Unifying voice- Tribute to Archie Roach

Archie-Roach-and-Lori-Anne-Sharp-at-the-2019-ANMF-Biennial-Conference. Photograph by Chris Hopkins

Like so many people across the country I was deeply saddened to hear of the death of Archie Roach on 30 July this year, at age 66, a premature death, tragically a story too common for First Nations people.

Archie Roach, Guditjmara (Kirrae Whurrong/Djab Wurrung), Bundjalung Senior Elder, was part of the stolen generation and is well known for his powerful and generous storytelling through song.

Heartbreakingly, we have witnessed a number of prominent musicians leave us in recent months, Archie Roach, Judith Durham and Olivia Newton-John. Coincidently, all of who have had some connection with the ANMF. Both Judith Durham and Archie Roach have performed at past ANMF delegate conferences and Olivia Newton-John recently spoke at the ANMF Medicinal Cannabis conference. ANMF delegates may recall Archie Roach singing at the 2019 ANMF biennial delegates’ conference. Despite ill health, Archie managed to amaze delegates as he sang ‘Old Mission Road’ and other sweet tunes.

Listening to music is one of the simple pleasures in life, a very common shared experience to relieve stress and connect with friends. As ANMF members across the country have and are continuing to withstand high levels of work pressure in responding to the pandemic, listening to music can be one saving solace. Instantly uplifting, relaxing or simply just a way to escape and unwind.

Archie Roach’s music offered much comfort and healing, widely described as a unifying voice, his tunes captivated audiences and shed light on the injustices experienced by First Nations people. Part of the stolen generation, Archie was taken from his family at the age of three. Much of his storytelling speaks to the effects of colonisation on his people. A powerful and generous man, Archie was committed to helping others and set up the Archie Roach Foundation in 2014 to support young Indigenous individuals in the justice system by promoting the arts.

In the early 1990s and as a young student nurse in my third year of nursing, I was fortunate to spend some time down at Framlingham (South West Victoria) working in community health with the local Aboriginal Health Service. It was part of a transcultural nursing elective at the time. Framlingham, now a protected Indigenous area was once the location of the Framlingham mission and where Archie Roach resided in his early years before being forcibly removed by government authorities. A story reflected in his famous song ‘They took the children away’.

I recall this time at Framlingham fondly and not just for the many koalas spotted regularly in the manna gums of the Framlingham Forest, but also for the many connections made with the local community and I was fortunate to experience their generosity first-hand. It was also a great surprise when I had a chance encounter with Archie Roach when he visited briefly during my time there.

As many of us pay tribute to the legendary song man Archie Roach and reflect on the impact his music and storytelling have had on our nation, we should be reminded that much needs to be done to address the inequality that still exists for First Nation Australians.

Acknowledging the effects of colonisation and addressing the inequity/disadvantages experienced by First Nation Australians in regard to life expectancy, chronic disease, education, employment, incarceration rates, deaths in custody and racism must be a priority for this nation. The Uluru Statement from the Heart, endorsed by the ANMF Executive, calls for an independent voice in the Constitution with full inclusion of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voice through voice, treaty and truth-telling. With a new ALP government elected in May, our nation will now be given an opportunity to unite and vote yes in a referendum to recognise a First Nation constitutional voice in Parliament.

Archie’s sons Amos and Eban Roach, have given permission for Archie’s name, image and music to be used so that his legacy will continue to inspire.
Photograph: Chris Hopkins

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