‘Big tree down’: Archie Roach remembers being a First Nations truth-teller, healer and champion | australian music
Australian Aboriginal songwriter and activist Archie Roach has been hailed as a “brave” and “powerful” truth-teller, as figures in politics and the arts mourn his passing.
Roach died aged 66, after a long illness, surrounded by family and loved ones at Warrnambool Base Hospital.
“We are heartbroken to announce the passing of Gunditjmara (Kirrae Whurrong / Djab Wurrung), Bundjalung Senior Elder, singer and storyteller Archie Roach,” his family announced on Saturday evening.
Roach’s death sparked an outpouring of praise for the activist and musician, who brought the horrors of the Stolen Generations to national attention with his song Took the Children Away.
Olympian Cathy Freeman described Roach as a “champion of First Nations people and all of humanity.”
“I will remember (uncle) Archie Roach as a brave storyteller and a remarkable musician,” she said. “You will never be forgotten.”
Australian music legend Paul Kelly, who had worked with Roach from the early days of his music career, simply wrote:
“Archie Roach. Big tree on the ground. Cry in the forest.
Billy Bragg, who also worked with Roach, said his death was a loss “to all of us who believe music can be used as a tool to seek justice”.
“Sorry to learn of the passing of the great Australian Indigenous songwriter and activist Archie Roach,” said the British musician and activist.
“His passing is not just a loss to Australia, but to all of us who believe music can be used as a tool to seek justice.”
Linda Burney, Minister for Indigenous Australians, said Roach was “one of our country’s greatest singers and truth-tellers” and a “giant to the Australian music industry and our crowd”.
“For many Australians, Archie was their first exposure to the horrors of the Stolen Generations.
“His voice, his music and his story were born out of trauma and pain.
“His powerful songs also brought people together. They provided strength and still serve as a source of healing – putting into words what was indescribable.
“We are all so saddened by his passing.”
Greens Senator Lidia Thorpe spoke about the important role Roach has played in bringing healing and peace to Indigenous communities.
“Uncle Archie, thank you for validating the trauma felt in our communities since colonization,” she said. “Your music has brought us healing and peace. May our ancestors protect and guide you.
Victoria’s Assembly of First Peoples, the state’s democratic voice for Indigenous Australians, said there were “no adequate words to sum up the loss…to the community, to the nation or even to the world”.
Roach suffered a stroke and battled lung cancer following the death of his wife Ruby in 2010. He continued to perform even after having his lung removed.
Roach’s debut album, Charcoal Lane, released in 1990, and the track Took the Children Away helped define his career. He went on to release nine studio albums, as well as a film soundtrack, compilations and live albums. Her November 2019 album, Tell Me Why, became her first to reach the national top 10.
The former Gunditjmara-Bundjalung’s death was confirmed by his sons Amos and Eban Roach.
“We are so proud of all that our father has accomplished in his remarkable life,” the couple said.
“He was a healer and a unifying force. His music brings people together.
On Saturday night, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the nation was mourning the loss of a “brilliant talent, a powerful and prolific national truth-teller”.
“Archie’s music tapped into a well of trauma and pain, but it flowed with a beauty and resonance that moved us all,” Albanese said in a social media post.
“We mourn his death, we honor his life, and we remain hopeful that his words, music, and indomitable spirit will live on to guide and inspire us.”