Six months after his death at age 66, legendary Gunditjmara (Kirrae Whurrong/Djab Wurrung) and Bundjalung singer-songwriter and activist Archie Roach has been posthumously awarded a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC).
Roach has been awarded the honour for his “eminent service to the performing arts as a songwriter and musician, to Indigenous rights and reconciliation, and through support for emerging First Nations artists.”
Archie Roach – ‘Took the Children Away’
Roach’s posthumous elevation to the Companion of the Order of Australia comes after he was, in 2015, among those in that year’s Queen’s Birthday honours list as a Member of the Order of Australia (AM). Speaking to The Guardian, Roach’s nephew Shane Evans said he and his family would today – 26th January – reflect on Roach’s life, and the pain and suffering he and other First Nations people have endured.
While today is officially known as Australia Day, it is also referred to as Invasion Day or Survival Day, reflecting the long history of colonisation against First Nations people in Australia, and its ongoing injustices. Evans said Roach was able to “lighten the load” of that suffering by “sharing the stories with his beautiful ballads,” particularly with the late Ruby Hunter, who was his musical and life partner for decades prior to her own death in 2010.
Ruby Hunter – ‘Down City Streets’
Jill Shelton, Roach’s longtime friend and manager, told The Guardian that the songwriter would be “humbled and thrilled” about the award. She said that he had thought deeply about the “ambiguities” of accepting such an honour on today’s date.
“Archie was a deep thinker, he understood the complexities, the troubled landscape of being forcibly removed and his own journey as a member of the Stolen Generations and everything that meant,” Shelton told the publication. “He always saw awards as honouring not only him … it was an award for all his community, brothers, sisters, artists everywhere.”
Born in the rural Victorian town of Mooroopna in 1956, Roach was forcibly removed from his parents at a young age and placed into foster care as a member of the Stolen Generations. The experience inspired his first single ‘Took the Children Away’, released in 1990 as the lead single from debut album Charcoal Lane.
The album earned gold certification and won two awards at the 1991 ARIAs – Best New Talent and Best Indigenous Release. Roach’s final album, The Songs of Charcoal Lane, was released in 2020 to celebrate the album’s 30th anniversary, featuring re-recorded versions of the songs on its track list.
Over his lifetime, Roach won eight ARIA awards and was inducted into its Hall of Fame in 2020. At this year’s ceremony, Roach was posthumously awarded Best Independent Release for his track ‘One Song’.
Throughout his life, Roach remained dedicated to activism and advocacy. In 2014, he launched the Archie Roach Foundation to nurture and provide opportunities for young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the arts. The Foundation continues its work to this day.
Roach died in July 2022 at the age of 66 on Gunditjmara Country in Warrnambool, Victoria. In a statement shared by his family at the time, it was said that Roach had “passed, surrounded by his family and loved ones” in hospital following a period of long illness.
Last month, Roach was honoured with a state memorial service in Melbourne where Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews apologised for the “extreme, inhumane acts” committed against the late musician “due to past government policies and laws.”
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