Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that this story contains the name of a person who has died.
The Gunditjmara-Bundjalung elder was one of 1,047 people to receive honours at this year’s awards. The event was held today, January 26 – a date known as “Australia Day” that’s also referred to as Survival Day or Invasion Day. He was recognised for his eminent service to the performing arts sector, his support of First Nations artists, and his activism for Indigenous rights and reconciliation.
Other notable recipients in the music and arts sector include actor Claudia Karvan, who was appointed Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM), director Phillip Noyce as an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) and actor David Wenham, who was appointed Member of the Order of Australia (AM).
Roach was a powerful voice for many First Nations people. He released 10 studio albums across his career, including ‘Charcoal Lane’ in 1990. ‘Took The Children Away’, a deeply personal song from that album about the Stolen Generations, saw Roach win two ARIA awards and a Human Rights Achievement Award.
Over his career, he also released a memoir, a poetry book and a children’s book about the Stolen Generations — a period where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were forcibly removed from their families under government policies.
In 2014, Roach founded The Archie Roach Foundation, which he established to support emerging First Nations musicians.
Speaking to SBS, Roach’s son Amos said: “He just had a balanced way of making people aware of what was happening and he could articulate some things about this country through his own story.”
“The foundation was sort of an extension of his cultural roles, responsibilities and obligations, which he was always passionate about,” he added. “I remember dad saying that he believes in the future of this country. And I believe he helped shape to [sic] a bit of that.”
Speaking to The Guardian, Roach’s manager Jill Shelton added: “He loved this country, loved getting out, loved his audience, and loved singing. That was keeping him going when all the doctors predicted he wouldn’t make it. They called him superhuman.
“He always saw awards as honouring not only him … it was an award for all his community, brothers, sisters, artists everywhere,” she said. “What a privilege to walk alongside such a great man, one of the most important storytellers for this country.”
Roach died in July last year, at the age of 66, after a period of long illness. He was subsequently honoured with a public funeral procession through the streets of Naarm/Melbourne, before being laid to rest in Warrnambool.
A state memorial service was also held for Roach in December, where Victorian Premier Dan Andrews made an apology on behalf of the Victorian government for the “immense pain, suffering and despair” Roach experienced as a victim of the Stolen Generations.