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Archie Roach

Archie Roach 2016.jpg
Roach in 2016
Background information
Birth name Archibald William Roach
Born (1956-01-08)8 January 1956
Mooroopna, Victoria, Australia
Died 30 July 2022(2022-07-30) (aged 66)
Warrnambool, Victoria, Australia
Genres Folk, ballads, Aboriginal rock
Occupation(s) Musician, songwriter, storyteller
Instruments Vocals, six-string guitar
Years active 1980s–2022
Labels Mushroom, Liberation Music, ABC Music
Associated acts The Altogethers, Ruby Hunter

Archibald William Roach AM (8 January 1956 – 30 July 2022) was an Australian singer, songwriter and Aboriginal activist. Often referred to as "Uncle Archie", Roach was a Gunditjmara and Bundjalung elder who campaigned for the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. His wife and musical partner was the singer Ruby Hunter (1955–2010).

Roach first became known for the song "Took the Children Away", which featured on his debut solo album, Charcoal Lane, in 1990. He toured around the globe, headlining and opening shows for Joan Armatrading, Bob Dylan, Billy Bragg, Tracy Chapman, Suzanne Vega and Patti Smith. His work has been recognised by numerous nominations and awards, including a Deadly Award for a "Lifetime Contribution to Healing the Stolen Generations" in 2013. At the 2020 ARIA Music Awards on 25 November 2020, Roach was inducted into their hall of fame. His 2019 memoir and accompanying album were called Tell Me Why.

Early life

Archibald William Roach was born on 8 January 1956 in Mooroopna, Victoria. Mooroopna is named after an Aboriginal word referring to a bend in the Goulburn River near Shepparton in central Victoria. Roach was of Gunditjmara (Kirrae Whurrong / Djab Wurrung) and Bundjalung heritage.

In 1956, Roach's family, along with the remaining Aboriginal population at Cummeragunja, were rehoused at Rumbalara. The family subsequently moved to Framlingham, where his mother had been born.

At the age of two or three, Roach and his sisters, along with the other Indigenous Australian children of the Stolen Generations, were forcibly removed from their family by government agencies and placed in an orphanage. After two unpleasant placements in foster care, Roach was eventually fostered by Alex and Dulcie Cox, a family of Scottish immigrants in Melbourne. Their eldest daughter Mary Cox would sing church hymns and taught Roach the basics of guitar and keyboards. Roach's love of music was further fuelled by Alex's collection of Scottish music. "He was a big influence on me — a good influence. I'll love him to the day I die."

At fifteen, Roach was contacted by his natural sister, who told him their mother had just died. He spent the next fourteen years on the streets. Roach met his future wife, Ruby Hunter, at a Salvation Army drop-in centre known as the People's Palace in Adelaide when she was sixteen.


Roach's career spanned three decades, during which he toured extensively, headlining and opening shows for singers such as Joan Armatrading, Bob Dylan, Billy Bragg, Tracy Chapman, Suzanne Vega and Patti Smith.

1989–2000: Charcoal Lane, Jamu Dreaming and Looking for Butter Boy

In the late 1980s, Roach and Hunter formed a band, the Altogethers, with several other Indigenous Australians and moved to Melbourne. At the urging of Henry "Uncle Banjo" Clark, Roach wrote his first song, "Took the Children Away", which he performed on a community radio station in Melbourne and on an Indigenous current affairs program in 1988. Australian musician Paul Kelly invited Roach to open his concert early in 1989, where he performed "Took the Children Away", a song telling the story of the Stolen Generations and his own experience of being forcibly removed from his family. His performance was met with stunned silence, followed by shattering applause.

In 1990, with the encouragement of Kelly, Roach recorded his debut solo album, Charcoal Lane, which was released in May 1990. The album was certified gold and awarded two ARIA Awards at the 1991 ceremony. The album included "Took the Children Away" which became one of the most important songs in Australia's contemporary history. In 1990, Australia's Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission's awarded the song its first Human Rights Award for songwriting. Charcoal Lane featured in the top 50 albums for 1992 by Rolling Stone magazine.

In May 1993, Roach released his second studio album, Jamu Dreaming. The album was recorded with musical assistance from David Bridie, Tiddas, Paul Kelly, Vika and Linda Bull, Ruby Hunter, Dave Arden and Joe Geia. The album peaked at number 55 on the ARIA Charts.

In 1995, Roach toured extensively throughout the US, Canada, the UK and Europe. He returned to Australia to record the title track for ATSIC's Native Title CD, Our Home, Our Land, with Tiddas, Kev Carmody, Bart Willoughby, Shane Howard and Bunna Laurie. In 1996, Roach performed as part of a presentation to the Human Rights Commission's Inquiry into the Stolen Generations, before embarking on a national tour as a guest of Tracy Chapman.

In October 1997, Roach released his third studio album, Looking for Butter Boy, which was recorded on his traditional land at Port Fairy in south-western Victoria. The album's lead single, "Hold On Tight", won the ARIA Award for Best Indigenous Release in 1997 and the album won the same award and the Best Adult Contemporary Album at the 1998 award ceremony.

2001–2009: Sensual Being and Journey

In July 2002, Roach released his fourth studio album, Sensual Being, which peaked at number 59 on the ARIA charts. In 2002, he worked on the Rolf de Heer film The Tracker.

In 2004, Roach and Hunter collaborated with the Australian Art Orchestra (AAO) and Paul Grabowsky to create a concert titled Ruby's Story. Ruby tells the story of Ruby Hunter through music and the spoken word, from her birth near a billabong on the banks of the Murray River, through the stolen generation, search for identity and the discovery of hope through love. The production debuted at the Message Sticks Festival at the Sydney Opera House in June 2004, to good reviews. In 2004, the soundtrack, Ruby, won the Deadly Award for Excellence in Film & Theatrical Score, and the show went on to tour nationally and internationally until 2009. The soundtrack was released as an album on CD and as a digital download in 2005.

In October 2004 a new concert, once again a collaboration with Hunter, Grabowsky and the AAO, entitled Kura Tungar – Songs from the River, premiered at the Melbourne International Arts Festival, which was directed by Robyn Archer that year. The concert, which was directed by Patrick Nolan, told stories from the two performers' lives, and featured songs about the Murray River and Ngarrindjeri Country, Ruby's home. The music used Roach and Hunter's lyrics and chords combined with Grabowsky and the AAO's contemporary jazz orchestration. It played to full houses which gave standing ovations and was later performed at the Sydney Opera House and Adelaide Festival Centre. In 2005 Kura Tungar won the Helpmann Award for the Best Contemporary Australian Concert at the 5th Helpmann Awards.

In October 2007, Roach released Journey, an album of songs as a companion piece to a documentary film called Liyarn Ngarn, made with Roach, Patrick Dodson and Pete Postlethwaite.

In November 2009, ABC Music released previously unreleased Roach recordings from 1988 under the album title 1988.

2010–2016: Into the Bloodstream and Let Love Rule

Archie Roach
Roach performing at WOMADelaide in 2011

In October 2012, Roach released Into the Bloodstream, an album he described as being built on pain following the death of his wife in February 2010. In 2013 he won a Deadly Award for Album of the Year for this album, as well as a "Lifetime Contribution to Healing the Stolen Generations".

In October 2013, Roach released Creation, a 4-CD box set of his first four studio albums. The album was released to coincide with the premiere of Roach's new live show, also entitled Creation, which debuted at the inaugural Boomerang Festival in Byron Bay from 4 to 6 October 2013.

At the APRA Music Awards of 2015 2015, Roach (and Shane Howard) won Best Original Song Composed for the Screen "The Secret River" from The Secret River.

In November 2015, Roach celebrated the 25th anniversary of Charcoal Lane with a deluxe remastered edition. The new edition included a second disc featuring previously unreleased Triple J – Live At The Wireless recordings and new interpretations of classic Charcoal Lane material by various artists. In November and December 2015, Roach undertook a national tour to celebrate the album's 25th anniversary.

In November 2016, Roach released his seventh studio album, Let Love Rule, which peaked at number 24 on the ARIA Charts, becoming his highest charting album to date.

2017–2022: The Concert Collection 2012–2018 and Tell Me Why

At the APRA Music Awards of 2017 in March 2017, Roach won the Ted Albert Award for Outstanding Services to Australian Music.

In April 2018, Roach performed at the Commonwealth Games closing ceremony on the Gold Coast with Amy Shark.

In May 2019, Roach released The Concert Collection 2012–2018 and in July 2019, was nominated for two awards at the 2019 National Indigenous Music Awards.

On 1 November 2019, Roach published a memoir entitled Tell Me Why: The Story of My Life and My Music, and released a companion album, Tell Me Why, on the same day. His book was shortlisted for the 2020 Victorian Premier's Prize for Nonfiction and won the 2020 Indie Book Non-Fiction Award. It also won the Audiobook of the Year at the 2021 Australian Book Industry Awards. The album's lead single "Open Up Your Eyes" is the first song Roach ever wrote, dating back to the late 1970s, but had not before been recorded. Tell Me Why became Roach's first top-ten album on the ARIA Charts.

Wash My Soul in the River's Flow (2021), written and directed by Philippa Bateman and produced by Bateman, Kate Hodges and Roach, is a feature-length documentary film based on the 2004 concert Kura Tungar-Songs from the River, featuring Roach, Hunter, Paul Grabowsky and the Australian Art Orchestra, in which Hunter and Roach sing about the Murray River and Ngarrindjeri lands. The film also tells of the love story between Hunter and Roach, and is interspersed with vision of The Coorong. The film had its world premiere at the Brisbane International Film Festival in October 2021 and was an official selection for the Sydney Film Festival and the Melbourne International Film Festival in December 2021.

In March 2022, Roach released his career-spanning anthology, titled My Songs: 1989–2021, which was subsequently nominated as the Album of the Year for the 2022 National Indigenous Music Awards two weeks before his death.


In 2013, shortly after receiving his Lifetime Deadly Award, Roach called on the recently elected prime minister, Tony Abbott, for an end to the Northern Territory Intervention.


  • Charcoal Lane (1990)
  • Jamu Dreaming (1993)
  • Looking for Butter Boy (1997)
  • Sensual Being (2002)
  • Journey (2007)
  • Into the Bloodstream (2012)
  • Let Love Rule (2016)
  • Dancing with My Spirit (2018)
  • Tell Me Why (2019)
  • The Songs of Charcoal Lane (2020)

Personal life

Ruby Hunter and Archie Roach1
Roach (right) with Ruby Hunter at the 2009 Tamworth Country Music Festival

Roach was married to the singer Ruby Hunter (died 2010) who was also his musical partner. They had two sons, Amos and Eban.

On 14 October 2010, Roach suffered a stroke while working in the Kimberley region. After recuperating, he returned to live performance in April 2011. He also survived lung cancer, due to early diagnosis in 2011 and major surgery.

Death and legacy

Roach died on 30 July 2022 at Warrnambool Base Hospital after a long illness. His sons, Amos and Eban, have given permission for his name and image to continue to be used "so that his legacy will continue to inspire". Tributes were paid to his memory by prominent names in arts, politics and sport including Australian prime minister Anthony Albanese, Victorian premier Daniel Andrews and musicians including Emma Donovan, Briggs, John Schumann, Alice Skye, Emily Wurramara, Paul Kelly, Billy Bragg, Mark Seymour, Midnight Oil and Shane Howard.

"Uncle Archie", as he was affectionately known to many, was regarded as giving a voice to the stories of many Aboriginal people and offering comfort and healing in his words and music. Euahlayi scholar Bhiamie Williamson, who wrote his PhD thesis on "Indigenous Men and Masculinities", describes the concept of the "Emu Man", based on the male emu, which is devoted to his family and chicks and sits on the eggs. Roach was considered a role model who represented an image shown too rarely in public discourse. Williamson writes:

He gave us – and all of Australia – an image of an Aboriginal man, tender and humble. An image long denied us ... Through his life, his dedication to Aunty Ruby, his devotion to his sons, his work with disengaged youth and his profound love for his people, Uncle Archie gave the nation an image of an Aboriginal man seldom found in the national psyche ...

The Archie Roach Foundation was established in 2014 to nurture talent in young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and to offer them opportunities in the arts, to provide connection to culture and healing. As of 2022 the board of directors included Roach, Uncle Jack Charles and four other people, with Charles and Rhoda Roberts as ambassadors of the foundation. The foundation has supported hundreds and inspired thousands more young people. His work in youth detention centres continues to affect those who listened to him.


  • In 2011, Roach was one of the first people inducted to the Victorian Aboriginal Honour Roll.
  • In 2015, Roach was honoured in the Queen's Birthday Honours list as a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for services to music as a singer-songwriter, guitarist and a prominent supporter of social justice.
  • In 2022, two side-by-side pillar-shaped monuments were erected on the shores of Lake Bonney at Barmera, in homage to Hunter and Roach. A glass mosaic artwork on the front side of each monument depict Hunter's Ngarrindjeri totem, the pelican (nori) and Roach's totem, the eagle, respectively.

Recognition and awards

In 2009, Roach and Hunter, as a couple, won the Individual Award in the Sidney Myer Performing Arts Awards.

"Took the Children Away" was added to the National Film and Sound Archive's Sounds of Australia registry in 2013.

AIR Awards

The Australian Independent Record Awards (commonly known informally as AIR Awards) is an annual awards night to recognise, promote and celebrate the success of Australia's Independent Music sector.

Year Nominee / work Award Result
AIR Awards of 2017 Let Love Rule Best Independent Blues and Roots Album Nominated

APRA Awards

The APRA Awards are held in Australia and New Zealand by the Australasian Performing Right Association to recognise songwriting skills, sales and airplay performance by its members annually. They commenced in 1982.

Year Nominee / work Award Result Ref.
2017 Archie Roach Ted Albert Award for Outstanding Services to Australian Music awarded
"It's Not Too late" Song of the Year Shortlisted
2020 "Open Up Your Eyes" Song of the Year Shortlisted
2021 "Tell Me Why" (with Sally Dastey) Song of the Year Shortlisted

ARIA Awards

Roach has received nine ARIA Music Awards from twenty-one nominations.

