Archie Roach, the legendary Indigenous Australian artist whose song “Took the Children Away” was recognized with a Human Rights Medal, died Saturday (July 30) after a long illness. He was 66.
The Gunditjmara (Kirrae Whurrong/Djab Wurrung), Bundjalung senior elder, songman, prolific storyteller and First Nations champion was surrounded by his family and loved ones at Warrnambool Base Hospital, according to a message from Mushroom Group.
“We are so proud of everything our dad achieved in his remarkable life,” reads a statement from the late artist’s sons Amos and Eban Roach. “He was a healer and unifying force. His music brought people together.”
In a career spanning more than 30 years and eight albums, Roach, or Uncle Arch as he was lovingly known, “contributed more songs to the Australian canon than many other writers could dream of,” reads a statement on behalf of National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Music Office and APRA AMCOS.
“He carried his people and their stories with him wherever he went and we are all richer as a musical community because of the many truths he revealed about our shared history through his songs.”
Those truths were crystalized in “Took The Children Away,” a heartbreaking tale of the enforced separation of First Nations children from their families.
It was a song penned from personal experience.
Roach’s life and career was celebrated on numerous occasions. He was made a Member of The Order of Australia (AM) (in 2015), and received the Ted Albert Award for Outstanding Services to Australian Music (in 2017).
When presenting the Ted Albert Award, broadcaster Stan Grant shared what Roach had told him about the creation of “Took The Children Away.” “When I first wrote that, it was my story. Then I saw it as an Aboriginal story. And, now it’s an Australian story,” Roach said.
At the 2015 APRA Screen Music Awards, Roach and co-writer Shane Howard won best original song composed for the screen for “A Secret River” from The Secret River.
The songsmith was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame in 2020, marking the 30th anniversary of the release of Charcoal Lane, his debut full length album which carried “Took The Children Away.”
The album received two ARIA Awards in 1991 and “Took The Children Away” received an international Human Rights Achievement Award, the first time that the honor had been bestowed on a songwriter.
The song is now preserved in the National Film And Sound Archive Of Australia.
All told, Roach won nine ARIA Awards, including the best male artist honor in 2020.
Australia’s prime minister Anthony Albanese led tributes to Roach.
“Our country has lost a brilliant talent, a powerful and prolific national truth teller,” he recounts in a social media post. “Archie’s music drew from a well of trauma and pain, but it flowed with a beauty and a resonance that moved us all.”
He continues, “We grieve for his death, we honor his life and we hold to the hope that his words, his music and his indomitable spirit will live on to guide us and inspire us.”
“We are all deeply saddened to hear this news. Archie Roach’s powerful, unifying storytelling has had an immeasurable impact not only on the Australian music community, but music lovers everywhere,” comment ARIA and PPCA CEO Annabelle Herd.
“His resounding talent and tireless dedication have left a legacy that will continue to inspire for many generations to come. Our thoughts are with his family, and all the countless lives he impacted for the better, as we celebrate his extraordinary life.”
Uncle Archie, says Dean Ormston, CEO of APRA AMCOS, was “already a national treasure, and his voice has never been more poignant and powerful.”