Archibald William Roach AM (8 January 1956 – 30 July 2022), also known as Uncle Archie, was an Australian musician and Aboriginal activist. He was a singer, songwriter, and guitarist, and also a Gunditjmara and Bundjalung elder and campaigner for the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. His wife and musical partner was the singer Ruby Hunter (1955–2010).
Roach first became known for the song “Took the Children Away”, which featured on his debut solo album, Charcoal Lane, in 1990. He toured around the globe, headlining and opening shows for Joan Armatrading, Bob Dylan, Billy Bragg, Tracy Chapman, Suzanne Vega and Patti Smith. His work has been recognised by numerous nominations and awards, including a Deadly Award for a “Lifetime Contribution to Healing the Stolen Generations” in 2013. At the 2020 ARIA Music Awards on 25 November 2020, Roach was inducted into their hall of fame. His 2019 memoir and accompanying album were called Tell Me Why.
Roach died on 30 July 2022 at Warrnambool Base Hospital in Victoria, after a long illness.
Archibald William Roach was born on 8 January 1956 in Mooroopna, Victoria. Mooroopna is named after an Aboriginal word referring to a bend in the Goulburn River near Shepparton in central Victoria. Roach was of Gunditjmara (Kirrae Whurrong / Djab Wurrung) and Bundjalung heritage.
In 1956, Roach’s family, along with the remaining Aboriginal population at Cummeragunja, were rehoused at Rumbalara. The family subsequently moved to Framlingham, where his mother had been born.
At the age of two or three, Roach and his sisters, along with the other Indigenous Australian children of the Stolen Generations, were forcibly removed from their family by government agencies and placed in an orphanage. After two unpleasant placements in foster care, Roach was eventually fostered by Alex and Dulcie Cox, a family of Scottish immigrants in Melbourne. Their eldest daughter Mary Cox would sing church hymns and taught Roach the basics of guitar and keyboards. Roach’s love of music was further fuelled by Alex’s collection of Scottish music. “He was a big influence on me — a good influence. I’ll love him to the day I die.”
At fifteen, Roach was contacted by his natural sister, who told him their mother had just died. He spent the next fourteen years on the streets, battling alcoholism. Roach met his future wife, Ruby Hunter, at a Salvation Army drop-in centre known as the People’s Palace in Adelaide when she was sixteen.
Roach’s wife, Ruby Hunter, was another child of the stolen generations; they were frequent collaborators and inseparable partners until Hunter’s death in 2010. They are pictured here sitting on the steps of the Family Group Home in Thornbury, Melbourne, in 1990:
Roach’s career spanned three decades, during which he toured extensively, headlining and opening shows for singers such as Joan Armatrading, Bob Dylan, Billy Bragg, Tracy Chapman, Suzanne Vega and Patti Smith.
In the late 1980s, Roach and Hunter formed a band, the Altogethers, with several other Indigenous Australians and moved to Melbourne. At the urging of Henry “Uncle Banjo” Clark, Roach wrote his first song, “Took the Children Away”, which he performed on a community radio station in Melbourne and on an Indigenous current affairs program in 1988. Australian musician Paul Kelly invited Roach to open his concert early in 1989, where he performed “Took the Children Away”, a song telling the story of the Stolen Generations and his own experience of being forcibly removed from his family. His performance was met with stunned silence, followed by shattering applause.
In 1990, with the encouragement of Kelly, Roach recorded his debut solo album, Charcoal Lane, which was released in May 1990. The album was certified gold and awarded two ARIA Awards at the 1991 ceremony. The album included “Took the Children Away” which became one of the most important songs in Australia’s contemporary history. In 1990, Australia’s Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission’s awarded the song its first Human Rights Award for songwriting. Charcoal Lane featured in the top 50 albums for 1992 by Rolling Stone magazine.
In May 1993, Roach released his second studio album, Jamu Dreaming. The album was recorded with musical assistance from David Bridie, Tiddas, Paul Kelly, Vika and Linda Bull, Ruby Hunter, Dave Arden and Joe Geia. The album peaked at number 55 on the ARIA Charts.
