Singer-songwriter Archie Roach won a Human Rights award for his song Took the Children Away which was based on his own experience as a child of the Stolen Generation. Now he says something needs to be done to stop a dark chapter in Australia’s history from repeating itself.
Roach may have a new album, Let Love Rule, out next week, but he still managed to get to the release of a report by Victoria’s Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People, Andrew Jackomos, last week.
The report painted a picture of a new Stolen Generation, warning of a 59 percent increase in the number of Aboriginal children placed in care from 2013 to 2015, with many cut off from their culture and families.
Roach told the National Indigenous Times the report’s findings were “frightening”.
“There’s a new generation of kids being removed from their families and culture and we have to do something about that,” he says. “We’ve got to figure something out.”
As a child, Roach was removed from his family and grew up struggling to find his way back to his people and his culture. Took the Children Away from his first album Charcoal Lane in 1990 is about his journey.
He says the involvement of Aboriginal elders is vital to helping children who have been displaced.
“Back in the day there were a lot of older people who aren’t with us anymore unfortunately, they just got too old,” he says. “That’s what helped me. There were no services or anything like that.
“A lot of elders connected me back to country and family. They asked me, not so much who I was, they asked me who my father was and who my mother was and they were able to connect me back to country and family. That was very helpful for me.
“That’s what we’re doing. Myself and other elders, we ask them, ‘What’s your name’? More times than not we’ll know the family name.”
Roach says young people locked up in institutions are also being cut off from their roots.
He is patron of the Parkville College which three years ago began to improve the quality of education in the youth justice system for students who are, or have been, detained in Victoria.
“We need to get to a place where we sit down and have a proper discussion with young people in detention and young people before they get into places like Parkville and Malmsbury,” he says. “We need to look at that again…. there are so many kids locked up who don’t have any idea who they are or who their families are.
“It’s getting them to find out a bit more about who they are and where they are from…just getting them connected to family and country and culture is a good thing.”
Roach recently returned home to Victoria after touring Europe. He launched his new album Let Love Rule on Saturday and it’s officially released on November 11.
It follows his 2012 album Into the Bloodstream which came after a difficult time in his life. He lost his life partner, musician Ruby Hunter, in 2010 and suffered a stroke later that same year.
“Let Love Rule is exploring the theme of love,” he says. “They are all songs about love. Love is so many things. Love of country. Love of people. Inclusiveness. Songs like that.
“It took over a year, writing and recording songs.
“The last album before this one, Into the Bloodstream, that was a big part of healing. I’m certainly in a better place now.”
Roach’s career has spanned several decades. He says there have been so many highlights, such as opening for music legend and recent Nobel prize for literature recipient Bob Dylan in Sydney.
“I never really met him,” Roach says. “I just opened for him. He’s a pretty private bloke. But when I sang the song Took the Children Away he was standing in the wings listening to that one song.”
* Let Love Rule is out November 11. Roach is touring with American singer songwriter Rodriguez in November and December. For concert details visit archieroach.com.au