Archie Roach has died, aged 66

The Gunditjmara (Kirrae Whurrong/Djab Wurrung) and Bundjalung Senior Elder, songman and activist released 10 studio albums and changed thousands of lives across his storied career

Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islander readers are advised that this story contains the name and image of a person who has died.

Archie Roach has died at age 66, his sons Amos and Eban confirmed tonight (July 30).

According to a statement they made on behalf of the Roach family, the revered Gunditjmara (Kirrae Whurrong/Djab Wurrung) and Bundjalung Senior Elder, songman and storyteller passed away at Warrnambool Base Hospital, surrounded by friends and family. Amos and Eban expressed gratitude towards the hospital’s staff, who took care of Roach over the past month as he struggled with “a long illness”.

“Archie wanted all of his many fans to know how much he loves you for supporting him along the way,” they wrote. “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.”

A private ceremony will be held in the near future.

In the statement, it is noted that Amos and Eban Roach have granted permission for Roach’s name, image and music to be used “so that his legacy will continue to inspire”.

A STATEMENT BY AMOS AND EBAN ROACH ON BEHALF OF THE ROACH FAMILYWe are heartbroken to announce the passing of…

Posted by Archie Roach on Saturday, July 30, 2022

Roach was born on January 8, 1956 in the rural Victorian town of Mooroopna. He discovered music through the extensive collection of Scottish music owned by his foster parents, Alex and Dulcie Cox. He started making his own music in the late 1980s, forming The Altogethers with his wife, Ruby Hunter, as well as several other Indigenous musicians.

After relocating to Melbourne, Roach was convinced by Henry “Uncle Banjo” Clark to write his first song, ‘Took The Children Away’, and begin performing it in various public settings. In 1988, he delivered live renditions of the song – a rumination on the Stolen Generations, of which he and his siblings belong to – on community radio and an Indigenous current affairs program. He soon caught the attention of Paul Kelly, who invited Roach to perform the song at a concert the following year.

Roach went on to release his debut solo album, ‘Charcoal Lane’, in May of 1990. It went on to become one of the most pivotal albums in Australian music history, quickly earning a Gold certificate and winning two awards at the 1991 ARIAs (Best New Talent and Best Indigenous Release). In 1990, the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission awarded ‘Took The Children Away’ with the first-ever Human Rights Award for songwriting.

Archie Roach performing at WOMADelaide 2021. Credit: Kelly Barnes/Getty Images
Archie Roach performing at WOMADelaide 2021. Credit: Kelly Barnes/Getty Images

30 years after its initial release, Roach re-recorded ‘Charcoal Lane’ in its entirety for his 10th (and final) studio album, ‘The Songs Of Charcoal Lane’. That was released November of 2020, the same year that Roach was named the Victorian Australian Of The Year and inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame.

It added to a long list of the iconic musician’s honours – in 2011, he became one of the first people to be named on the Victorian Aboriginal Honour Roll. Four years later, he was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) during the 2015 Queen’s Birthday Honours. Earlier this year, two monuments were unveiled on the shores of Lake Bonney in Barmera, South Australia, paying tribute to Roach and Hunter. The latter died in February 2010, aged 54.

In October 2010, while he was taking part in a songwriting workshop in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, Roach – then aged 55 – suffered a stroke. He went on a short hiatus to recover, and returned to performing in April 2011, the same year he battled with – and overcame – lung cancer. As a result of his cancer diagnosis, Roach underwent major surgery and had one of his lungs removed. He still continued to perform with the assistance of an oxygen tube.

Archie Roach performing at WOMADelaide 2021. Credit: Kelly Barnes/Getty Images
Archie Roach performing at WOMADelaide 2021. Credit: Kelly Barnes/Getty Images

Between his two ‘Charcoal Lane’ records, Roach released eight other studio albums – including 2019’s ‘Tell Me Why’ (a companion to his memoir of the same name), which marked his first Top 10 album – as well as two live albums, a soundtrack for the 2002 film The Tracker, and four compilation albums. The last of those, ‘My Songs: 1989–2021’, was released back in March via Bloodlines, and has been nominated for Album Of The Year at the 2022 National Indigenous Music Awards.

Roach performed his last string of tour dates earlier this year, noting in January that would be his last in NSW as a result of his dwindling health, which he cited was his “biggest challenge”. Earlier this month, he performed a medley of Bob Marley songs for triple j’s ‘Like A Version’ series.

Since the news of Roach’s death broke earlier tonight, dozens of Australian musicians, politicians and other notable figures have paid tribute to the beloved musician.

“Our country has lost a brilliant talent, a powerful and prolific national truth teller,” wrote Prime Minister Anthony Albanese. “Archie’s music drew from a well of trauma and pain, but it flowed with a beauty and a resonance that moved us all.”

“We grieve for his death, we honour his life and we hold to the hope that his words, his music and his indomitable spirit will live on to guide us and inspire us.”

Archie Roach was proof that music could change lives and move hearts. Music changed his life and his music changed the…

Posted by Tony Burke MP on Saturday, July 30, 2022

Rest in Power Uncle Archie Roach. A pioneering musician and survivor of the Stolen Generations. Your songs will live forever. Thank you, Archie for everything you gave us. 🖤💛💔He’s with Ruby now.

Posted by Linda Burney on Saturday, July 30, 2022