In 1995, Roach toured extensively throughout the US, Canada, the UK and Europe. He returned to Australia to record the title track for ATSIC’s Native Title CD, Our Home, Our Land, with Tiddas, Kev Carmody, Bart Willoughby, Shane Howard and Bunna Laurie. In 1996, Roach performed as part of a presentation to the Human Rights Commission’s Inquiry into the Stolen Generations, before embarking on a national tour as a guest of Tracy Chapman.
In October 1997, Roach released his third studio album, Looking for Butter Boy, which was recorded on his traditional land at Port Fairy in south-western Victoria. The album’s lead single, “Hold On Tight”, won the ARIA Award for Best Indigenous Release in 1997 and the album won the same award and the Best Adult Contemporary Album at the 1998 award ceremony.
In July 2002, Roach released his fourth studio album, Sensual Being, which peaked at number 59 on the ARIA charts. In 2002, he worked on the Rolf de Heer film The Tracker.
In 2004, Roach and Hunter collaborated with the Australian Art Orchestra (AAO) and Paul Grabowsky to create a concert titled Ruby’s Story. Ruby tells the story of Ruby Hunter through music and the spoken word, from her birth near a billabong on the banks of the Murray River, through the stolen generation, search for identity and the discovery of hope through love. The production debuted at the Message Sticks Festival at the Sydney Opera House in June 2004, to good reviews. In 2004, the soundtrack, Ruby, won the Deadly Award for Excellence in Film & Theatrical Score, and the show went on to tour nationally and internationally until 2009. The soundtrack was released as an album on CD and as a digital download in 2005.
In October 2004 a new concert, once again a collaboration with Hunter, Grabowsky and the AAO, entitled Kura Tungar – Songs from the River, premiered at the Melbourne International Arts Festival, which was directed by Robyn Archer that year. The concert, which was directed by Patrick Nolan, told stories from the two performers’ lives, and featured songs about the Murray River and Ngarrindjeri Country, Ruby’s home. The music used Roach and Hunter’s lyrics and chords combined with Grabowsky and the AAO’s contemporary jazz orchestration. It played to full houses which gave standing ovations and was later performed at the Sydney Opera House and Adelaide Festival Centre. In 2005 Kura Tungar won the Helpmann Award for the Best Contemporary Australian Concert at the 5th Helpmann Awards.
In October 2007, Roach released Journey, an album of songs as a companion piece to a documentary film called Liyarn Ngarn, made with Roach, Patrick Dodson and Pete Postlethwaite.
In November 2009, ABC Music released previously unreleased Roach recordings from 1988 under the album title 1988.
In October 2012, Roach released Into the Bloodstream, an album he described as being built on pain following the death of his wife in February 2010. In 2013 he won a Deadly Award for Album of the Year for this album, as well as a “Lifetime Contribution to Healing the Stolen Generations”.
In October 2013, Roach released Creation, a 4-CD box set of his first four studio albums. The album was released to coincide with the premiere of Roach’s new live show, also entitled Creation, which debuted at the inaugural Boomerang Festival in Byron Bay from 4 to 6 October 2013.
At the APRA Music Awards of 2015 2015, Roach (and Shane Howard) won Best Original Song Composed for the Screen “The Secret River” from The Secret River.
In November 2015, Roach celebrated the 25th anniversary of Charcoal Lane with a deluxe remastered edition. The new edition included a second disc featuring previously unreleased Triple J – Live At The Wireless recordings and new interpretations of classic Charcoal Lane material by various artists. In November and December 2015, Roach undertook a national tour to celebrate the album’s 25th anniversary.
In November 2016, Roach released his seventh studio album, Let Love Rule, which peaked at number 24 on the ARIA Charts, becoming his highest charting album to date.
At the APRA Music Awards of 2017 in March 2017, Roach won the Ted Albert Award for Outstanding Services to Australian Music.
In April 2018, Roach performed at the Commonwealth Games closing ceremony on the Gold Coast with Amy Shark.
In May 2019, Roach released The Concert Collection 2012–2018 and in July 2019, was nominated for two awards at the 2019 National Indigenous Music Awards.
