms in this country.

12:17 pm

Photo of Patrick DodsonPatrick Dodson (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Let me congratulate you, Deputy President, on your esteemed position. I haven't had the chance to do so.

Archie Roach touched the lives of so many people, Indigenous and non-Indigenous. I dubbed him the poet warrior of our nation, for his songs, his sound and his integrity. His artistic talent would always be greater and more enduring than the efforts of any orator. His haunting lyrics are the work of a modern poet laureate. Archie was a special storyteller and a captivating performer. His voice expressed his stories so powerfully. When I listen to his songs, I hear the dimensions of his life and his experiences, and I am always moved. When I listen to his songs, his voice transports me to places all over—to stories to our country and its past, to hard times and to loss but also to hope. Such is the power of his great gift to us all. This great and powerful gift, Archie's voice telling those stories in his songs, will grow only more relevant and more powerful as time goes on. They are songs that have been the soundtrack to our lives, to key moments and memories, and in that way they have become part of us and our stories. It is difficult to express how important an impact that is, and because of it he will never be forgotten and he will never be truly gone. We will always play his music and share his songs and remember and think of Archie and the great and lasting impact he has had on us and on our country.

We all know the words, the melody, the rhythm of what may be his best work known to us, 'Took the Children Away'. He himself was taken away in 1959, at the age of three, from his biological parents, who were living at Framlingham in Victoria, as Senator Thorpe has mentioned. No wonder he was able to write with such depth of feeling, such empathy and understanding, the lyrics, those words, in 'Took the Children Away', and in a song about Melbourne-born Aboriginal man Russell Moore, who died just over a year ago in a Florida jail. During the royal commission we tried, through the American authorities, to get Russell returned to our country. We were unsuccessful in our efforts.

Russell was a member of the Stolen Generations. He had served 30 years in jail before his death, having been convicted of murder, robbery and sexual assault. An Australian lawyer, Richard Bourke, who lives and practises in Florida, was a tireless advocate for Russell Moore to be transferred to his home country here in Australia. Russell Moore's birth mother, Beverly Whyman, from Swan Hill, also spent many years campaigning for her son to be returned to Australia, until her death in 2017.

'Take the Children Away' was Archie's tribute and lament. On this day of remembrance and mourning, I want to quote just a few lines:

His one true mother who'd searched in vain

For her son she never thought she'd see again

She received a phone call from Florida

They found her son and more bad news for Munjana

Hello Russell, this is your mother calling

Please forgive me I can't stop the tears from falling

You come from this land and sun above

And always remember the strength of your mother's love

They took you there when you were five

Now you're in some jail trying to survive

And if the truth be told when all have testified

Another crime committed here was genocide

My own memories of Archie Roach are focused back in my home country in Broome. I remember sitting under a bower shed at my home with Archie, and with us were Mr Bill Johnson and the late British actor Pete Postlethwaite. Archie and Pete had been on a journey of discovery in the Kimberley. They'd camped out in the desert with the Ngurra native title claimants and witnessed the senior leaders paint a huge canvas depicting their desert country. At night the elders sang the songs of that country and its significance—a huge experience for both Pete and Archie at the time. They walked across the old Fitzroy River at the Fitzroy Crossing and heard the stories of Jandamarra, the famous Bunuba warrior, and his deeds against the encroaching pastoralists and the police possies out to kill him because he had shot one of them. These were the stories of the killing times in the Kimberley being told to Archie and Pete. These travels were undertaken after meeting in Perth with Bill and his family and learning of the brutal murder of Bill's adopted Aboriginal son, Louis St John Johnson, by British backpackers, who used a vehicle instead of horses in the killing.

Bill and Pete had been friends together in England and had accidentally met in Perth when Pete was out here doing a play. We were all working on a documentary called Liyarn Ngarn, for how the two stories of our encounters with each other might become as one and free us from our ignorance, our fears and our prejudices. We were trying to expose truth about events in our historical and contemporary relationships. We involved the AFL legend Michael Long and his reflections upon his courageous walk from Melbourne to Canberra. Michael had attended so many funerals and so many Sorry Days, and he put the question to Prime Minister Howard: 'Where is the love for my people, Prime Minister?'

