First Nations readers are advised the following contains the names of First Nations people who have passed. This article has been written in collaboration with Uncle Archie’s sons, Amos and Eban Roach.
Uncle Archie Roach was a Gunditjmara (Kirrae Whurrong/Djab Wurrung) and Bundjalung Elder and storyteller. While his soul-stirring music and powerful truth-telling have touched the hearts of people all over the world, it was his deep love for family, community and justice that will be his forever legacy within the First Nations community. Uncle Archie was a singer, songwriter, performer and activist dedicated to creating opportunities for young mob to live happy and healthy lives. He was a member of the Stolen Generations – forcibly removed from his family at an early age.
Born in Mooroopna in 1956, Uncle Archie spent his first two years living with family and community in Framlingham, where his mother was born. At the age of two, Uncle Archie was taken from parents he never saw again and placed into foster care. During this time, government agencies could forcibly remove First Nations children from their families under assimilation policy. Assimilation was based on a belief of white superiority, and presumed First Nations people would naturally disappear. It was presumed First Nations children with lighter skin would be more easily assimilated into white society, which was not the case.
After a series of traumatic experiences, Uncle Archie was eventually placed with loving foster parents Alex and Dulcie Cox. They were a Scottish couple living in Naarm (Melbourne) who had children of their own. Growing up in the Cox family nurtured Uncle Archie’s love of music. “Dad Cox” – as Uncle Archie referred to him – had an epic record selection featuring Black artists from the United States. Mary (Alex and Dulcie’s oldest daughter) sang church hymns and showed Uncle Archie how to play chords on the guitar and keyboard.
At the age of 15, Uncle Archie received a letter from one of his biological sisters, Myrtle, who told him his biological mother Nellie had passed away. The letter also said he was one of seven siblings, which he hadn’t known. He decided to leave his foster home to embark on a journey to connect with family and culture. Uncle Archie faced many challenges during this period, including homelessness, incarceration and alcoholism. At the age of 17, Uncle Archie met Ruby Hunter – another member of the Stolen Generations and the love of his life. Ruby shared Uncle Archie’s deep love of music. Together they had two sons, Amos and Eban Roach, and cared for many other children.
In 1990, Uncle Archie released his debut album Charcoal Lane. This album included Took the Children Away, which is one of Uncle Archie’s most loved and listened to songs. It also included Down City Streets – a powerful song about homelessness that Ruby wrote. This album won two ARIA music awards and is certified gold. Uncle Archie went on to record multiple award-winning albums over a period of 30 years, and was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame in 2020. He also received a Human Rights Achievement Award for Took the Children Away – the only songwriter to receive this award.
Releasing my debut album, Charcoal Lane back in 1990, was the most amazing experience in my life… Music has kept me going, kept me alive. It’s something that I have come to love, especially the relationship I have with those who come to my shows.
In 2014, Uncle Archie established the Archie Roach Foundation to create meaningful opportunities for First Nations artists. He believed the foundation could support mob to be the best they can be, and guide young First Nations artists in their musical journeys. Uncle Archie also believed in the power of music to bring people together, to communicate and to heal.
Uncle Archie’s music and storytelling has left a lasting impact on countless people. His contribution to music and culture has been remarkable, bringing stories of the Stolen Generations to a global stage. His lyrics have helped people understand what happened to First Nations children who were taken away from their families. His truth-telling and tireless activism have inspired so many First Nations people, and will continue to do so for generations to come. Uncle Archie’s commitment to backing young First Nations artists through the Archie Roach Foundation exemplifies his belief in the transformative power of art and education.