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Australia Archie Roach, pioneering Indigenous singer behind Took The Children Away, offered message of hope and solidarity

16:52  30 july  2022
16:52  30 july  2022 Source:   abc.net.au

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Archie Roach passed away in hospital surrounded by family and loved ones.  () © Provided by ABC NEWS Archie Roach passed away in hospital surrounded by family and loved ones.  ()

Archie Roach, the ARIA-Award-winning Indigenous singer whose hit song Took The Children Away became an anthem for the stolen generation, has died at the age of 66.

He passed away surrounded by his family and loved ones at Warrnambool Base Hospital in Victoria.

Roach's most famous song, the one that kick-started his career in 1990, was both sorrowful and hopeful, telling the story of the Indigenous children taken from their parents by the state.

It was written from experience.

Roach — a Gunditjmara (Kirrae Whurrong/Djab Wurrung) and Bundjalung Senior Elder — who was born in Mooroopna in central Victoria in 1956 and was taken from his parents and sent to live with a foster family at age 4.

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The song, produced by Paul Kelly, was a straight-forward, beat-less folk number that made use of Roach's deep, powerful voice.

The lyrics — in which an ominous "they" stands for "the welfare and the policeman" — referenced Framlingham, in south-west Victoria, where Roach lived with his family before he was taken away and ultimately sent to live with a Scottish family in Melbourne.

We'll give them what you can't give

Teach them how to really live

Teach them how to live they said

Humiliated them instead

Taught them that and taught them this

And others taught them prejudice

Roach had a difficult life.

At 15, his mother died. He spent his late teens and 20s living on the street, battling an addiction to alcohol.

He began to play music in Melbourne with his wife Ruby Hunter in the 1980s.

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In 1990, after his bandmate saw Roach perform the song on a local TV station, Kelly booked the singer to open for him at the Melbourne Concert Hall.

Roach played just two songs, the second of which was Took The Children Away.

"When the song finished, there was dead silence," Kelly told Double J in 2019. "[Mr Roach] thought that he bombed and just turned and walked off stage.

"As he was he was walking off, the applause started to build and build. The audience had been so stunned that it had taken them a while to respond."

Roach used music to 'connect and heal'

Kelly would go on to produce Roach's debut album, Charcoal Lane, which won him Best New Talent and Best Indigenous Release at the 1991 ARIA Awards.

Took The Children Away became one of the most significant recordings in Australian pop music history and was added to the Sounds of Australia registry at the National Sound and Film Archive in 2013. Roach himself was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame in 2020.

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Australian performer and Boomerang Festival director Rhonda Roberts said when it came to social justice and Indigenous welfare, few people had the reach or influence of Roach.

"For Archie, it's his cultural responsibility to use the power of music and storytelling to communicate, connect and heal to create a stronger, more cohesive and culturally respectful national story," she said in a 2018 speech.

Roach often dealt with the trauma of invasion in his work. Both Song for Elijah (Wrap Our Arms Around You) and Lighthouse are elegies for young Indigenous men who died in violent circumstances.

Roach toured in Australia and overseas with artists including Bob Dylan, Billy Bragg and Leonard Cohen.

He was supposed to conduct his final Australian tour in 2020, but the pandemic changed his plans.

Instead, he performed from his kitchen for his Facebook audience, released a book and educational resources based on Took The Children Away that aimed to reach young people about the Stolen Generation, and won two ARIA Awards for his album Tell Me Why.

In 2010, his wife Ruby died. Later that year, he suffered a stroke, which required a long period of rehabilitation. He had also battled lung cancer and had half a lung removed.

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But he continued to make music, keeping the same message of hope and solidarity that made his earlier work resonate so widely.

"When you are down, and you are feeling lonely," he sang on Song to Sing, from Into The Bloodstream (2012).

"Just get up off the ground, you know you are not the only one down on your knees, asking to be free, from all your pain."


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