“When Archie sings, he soars like an eagle”: Archie Roach’s friends share their fondest moments
He will be awarded for Excellence in the Community, previously received by the likes of Jenny Morris, Paul Kelly, John Butler, The Sapphires, Jimmy Barnes and Richard Clapton.
Rather than attempting to capture the incredible impact the musician has had on Australia’s music scene and the wider community, we asked those who have worked alongside him and enjoyed his friendship to share their thoughts and experiences with one of Australia’s most iconic figures.
Jill Shelton – manager
I have worked and walked alongside Archie Roach for the past decade and have been continually struck by his constant drive to keep going, keep writing, keep singing, keep touring, keep sharing his story and song and to also keep an eye out for those he can assist, support, mentor and walk alongside.
His mobility may be limited; a wheelchair has now joined our entourage, his breathing both on and off stage may be challenged, every move may be more calculated and measured, but his determination to keep doing what he loves doing remains resolute.
Archie is an inspiration to all of us to quietly keep the internal fire burning. I have often said to Archie that it might be time to ease off the live performance and touring commitments, and every time I am met with a defiant reproach. “Don’t take this away from me Jill. It’s all I know. It’s what I do and love. I’ll do it ‘til I can’t anymore and that’s not now. It’s a healing thing, it’s a spiritual thing.”
Shane Howard – singer-songwriter
We’ve played festivals from Mulkuddi in Mt. Isa to Tarerer in our shared home country, toured Australia and England and Ireland with the Black Arm Band, recorded and co-written the closing song for The Secret River together. I also had the honour of producing his Journey album and touring it.
In 1992, we recorded ‘Nyul Nyul Girl’ as a duet for the Earth Music Trust, the beautiful love song written by Jimmy Chi. We were having trouble with the language of the west Kimberley, so I called Jimmy from the studio. I’ll never forget listening to Archie talking on the phone to Jimmy in Broome, practising the correct pronunciation of the Bardi language in the song.
We were both from the same town, born in the same year, a few weeks apart. My father played footy against Archie’s dad. When I first met Archie in Fitzroy in the 1980s and heard that sweet but lived-in voice for the first time, I couldn’t believe he was from the country I’d grown up in. But we never met back then. He was taken away as a child.
Like so many Aboriginal people, Archie’s had to deal with much in his lifetime. Loss of childhood, loss of family, loss of identity, loss of his country.
He’s also carrying a lot of people’s stories and memories. He’s an unrelenting and generous champion for his people and there is a line of his that keeps returning to me: “…For lives that never stood a chance”.
He carries the collective loss of his people, which is immense, on his broad shoulders. Sometimes you feel that the weight of that burden threatens to crush him. It would crush most people. But when Archie sings, he soars like an eagle and gives voice to all of that pain, suffering, loss, joy and inevitably, redemption. His great gift is that he does it in a way that liberates us all.
Craig Pilkington – producer, composer and musician
Learning, working on and playing a lot of Archie’s songs over the years, I’ve been constantly amazed at how affecting his expression and imagery can be. He is never verbose, using an economy of invention his beautiful eloquence paints pictures that can bring people to tears and make sense of a myriad of emotions.
His songs are personal observations and stories, yet he is perceived as a political singer-songwriter. I think this is because his gentle voice and considered expression carries a power that can change the way we think about issues and inform our culture. And with all the hours in vans, waiting for planes, in band rooms and breakfast rooms I know this is a direct reflection of Archie’s character and soul; I’ve never heard him say a harsh word about anyone.
Dr Lou Bennett – Tiddas band member
Stretching over 30 years, Archie’s songs have been a sound score to Australian history and to many people’s lives. A songman, the true cleverman, a mentor to many, a humble, intelligent, sensitive soul and someone I am proud to call brother.
Jessie Lloyd – musician, producer
Archie was a major support in helping me get Mission Songs Project off the ground. Not only through the support of the Archie Roach Foundation, but also his own personal experiences growing up during the missions era. He would share how he’d heard some of these old songs when he travelled as a young man, and share the stories behind the songs. His support helped me seed the project, I am honoured to have him believe in my work.
Sally Dastey – Tiddas band member
This is a man who is gentle, kind, strong and patient. He carries us along with his love and uplifts us with his stunning voice and storytelling. He is one of the special people of our generation.