Year Nominee / work Award Result
1991 Charcoal Lane Best New Talent Won
Best Indigenous Release Won
Breakthrough Artist – Album Nominated
"Took the Children Away" Breakthrough Artist – Single Nominated
1992 "Down City Streets" Best Indigenous Release Nominated
1994 Jamu Dreaming Best Indigenous Release Nominated
1997 "Hold On Tight" Best Indigenous Release Won
1998 Looking for Butter Boy Best Indigenous Release Won
Best Adult Contemporary Album Won
2002 Sensual Being Best Adult Contemporary Album Nominated
Richard Pleasance & Paul Kelly for Sensual Being Producer of the Year Nominated
The Tracker Best Original Soundtrack Album Nominated
2008 Journey Best World Music Album Nominated
2010 1988 Best World Music Album Nominated
2013 Into the Bloodstream Best Blues & Roots Album Nominated
2017 Let Love Rule Best Blues & Roots Album Nominated
2020 Tell Me Why Best Male Artist Won
Best Adult Contemporary Album Won
Best Independent Release Nominated
Archie Roach Hall of Fame Inductee
2021 The Songs of Charcoal Lane Best Blues & Roots Album Won
Best Independent Release Nominated

Australia Council for the Arts

The Australia Council for the Arts is an arts funding and advisory body for the Government of Australia. Since 1993 it has awarded a Red Ochre Award. It is presented to an outstanding Indigenous Australian (Aboriginal Australian or Torres Strait Islander) artist for lifetime achievement.

Year Nominee / work Award Result
2011 himself Red Ochre Award Awarded

Deadly Awards

The Deadly Awards (commonly known simply as The Deadlys) was an annual celebration of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander achievement in music, sport, entertainment and community. They ran from 1996 to 2013.

Year Nominee / work Award Result
Deadly Awards 1997 "himself" Male Artist of the Year Won
Deadly Awards 1998 "himself" Male Artist of the Year Won
Deadly Awards 2002 "himself" Male Artist of the Year Won
Sensual Being Album of the Year Won
Deadly Awards 2003 "himself" Outstanding Contribution to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Music Won
Deadly Awards 2004 Ruby (with Ruby Hunter and Paul Grabowsky) Excellence in Film & Theatrical Score Won
Deadly Awards 2010 1988 Album of the Year Won
Deadly Awards 2013 Into the Bloodstream Album of the Year Won
"himself" The Lifetime Contribution Award For Healing The Stolen Generations inductee

Don Banks Music Award

The Don Banks Music Award was established in 1984 to publicly honour a senior artist of high distinction who has made an outstanding and sustained contribution to music in Australia. It was founded by the Australia Council in honour of Don Banks, Australian composer, performer and the first chair of its music board.

Year Nominee / work Award Result
2015 Archie Roach Don Banks Music Award awarded

J Awards

The J Awards are an annual series of Australian music awards that were established by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's youth-focused radio station Triple J. They commenced in 2005.

Year Nominee / work Award Result
J Awards of 2020 Archie Roach Double J Artist of the Year Won

Mo Awards

The Australian Entertainment Mo Awards (commonly known informally as the Mo Awards) were annual Australian entertainment industry awards. They recognised achievements in live entertainment in Australia from 1975 to 2016. Archie Roach won two awards in that time.

Year Nominee / work Award Result (wins only)
1991 Archie Roach Folk Performer of the Year Won
1992 Archie Roach Folk Performer of the Year Won

Music Victoria Awards

The Music Victoria Awards are an annual awards night celebrating Victorian music.

Year Nominee / work Award Result
2013 himself Best Indigenous Act Nominated
himself Best Male Artist Nominated
Into the Bloodstream Best Folk Roots Album Won
2015 himself Hall of Fame inductee
2017 himself Best Indigenous Act Nominated


National Dreamtime Awards

The National Dreamtime Awards are an annual celebration of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander achievement in sport, arts, academia and community. They commenced in 2017.

Year Nominee / work Award Result
2018 himself Achievement award Won

National Indigenous Music Awards

The National Indigenous Music Awards (NIMA) recognise excellence, dedication, innovation and outstanding contribution in the Northern Territory music industry. They commenced in 2004.

Year Nominee / work Award Result
2013 "himself" Hall of Fame Inductee Inductee
Into the Bloodstream Album of the Year Won
Cover Art of the Year Won
"Song to Sing" Film Clip of the Year Won
Song of the Year Nominated
2018 himself Artist of the Year Nominated
2019 "himself" Artist of the Year Nominated
The Concert Collection 2012–2018 Album of the Year Nominated
2020 "himself" Artist of the Year Nominated
Tell Me Why Album of the Year Won
2022 My Songs: 1989–2021 Album of the Year Nominated
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