The first time I heard Archie Roach was in 1990, on his first CD, Charcoal Lane. I had known about his song Took the Children Away but I hadn’t listened to it until it came out on CD. He had performed it for the first time a couple of years earlier. The album was on high rotation, and we all got to learn the songs, and along with Paul Kelly, it was one of the soundtracks to the 90s in our home.
Archie was a truth teller – he was talking about the Stolen Generation, domestic violence, suicide in communities long before many others. He had his own demons and trauma. His music helped heal others and shone a light for others to find their way.
I must have seen him in concert a dozen times on small and big stages. His final Womadelaide appearance was very special, we all knew were saying good bye to each other. None of us wanted the moment to end. We let the final notes and the echo of the applause hang in the air.
His death on the weekend of Garma Festival has its own kind of symmetry. I remember years ago, him calling on Tony Abbott the then Prime Minister, to end the Northern Territory intervention. This weekend Anthony Albanese, our current Prime Minister added his voice to the death of this legend, in a tweet saying, Our country has lost a brilliant talent, a powerful and prolific national truth teller. Telling the truth is at the heart of this moment in our journey as a nation.
We have a big year ahead as we make visible the truth of the Uluru Statement from the Heart. We can rise to the occasion and as a nation pass a referendum not just to right wrongs, but to go to the next level as a nation. I am optimistic it will be a referendum that everyone will be able to embrace, and passing it will be a moment of national healing, hope, pride and promise.
Archie made visible the pain and ache of the Stolen Generations and translated the personal experience which opened our hearts and taught those of us who had no idea about this awful practice. When the Bringing them Home Human Rights Commission report was released in 1997, his famous song was already nearly a decade old. That report still has recommendations that are yet to be implemented and going back even further the Deaths in Custody Royal commission in 1987 has more recommendations not acted on, than actioned. Invisible recommendations waiting to be made visible.
There is so much unfinished business, so many gaps to close.
We are in a season of truth-telling and listening to Archie’s songs will help hold us through this season.
Voice Treaty Truth
Rest in power