Archie had composed yet another song for the documentary. It was 'Liyarn Ngarn'. He sang it for us. Its underpinning plea was that we come together because we were already too far apart. As on many occasions when Archie sang, there was not a dry eye in that location. Again, allow me the indulgence of quoting a few lines from the lyrics of 'Liyarn Ngarn':

Where the forest meets the plain

Where the desert meets the rain

Where the river meets the sea

You and me, you and me

Liyarn ngarn, oh we've got to make a start

Liyarn ngarn, 'cause we've been too far apart

Liyarn ngarn, liyarn ngarn—mend all these broken hearts

Life is sour, life is sweet

And our stories seldom meet

But I believe the time has come—

To be one, to be one

How tragic that Archie passed away so young, at just 66 years old. It's not just another premature death of an Aboriginal person; gone is a wonderful, creative spirit. Gone is a great storyteller who knew how to touch the hearts and the souls—the conscience—of our nation, and how those words of Archie in 'Liyarn Ngarn' have a special resonance now as we move towards implementation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart. Archie already believed the time had come, to be one, to be one. The generosity embedded in the Uluru statement is matched by the readiness of Archie Roach to understand, to stimulate, to lift us up to a better place. Guliya, my friend.

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.

12:36 pm

Photo of Jana StewartJana Stewart (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is with deep sadness that I rise to speak on the passing of Uncle Archie. Our nation suffered a profound loss with the passing of Gunditjmara and Bundjalung senior elder Uncle Archie Roach. I had the privilege of speaking with his family over the weekend to offer heartfelt condolences from my mob to his, and in doing that I got to hear how much they loved and adored him. I want to thank his family for generously sharing such an incredible human with the world and offer, again, my sincerest condolences.

I was very fortunate to witness one of his last performances earlier this year at the Treaty Day Out in Shepparton. As soon as he was on stage for his set, the entire crowd moved towards the stage so they wouldn't miss a moment of his words—a beautiful thing to bear witness to.

Uncle Archie was a truth teller, activist and healer. He had a uniquely articulate way of being able to tell the difficult truths of our nation in a way that people could really hear, feel and understand. His music has been described as being built on pain but driven by hope—how very true. Uncle Archie's pain was born out of being a stolen generations survivor. He gave voice to so many survivors with his music. It's heartbreaking to know that he was stolen so young that he has no memory of his mother and he never got to see her again before she passed. My heart smiles when I think of him being reunited and singing again with his great love, Aunty Ruby Hunter, and my heart sings to know that he will finally be reunited with his father and have unlimited moments to embrace his mother in the Dreaming.

There are many people who aspire to contribute to our society in a way that leaves it in a better place than when they got here, but very few really achieve this. Our country is a much better place thanks to his wisdom and music. Our country is a much better place thanks to Uncle Archie. 'Thank you' seems so inadequate in comparison to what you gave all of us, but I've been told that you didn't like a fuss being made over you; you were happy with just a cuppa and a Monte Carlo biscuit. So I'll say thanks by having a cuppa and a bickie for you today, Uncle. May your legacy live on forever. Rest in power, Uncle Archie Roach.

12:38 pm

Barbara Pocock (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I note this is not my first speech. I rise today to join with so many other Australians to reflect on and honour the extraordinary legacy of Archie Roach and to add my condolences to Archie 's loved ones. I was so sad to hear of Archie's passing last week. He was a proud senior elder, a remarkable singer-songwriter and storyteller, and a loving partner, father and foster father.

For me and my family and community, Archie's music was a gift. It provided the soundtrack to our lives from the first album, Charcoal Lane, to his most recent album, Dancing with My Spirit, and with every album and song in between. But Archie's music was much more than a soundtrack; it's a truth telling, and it was a cultural gift of music which cut through to tell us the truth in a way that sometimes books and academic reading and history don't.

Seeing Uncle Archie and Aunty Ruby perform together is a powerful memory. It changed me. There are many ways to learn the truth. Art and music are so important to this, and Uncle Archie's gifts were rich and deep. He was a truth teller. His music and stories brought people across Australia to understand First Nations history and culture, including the ongoing and devastating impacts of colonisation. Through his songs, Archie provided a voice to First Nations people across the country. Of course, his song 'Took the Children Away' taught us all so much and will always be with me as a heart-wrenching recollection of his deep personal experience and the history of our long Stolen Generation and, as my colleagues Lydia and Dorinda have talked about and as others have said, such an important memory and truth telling for our country.

Archie was an inspiration to so many Australians. In an interview with the Guardian in 2019 Archie said:

You can reach the darkest point in our life and come back, and come back good.

This quote reflects his storytelling, which came from a place of deep colonial trauma and its legacy but often had a message of peace and healing. Archie will be remembered by Australians for his courage, for his clarity, for his artistry in telling his own story and for being a voice to the experiences of First Nations people across our country—indeed, all Australians—a teacher, an artist and, as Dorinda said, a healer. Rest in peace and in power, Archie. My condolences to your family: thank you for lending him to all of us for all those years.

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.

12:47 pm

Photo of Sarah HendersonSarah Henderson (Victoria, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Communications) Share this | | Hansard source

I join with my fellow senators in honouring the life of Archie Roach AM. In doing so, I acknowledge that his family has given all of us permission to say his name and to celebrate his life. I want to acknowledge the other, very fine contributions in the chamber today, including from Indigenous senators, and I particularly want to acknowledge the very deep friendship that Archie Roach and Senator Dodson shared.

I'm also speaking as the shadow minister representing the shadow minister for the arts in this place, and few Indigenous Australians have made a greater contribution to Australian music than Archie Roach. In the words of his great friend, the late English actor Pete Postlethwaite:

Archie, a "stolen child" himself, is one of the finest artists of his generation, and a guiding light for the indigenous struggle for recognition and reconciliation. He's been called the Aboriginal William Blake … His music sticks in the soul. It gets deep inside you. These songs are a reaffirmation of identity, country, beliefs and spirit, and as Archie himself says, "they're about how no one listened to our recommendations on stolen kids or people dying in jails. And so it continues ... but we are still watching and constantly taking note."

Archie Roach's music sticks, and will continue to stick, in the soul of Australians. It was his music which helped him to survive the trauma of being forcibly removed from his family at the age of two. Through music he was able to forgive and heal. He said, 'I believe in redemption and I believe in forgiveness, both important aspects of love, because I've … experienced both.'

Archie Roach was a wonderful musician, a wonderful artist and an incredible storyteller. He was also a very significant mentor, including to others who had suffered from the impacts of alcohol. He died far too young, at only 66 years of age, but his music will live on in the hearts and souls of all Australians. I offer my heartfelt condolences to all of Archie's colleagues and friends and, of course to his entire family, especially Amos and Eban, Archie's sons; and Kriss, Arthur and Terrence, Archie's foster children. May he rest in peace.

12:50 pm

Photo of Janet RiceJanet Rice (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to add my voice to these condolences for the loss of Uncle Archie, Gunditjmara, Djab Wurrung, Keerray Woorroong and Bundjalung man. I want to give my thanks, Uncle Archie, for your life, your inspiration, your work for First Nations justice, your work as a storyteller and a truth teller, and your work sharing those stories and those truths with all of Australia. So many of us were touched by those stories and those truths. I want to send my condolences to Uncle Archie's family, to his friends and to everybody who has been touched by his life and his work.

His stories and his truths resonated with so many of us. For me as a Melbourne person, from Archie Roach's debut album, Charcoal Lane, in 1990 his music was sort of a backdrop to our lives. It was part of the soundtrack of people and communities working for First Nations justice. I was actually quite a latecomer in listening to and knowing his music and getting to know what he was sharing with us, but the moment I will never forget was at Federation Square on 13 February 2008, when the apology for the stolen generations occurred here in Canberra. I was in Federation Square and I remember it being a hot afternoon. I remember listening to Uncle Archie singing 'Took the Children Away'. It was just so moving, and a huge crowd of people in Federation Square were just touched to the heart about the truths that he was singing about. He dedicated his performance at Federation Square to the mother he was separated from and to his own children. He said, 'This brings a new start in life for us, the way it should have been'—this apology to the stolen generations.

I followed his career and his music more closely from then on. It was actually a distant friend, however, who gave me a copy of his autobiography; I think it was soon after it was published in 2019; it was probably early to mid-2020. She sent it to me and said, 'I just think you'd enjoy this.' This was soon after the loss of my wife, Penny, and I did. It just moved me so much to read his stories of resilience—everything he had been through and yet the hope and the goodness that he was bringing to the world. The quote that Senator Pocock just shared with us was, 'You can reach the darkest point in your life and come back, and come good.' That is what I think so many people got from his music and from his autobiography. Certainly for me it was a sense that you can get through these darkest times and continue on and be able to continue to work with honesty, to share that resilience and to work for justice together.

It was soon after getting a copy of that—I think it was in April last year—that, for the last time, I heard Uncle Archie perform, at the Werribee cultural centre. He was sharing his music with us, and what really came home to me then was just how his work brought people together. In fact, there's a microcosm. My whole family was there. Everybody had wanted to join together and go to this performance in Werribee, so my then 89-year-old mother and, I think, all of my siblings came together at that concert. Again, everybody was just so moved.

Obviously. the legacy of Archie Roach's life is for us to continue doing the work that he was doing: to continue sharing those stories, to continue sharing those truths and to continue working for justice; to acknowledge the pain, the hurt, the suffering, the genocide that has been going on for our First Nations peoples for over 200 years; and to commit ourselves to ending those awful practices, to stop taking the children away and to be working until our First Nations peoples have all of the rights, there is justice and we have treaties with our First Nations peoples—to continue that work that his songs and his life were such a powerful part of.

Thank you, Uncle Archie, may you rest in peace and in power.

12:55 pm

Photo of Louise PrattLouise Pratt (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

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.

Photo of Matt O'SullivanMatt O'Sullivan (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I ask senators to join in a moment of silence to signify assent to the motion.

Question agreed to, honourable senators joining in a moment of silence.