Archie Roach, iconic Aboriginal songwriter and activist, dies aged 66

Archie Roach, the legendary Indigenous Australian artist whose song “Took the Children Away” was recognized with a human rights medal, died on Saturday (July 30) after a long illness. He was 66.

Gunditjmara (Kirrae Whurrong/Djab Wurrung), Bundjalung senior elder, singer, prolific storyteller and First Nations champion was surrounded by his family and loved ones at Warrnambool Base Hospital, according to a statement from the Mushroom Group.

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“We are so proud of all that our father has 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 affectionately known, contributed “more songs to the Australian canon than many other writers could dream of,” a statement on behalf of of National Aboriginal and the 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.”

These truths were crystallized in “Took The Children Away,” a heartbreaking tale of the forced separation of First Nations children from their families.

It was a song written from personal experience.

Roach’s life and career were celebrated on numerous occasions. He was appointed a Member of The Order of Australia (AM) (in 2015) and received the Ted Albert Award for Outstanding Services to Australian Music (in 2017).

Presenting the Ted Albert Award, broadcaster Stan Grant shared what Roach had told him about the making of “Took The Children Away”. “When I first wrote it, 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 songwriter was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame in 2020on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the publication of Charcoal trackhis debut full-length album, which bore “Took The Children Away”.

The album received two ARIA Awards in 1991 and “Took The Children Away” received one international Human Rights Achievement Award, the first time the honor was bestowed on a songwriter.

The song is now preserved in National Film and Sound Archive of Australia.

In total, Roach won nine ARIA Awards, including Best Male Artist of 2020.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese led tributes to Roach.

“Our country has lost a brilliant talent, a powerful and prolific national truth teller,” he says in a post on social media. “Archie’s music drew from a well of trauma and pain, but it flowed with a beauty and resonance that moved us all.”

He continues: “We mourn his death, we honor his life and we hold on 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,” commented 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.”

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