On 1 November 2019, Roach published a memoir entitled Tell Me Why: The Story of My Life and My Music, and released a companion album, Tell Me Why, on the same day. His book was shortlisted for the 2020 Victorian Premier’s Prize for Nonfiction and won the 2020 Indie Book Non-Fiction Award. It also won the Audiobook of the Year at the 2021 Australian Book Industry Awards. The album’s lead single “Open Up Your Eyes” is the first song Roach ever wrote, dating back to the late 1970s, but had not before been recorded. Tell Me Why became Roach’s first top-ten album on the ARIA Charts.
Wash My Soul in the River’s Flow (2021), written and directed by Philippa Bateman and produced by Bateman, Kate Hodges and Roach, is a feature-length documentary film based on the 2004 concert Kura Tungar-Songs from the River, featuring Roach, Hunter, Paul Grabowsky and the Australian Art Orchestra, in which Hunter and Roach sing about the Murray River and Ngarrindjeri lands. The film also tells of the love story between Hunter and Roach, and is interspersed with vision of The Coorong. The film had its world premiere at the Brisbane International Film Festival in October 2021 and was an official selection for the Sydney Film Festival and the Melbourne International Film Festival in December 2021.
In March 2022, Roach released his career-spanning anthology, titled My Songs: 1989–2021, which was subsequently nominated as the Album of the Year for the 2022 National Indigenous Music Awards two weeks before his death.
In 2013, shortly after receiving his Lifetime Deadly Award, Roach called on recently elected Prime Minister Tony Abbott for an end to the Northern Territory Intervention. (wikipedia)
Jamu Dreaming is the second studio album by Australian singer song writer Archie Roach. The album was released in May 1993 and peaked at number 55 on the ARIA Charts. The album was recorded with musical assistance from David Bridie, Tiddas, Paul Kelly, Vika and Linda Bull, Ruby Hunter, Dave Arden and Joe Geia.
At the ARIA Music Awards of 1994, the album was nominated for Best Indigenous Release.
Bob Townsend from No Depression said the album is “a more hopeful celebration of his ancestry and search for justice” than his debut. David Gulliver commented on the material range from songs of domestic violence, the wonder that comes from being a father and simple domestic happiness. Gulliver said “Musically, Jamu Dreaming relies on simple beauty, not catchy choruses. Archie is no great tunesmith, so he relies on the power of his voice and his lyrics to keep the listener captivated. His voice is most impressive on the slower songs, where he can let his voice breathe in the simple piano arrangement.” adding “Archie’s lyrics are unashamedly from the heart, and in his homilies to family life, it is his sheer honesty that prevents the listener from cringing.” (wikipedia)
What a biography, what a man, what a voice !!! And yes … he was one of the most important singer/songwriter of Australia …
And I bow before him …
Jen Anderson (violin)
Dave Arden (guitar)
David Bridie (keyboards)
Joe Geia (guitar, digjeridoo)
Stephen Hadley (bass)
Ruby Hunter (guitar, background vocals)
Graham Lee (pedal steel-guitar)
Peter Luscombe (drums, percussion)
Shane O´Mara (guitar)
Helen Mountfort (cello)
Rowan McKinnon (guitar, bass)
Alex Pertout (cymbals, tambourine)
Archie Roach (vocals, guitar)
Mark Wallace (piano, accordian)
Chris Wilson (harp)
Tiddas (backround vocals):
Amy Saunders – Lou Bennett – Sally Dastey
Vika Bull – Linda Bull – Roby Hunter – Paul Kelly
01. Weeping In The Forest (Roach) 4.52
02. From Paradise (Roach) 4.20
03. Mr. T (Roach) 4.34
04. Love In The Morning (Roach) 4.21
05. Tell Me Why (Roach) 3.25
06. Walking Into Doors (Roach) 4.50
07. Wild Blue Gums (Roach) 4.42
08. So Young (Arden) 3.11
09. Angela (Roach) 4.06
10. Jamu Dreaming (Roach/Bridie/Phillips) 4.19
11. There Is A Garden (Roach) 8.09
The official website: