Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islander readers are advised that this story contains the name and image of a person who has died. Uncle Archie Roach’s family have given permission for his name and image to be used.
A state memorial service for the late Uncle Archie Roach took place at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl in Melbourne last night (December 15), where the Gunditjmara and Bundjalung singer-songwriter and activist was celebrated by thousands.
Roach died in July of this year at the age of 66, after a period of long illness, surrounded by friends and family at Warrnambool Base Hospital on Gunditjamara Country. In August, Roach was honoured with a public tribute through the streets of Melbourne, before being laid to rest in Warrnambool.
Last night, Victorian Premier Dan Andrews made a “profound apology” on behalf of the Victorian government for the “immense pain, suffering and despair placed upon Archie due to past government policies and laws”.
Roach was one of many First Nations people displaced and separated from their families as part of the Stolen Generations. He was just three years old when taken from his family, and never saw his parents again. He reflected on his experience as a survivor of the Stolen Generations on ‘Took The Children Away’.
“The Victorian government apologises for the forced removal from your family, from your Country, community, culture and language, and for depriving you of your birthright by actions perpetrated on you,” Andrews said.
“We apologise for the extreme, inhumane acts committed against you, the torture, the unspeakable hurt and the intergenerational trauma that you and your family continue to carry and experience due to your removal,” he continued. “I am sorry. We are sorry.”
The apology was accepted on behalf of Roach’s last remaining sibling, his sister, Aunty Myrtle Roach. “[Archie] was a gift to me. I am proud of him. He chose to fight, to survive,” Aunty Myrtle said. “This is an apology for all my brothers and sisters who don’t get one.”
Uncle Archie’s monumental life and legacy was also remembered by those who knew and loved him, as well as through performances by the likes of Briggs, Paul Kelly, Emma Donovan, Dan Sultan and Roach’s son, Amos Roach.
Kelly – who had a decades-long friendship with Roach – described an often-recounted story about the pair’s first meeting, when Roach opened for Kelly in 1989. “He did a 20-minute set and he finished with ‘Took The Children Away’, and when he finished there was dead silence in the crowd and Archie thought he’d bombed,” Kelly said.
“He sort of slumped a bit and started walking off to the wings. As he walked, slowly this applause just built, and built, and built, and all the hairs went up on the back of my neck and on my arms and shoulders and everywhere. And Archie just walked off, to the night.”
Kelly performed Roach’s song ‘Charcoal Lane’ on the evening, joined by Fred Leone. Amos Roach led a rendition of his father’s 1990 debut single ‘Took The Children Away’ with Uncle Kutcha Edwards, Nola Lauch and the Pertame School Choir. Briggs, with Kelly, Donovan and Jess Hitchcock, performed his own song, 2015’s ‘The Children Came Back’.
Donovan performed alongside Deline Briscoe, Sally Dastey, Amy Saunders and Jen Anderson, while Sultan, David Bridie, Radical Son and Goanna‘s Shane Howard also performed Roach’s songs.
In October, it was announced that a statue of both Roach and the late Ruby Hunter – Roach’s musical collaborator and life partner – would be raised in Fitzroy. Hunter and Roach met in 1973, and remained companions until Hunter’s passing at age 54 in 2010.
Roach released debut solo album ‘Charcoal Lane’ in May of 1990, with the record going on to become one of the most pivotal in Australian music history. It quickly earned Gold certification, and won two awards at the 1991 ARIAs – Best New Talent and Best Indigenous Release.
Roach would go on to release many more albums over the next three decades. In 2015, he was made a Member of the Order of Australia for his service to the performing arts and to the community for his activism and pursuit of social justice.
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’, which arrived in 2020. He won eight ARIA Awards in his lifetime, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame.