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Archie Roach Tell Me Why

Archie Roach

Tell Me Why: The story of my life and my music

Reviewed by Ian Browne Shamrock News

…the journey must be told to be understood.”

Archie Roach started life on the Framlingham Aboriginal Mission near Warrnambool. He is Gunditjmara on his mother’s side, his father being Bundjalung. Many know this kind soul’s music, a spiritual medicine much loved as far afield as places like Canada. Yet other than just understanding that Archie was taken away from his family by the government of the time, many know little of the details that led to Archie penning such great songs. Along with the depravity that accompanies trauma, this story rises in triumph to a virtuous life lived heartily. The journey must be told to be understood.

I really enjoyed Archie’s description of his time in inner-city Sydney, and Melbourne’s Fitzroy: finding his way through a new life away from his loving foster family. A great album of soothing tunes and rich lyrical wisdom, I had always wondered where some of the places from Charcoal Lane existed. And though I have visited old Fitzroy a couple of times myself, I didn’t know that this was the heartbeat to Melbourne’s Indigenous community until I saw Greig Pickhaver’s SBS story on Fitzroy. Archie himself didn’t cotton on to this either when he first arrived to the port city, finally finding his way there, and thankfully, to a loving family - one lost to him during the years of separation the government carelessly instilled in his people.

The journey through his days with the booze is an intrigue at first, but it becomes grinding. But this oppressive melodrama also helps one experience the depth to Archie’s affliction, and is brave in its admission to depravity of self, allowing the reader to become a piece within the puzzle of Archie’s life - one that a white government scarred from an early age. There are more positives than negatives throughout, as this is a tale of heroics; of passion, care and goodwill. Archie’s life ultimately transcends into prosperity, while along the way he learns more about his ancestral past.

Like many, I am a fan of Paul Kelly for reasons other than just his music. His role in bringing Archie’s message to the world is inspiring. Heartening is Archie’s reconnection with family, a loving life with a wife and children, and the majesty of being able to take his voice to the stage to allow he, and others, to heal. Fascinating too is Archie’s description of his soul partner’s talents in music, and advocacy for social harmony. Rather than just a self-portrait, this book is as much an ODE to Ruby Hunter, and those that supported him through thick-n-thin, than it is a memoir. Ruby becomes your companion throughout too. Pic sourced via

….an important part of our history, it should be told and shared everywhere.”

Interesting is Archie’s visiting of his Bundjalung self, leaving the trail while touring the country to seek out his father’s heritage near Grafton. Having worked alongside both rural and urban Indigenous Australians through media and education, I was fascinated by Archie’s connection with an Aboriginal elder from Kuranda, Far North Queensland, who expressed his sympathy for the people of the ‘south’ whose lives were more acutely affected by government control: “We got to preserve our old ways. You mob never lost your spears, though, you just put them down.”

The endless nagging of a past stolen - a life that continued on without the loving guidance of his mother and father - this story saw tears falling many a time. Generous are moments of great beauty, great sadness, and as a white fella who has been blessed with an intimate connection to many tribes of this old continent over the years, I do still struggle with the inheritance of guilt handed down, one that saw our black brothers and sisters suffer at the hands and sour hearts of those who came from the cold lands of my genetics. While I am happy sharing Archie Roach’s and Paul Kelly’s musical esteems when they come across my desk, I have to say that this book - this life journey - is an important part of our history, and it should be told and shared everywhere.

Pic sourced via


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