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Goodbye Archie

While I have been thinking about posting some new work, I want this first post back to pay tribute to the most wonderful singer/songwriter, Archie Roach*

His powerful songs were written from his heart, about his experiences of being a member of the Stolen Generation, living on the streets, finding his family and his soul mate Ruby Hunter. His words bridged the gap between Indigenous and white worlds, helping people like me to understand the impacts of institutional and societal racism.

I went to a concert last year, and was moved by his generosity, humility and storytelling, as well as his wonderful songs. I thank him for those songs that have been a part of my life for so long.

I recommend you read this obituary.

Or listen to Archie’s conversation with Sarah Kanowski

However, if you only have time to do one thing, please listen to his song “Took the children away”.

You can feel the heartbreak in his voice, being taken from his parents at a young age. He was one of the Stolen Generation, a disgusting government policy where Aboriginal and Torrens Strait Islander children were forcibly removed from their families. This extract from Common Ground explains it more:

Under this policy, the forcible removal of First Nations children was made legal. Assimilation was based on a belief of white superiority and black inferiority, and presumed that “full-blood” Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples would naturally die out. It proposed that children with Aboriginal and white parentage, who were termed “half-caste” (now considered an extremely derogatory term), should be assimilated into white society. It was believed these children would be more easily assimilated due to their lighter skin.

Children were separated from their families and forced to adopt a white culture. They were forbidden to speak their traditional languages or refer to themselves by the names that they were given by their parents. Most children were placed in institutions where neglect and abuse was common. Some children were adopted by white families throughout the country, and many of these children were used for domestic work.

News of his death came at the same time as the Garma Festival in the Northern Territory, where our new Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, announced a referendum to decide for an Indigenous Voice to Parliament. It flows from the beautiful Uluru Statement from the Heart, and goes some way towards acknowledging the racism on which Australia was built.

*The Indigenous tradition is to not use the image, voice and name of a person who has died. However his family has given permission for his name, image and voice to be used, so that his legacy can continue to inspire.


I respectfully acknowledge the traditional custodians of this land on which I live – the Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung People of the Kulin Nation, their spirits, ancestors, elders and community members past and present.

By anne54

Botanic artist

18 replies on “Goodbye Archie”

Isn’t it a shame that we often come across someone after they have left our lives? I am sure there are many who haven’t heard of Archie, so while I wanted to pay tribute, I also wanted others to hear his music and understand a little of the life so many Indigenous people live. Thank you for listening and understanding.

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I knew /of/ Archie but never listened to his music. It’s fitting that even his death has raised awareness of a history most of us would rather not know. I can’t work out whether our official histories were deliberately altered to exclude the truth about First Nations people or whether people of the time were so oblivious, or so arrogant, that they simply never thought about it. I know it was never taught at school in the 60’s.
I wish the date for Australia Day could be changed. It’s so callous to celebrate the day on which the oldest living, continuous culture on Earth began to be destroyed.

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Like you Meeks, I learnt very little at school, and what was in the curriculum was racist, stereotypical rubbish ~ people emerging from the stone age etc. I think our education was based on arrogance and indifference rather than a deliberate policy to exclude. But i could be wrong. i would love the date to be changed too. i think it will be in the next couple of years.

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I think a lot of the worst bits of our shared history were simply glossed over. The only conflict I can remember reading about was the Eureka Stockade. The Guardian has a website in which they’ve brought together all of the first hand history – letters etc – and those first hand accounts tell a story of massacre after massacre as the Indigenous people started to fight back. Or at least they tried to. Here’s the URL if you’re interested:

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/ng-interactive/2019/mar/04/massacre-map-australia-the-killing-times-frontier-wars

Fingers crossed on the change to Australia Day. Personally, I’d add a day to the New Year’s celebrations as I think January 1 was when the various states actually /became/ a nation.

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In one of my University papers we read of the Stolen Generation – I remember snippets of it – including clips of the gov’t cars arriving to take the children away. And I also remember that in the late 1970s when I worked in the children’s hospital in Perth of the aboriginal children admitted for white mans’ illnesses – mostly they were admitted via outside services, rarely did we see a parent… But when I did, I always found out how aspects of living in something we take for granted a “house with kitchen” the parents had no idea how to…How the children got sick, through lack of instruction on living “our way” … sadly it wasn’t a good time.

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Unfortunately Catherine, there are many indigenous people who still have to live in substandard housing, and often not access to affordable fresh produce. Children have eye and ear problems that are easily fixed by clean running water, which their public housing may not have. it is a disgrace.

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Thank you for this Anne – I wasn’t aware of Archie Roach but I knew of the existance of the Stolen Generation from films like “Rabbit-Proof Fence”. His song sent a shiver up my spine. So much damage done by such arrogant/careless insitutions, it beggars belief. I am also wondering why there isn’t already an “Indigenous Voice” to Parliament?

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Emma, that is an excellent question. A similar question is ‘why has there never been a treaty?’ The underlying answer is that Australia was built on the dispossession of Aboriginal and Torrens Straight Islanders and racism has always been strong here. It wasn’t until the early 90s that Native Title was legally recognised. So a Voice to Parliament, while well overdue, hasn’t been part of the political landscape before. I think the referendum will be successful ~ and I certainly hope so!

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I had never heard of Archie Roach either and my knowledge of the stolen generation was vague to almost non-existent. Thank you for telling this story. What a remarkable couple he and Ruby must have been! Yesterday my friend Lindy and I visited Mrs Snail and in our conversation were remarking on how the attitude of white superiority lives on in some ex-pats even now and how ashamed we feel of their behaviour. It makes me angry and sad.

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i am glad I was able to bring Archie Roach to your attention. He was a remarkable man, and by all accounts warm and generous, despite the hard life he lived. I get angry too when I hear bigotry. The referendum will stir up some of those bigots. I just hope they will be drowned out.
How is Mrs Snail gong? And the shop?

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She is enjoying her new venture and has some lovely stock. There seems to be a steady stream of customers popping in and friends join her some days too for a while. It is interesting to hear her talkking about the things which sell which she didn’t expect to and how she is learning as she goes along. I love going there!

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That was a sad and beautifully sung song. That sounds like an amazing plan to celebrate his life and song with your art. I read some of the YouTube comments belong the song and this one broke my heart:
“Wow. What a powerful song! My partner is a proud Bunjalung man. His father was picked up off the Streets of Sydney by police (when he was just a child) and put into a boy’s home. His family, his culture, and his identity were stripped from him. He went through terrible abuse in the boy’s home. Just like this song says, when he was old enough “he came home” (i.e. the children came home). The trauma he experienced growing up affected him for life. Being a child of the 80’s, I grew up knowing nothing about “The stolen generation”. Now I think – “How wrong could we as a nation have gotten things?” Why was there not more respect shown towards our First Nations people? We should have done better! We need to do better!””

This is the same story around the world of what has been done to Indigenous people by those of European decent who have come to colonize their lands. We have horror stories in the US of what was done to Indigenous children.

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That is a really powerful comment, Tierney. And unfortunately it is not something that happened in the past. Indigenous children are over represented in out-of-home-care and incarceration rates in youth justice centres. Life expectancy is well below white people, poorer education results, etc, etc. You are right to point out that similar trauma is affecting indigenous peoples in the US and Canada. It is a shameful record. And must be changed.

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I really wanted to link to every song he wrote! Reading these comments, I am glad that I was able to show him to other people, even if it took his death to prompt me to do it. I hope you enjoy the conversation. I got a lot out of his autobiography too.

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