Indigenous Australia’s mesmerizing voice Archie Roach dies at 66

When Archie Roach was 3 or 4 years old, welfare officials came to take him away from his family in southeastern Australia. His aunt tried to intimidate him with a gun, and his cousins ​​tried to hide him under a pile of leaves. His mother cried; His father came running from the fields. His memories of that moment were shattered, he said, but he was eventually carried on the shoulder of a police officer, told that he was going for a picnic.

Mr Roach Part of the “stolen generations” were thousands of Indigenous Australian children who were forcibly evicted from their homes under government inclusion policies that ran into the 1970s. As an adult, he struggled with alcoholism and homelessness, sleeping on the streets of Sydney and Melbourne while trying to reconnect with his family members. He spent time in prison and hospitals, suffering seizures doctors linked to his alcohol abuse, and attempted suicide while trying to dry up.

The music helped ease his pain. “It gave me something to fill the gap left by drinking,” he told People magazine. With his raucous baritone, gentle guitar playing, and poignant lyrics about family, love and politics, he became one of Australia’s best-known singer-songwriters, having produced his first single, the 1990 song “Take the Children Away”. Raised awareness about stolen generations through the medium.

“This story is true, this story is true; I will not lie to you,” he sang. Take our hand,’ make us stand on mission ground. He taught us to read, write and pray.

“Then they took the kids.”

Mr Roach was 66 when he died on 30 July at a hospital in Warrnambool, Victoria, on Australia’s south-east coast. His death was announced in a statement by his sons, Amos and Eban, who gave permission for his name and image to be used. (For cultural reasons, many Australian Indigenous peoples do not use a person’s name and image after death.) He said Mr Roach had a “long illness” – he admitted to battling chronic obstructive pulmonary disease – but a specific Reason not given.

“Our country has lost a brilliant talent, a powerful and prolific national truth teller,” Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said on twitter, “Archie’s music came out of a well of trauma and pain, but it flowed with a beauty and a resonance that affected us all.”

A senior veteran of the Gunditjamara and Bundjalung peoples, Mr Roach was a leading advocate for tribal communities, working with indigenous children in juvenile detention centers and educational resources to help students learn about stolen generations. were developing. Abuse of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people “was as much a part of Australia’s history as Captain Cook and Burke & Wills,” he told the Guardian in 2020, referring to the British explorers who helped map the continent .

“We still need to own the entire history of this country and be honest and courageous,” he said. “That’s the only way we’re going to move forward.”

Mr Roach drew on American country, soul and gospel in his music, releasing 10 studio albums and debuts for artists including Billy Bragg, Tracy Chapman, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Patti Smith and Paul Simon. But he remains most famous for “Too the Children Away”, written in the late 1980s, some time after historian Peter Reid began using the term “Stolen Generation” to describe the forcible removal of indigenous children from their homes. Years later.

“It’s a milestone,” wrote Melbourne Age in 1990, shortly before the release of Mr Roach’s debut album, “Charcoal Lane”. “Besides its place in Aboriginal history, it is a great Australian folk song, perhaps the greatest since ‘The Band Played Waltzing Matilda’.”

When Mr Roach first started playing the song, the audience was stunned. “I had goose bumps and hair on the back of my neck as he sang it,” singer-songwriter Paul Kelly told The Guardian, recalling Mr Roach’s 1989 performance in Melbourne. “He finished the song and there was still silence. He just stood there for a minute, and there was still silence.

“Archie thought he’d bombed, that everyone hated it, so he just turned and started walking off the stage. And as he left, this applause started building up and building up. … I’d never seen it before – people were so stunned at the end of the song that it took them a while to gather themselves to clap.”

Five years after Mr Roach recorded the song, the Australian government launched a national investigation into Stolen Generations. It found that from 1910 to 1970, 1 in 3 Indigenous children—many of mixed white and Aboriginal ancestry—were removed from their communities and taken into churches and foster homes, on the grounds that a Western upbringing was more humane. Was. According to the investigation, many of the children suffered physical and sexual abuse, which drew comparisons of forced removal policies to genocide.

After more than a decade of campaigning by Mr Roach and other activists, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd issued an official government apology in 2008, which he described as “a great stain on the soul of the country”. Last year, Australia’s government agreed to pay around $280 million for victims taken from their families.

“For years I carried this burden, not only of being removed, but of who I was removed from: my mother and father,” Mr Roach told Australian Broadcasting Corporation in 2018. “It was like I was carrying them with me on my back for years. When apologizing, it felt like the weight had changed and I felt lighter. To me it was like they were set free The father was to return as a red-bellied black snake, and the mother to fly as a wedge-tailed eagle,” a central figure in tribal mythology.

Archibald William Roach was born in the rural town of Muropna, Victoria. On January 8, 1956. One of seven children, he was living in Framlingam, where he died when he and some of his siblings were moved to a foster home. the officials Tried to westernize her, including trying to comb her hair, and falsely telling her that her parents had died in a house fire.

Mr Roach was adopted in Melbourne by Scottish immigrants whom he described as kind and loving. But “there was always an uneasiness inside me, as if waiting for a fault line to break,” he recalled. Around the age of 14, he received a letter from a younger sister, Myrtle, informing him that his mother had died the previous week. He left home and spent the next 14 years searching for information about his past, eventually being reunited with two sisters and other relatives.

As a homeless teenager in Sydney, he met Ruby Hunter, a fellow Aboriginal musician who was also drawn from his family. They became musical partners, married and referred to each other as “father” and “mother”, terms of affection they used in the absence of their birth-parents.

By the late 1980s he had formed a band, the Altogethers, and moved to Melbourne, where Mr Roach’s performance on a local television show attracted the attention of guitarist Steve Connolly, who had played with Kelly’s band The Messengers. Together, Kelly and Connolly produced Mr Roach’s debut album, which won two ARIA Awards, the equivalent of an Australian Grammy.

Mr Roach said he was initially uncomfortable with being in the limelight, and considered quitting music for a while. He continued After receiving encouragement from Hunter, who told him, “It’s not about you, Archie Roach. How many Blackfellas do you get to record an album?”

His later records included “Ju Dreaming” (1993), “Looking for Butter Boy” (1997) and “Tell Me Why” (2019), which was accompanied by his memoir of the same name. When the coronavirus pandemic forced him to cancel his last concert, he sat down at his kitchen table and re-recorded the songs from his debut album, the new version titled “The Songs of Charcoal Lane” (2020) ) issued as

Mr Roach was appointed a member of the Order of Australia in 2015 and inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame in 2020. Information on survivors was not immediately available.

Hunter died of a heart attack in 2010 at the age of 54, and Mr Roach was still mourning his loss when he suffered a stroke that left him temporarily paralyzed in his right side. got killed. The next year, he was diagnosed with cancer, which resulted in the loss of half of his lung. Nevertheless, he continued to perform with the aid of supplemental oxygen.

He would often say that every time he played “Take the Children Away”, he would release a little pain. “I still feel pain every day,” he told Time magazine. “Sometimes it threatens to swallow me up. But I won’t let it destroy me.” Eventually, he said, that pain would go away forever.