Vale Archie 🖤
The team here at the National Portrait Gallery would like to pay tribute to Archie Roach and extend our sincere condolences to his family and friends.
Archie Roach AM (1956–2022), singer/songwriter and storyteller, has been described as the voice of the Stolen Generations. A Gunditjmara and Bundjalung Elder, he was removed from his parents at age four and eventually happily settled with a couple at Lilydale, Victoria. Roach recalled being introduced to music through his adoptive father’s LP collection, and by hymns at church. His foster parents had been told that his natural family had died in a house fire, and he grew up believing this was true. But at age fifteen, he received a letter from his natural sister telling him of their mother’s death. Confused and embittered, he ran away in search of his family and spent the next fourteen years on the streets. While staying at a Salvation Army shelter in Adelaide in the early 1970s he met Ruby Hunter (1955–2010), a Ngarrindjeri woman who became his creative collaborator and life partner and with whom he had two sons. In 1987, having experienced homelessness and overcome alcoholism, he wrote his first song, ‘Took the Children Away’. He performed it for the first time amidst the protests at the bicentenary celebrations in 1988; his performance, to a mainly white audience, was met with stunned silence. Paul Kelly invited him to open a concert in early 1989, and Kelly co-produced Roach's first album, Charcoal Lane (1990), which was on US Rolling Stone's list of Top 50 albums for 1992, achieved gold sales in Australia, and earned Roach two ARIAs and a human rights award. In all, Roach recorded ten studio albums, including Into the Bloodstream (2012) and Let Love Rule (2016). His ninth album Tell Me Why (2019) won two ARIAs and was released in accompaniment to Roach’s memoir of the same name, for which he won the Victorian Premier's Literary Award for Indigenous Writing. Both solo and with Hunter, Roach recorded and performed with many top Australian and international acts, and a subsequent generation of First Nations musicians and performers have cited Roach and Hunter as inspiring influences on their own lives and work. ‘Took the Children Away’ was added to the National Film and Sound Archive’s Sounds of Australia register in 2013 and it was among the songs Roach re-recorded for The Songs of Charcoal Lane in 2020, when he was also inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame.
[📷 Archie Roach, 1992 (printed 2010) by Bill McAuley © Bill McAuley]