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Saturday, November 24, 2007

Archie Roach Has Returned by John/Togs Tognolini

Archie Roach

Review of Journey Album 2007 Liberation $30

"I thought writing the song Took The Children Away was in part, a way
of telling people that taking children from their families was not
necessarily the best or so-called solution concerning the child or
their family's well being. I was wrong. We thought the Bringing Them
Home report would see measures taken to ensure it should never happen
again. We were wrong. We thought the Deaths in Custody would prevent
such things happening. We were wrong. The songs of Journey are a
reaffirmation of identity, country, beliefs and spirit and how no one
has listened to our recommendations on stolen kids or people dying in
jails. So it continues, but we are still watching and definitely
taking note.''

Archie Roach 2007

A couple of years ago, I was reading the debate section of the BBC
History magazine and the topic was the return of Aboriginal remains
from Britain's universities and museums to Australia. I was sickened
by the obscene case being put forward to keep these Aboriginal
skeletons in the collections of the British and other European
universities and museums. When Archie Roach introduced his song Travellin'
Bones on this topic, at his recent performance in Katoomba's Triselies
nightclub, to a packed house of over 140 people. He told of the story
of the remains of a little girl who was bought back to Australia and
how she had a bullet hole in her skull from over a hundred years ago.

Many of the songs on Journey were inspired by a journey that Archie
took with English actor Peter Postlethwaite (In The Name of The
Father, Brassed Off, Baz Lurhman's Romeo & Juliet) and Indigenous
leader and Yawuru man, Patrick Dodson. Journey has been described as
an eternal moment of dreaming. Reflecting songs of pain, loss, racism,
redemption and hope. Archie described it as a marriage of Aboriginal
and Western philosophy from the heart and mind. He is an extraordinary
writer and singer. Journey is a companion piece to the recently
released Liyarn Ngarn DVD, a compelling tale of racism and a plea for
a new future in black/white relations in Australia.

Journey was produced by Shane Howard (of Goanna) and engineered and
co-produced by Nash Chambers, the new album Journey was a long time in
the creation and preparation and a short time in the recording.
Recorded live in Melbourne's Sing Sing studios after a journey that
took Archie from the spiritual Ngurrarra paintings, south of Fitzroy
Crossing, to the deaths in custody in the jails of Roebourne and
Fremantle. It continued through the desert country of Central
Australia and the inevitable connection back to Archie's home country
of the Gunditjmara/Kirrae Whurrong of South West Victoria.

I've only seen Archie play live once before at the Building Bridges
Concert at Bondi Pavilion nearly twenty years ago. I and other BLF
scaffolders volunteered our labour to put up the stage for this
concert, on the eve of the massive Aboriginal Anti-Bicentennial
Invasion Day Protest 26 January 1988. Archie performed Charcoal Lane
and I thought what a terrific voice and a moving song. Archie was
joined that afternoon by Paul Kelly who joins him again on the Journey
performing the song John Pat. John Pat was a young Aboriginal man who was
strangled to death in Roebourne jail in West Australia in 1987 and his
death along with many others led to the Aboriginal Deaths in Custody
Royal Commission. This song is from a poem by a West Australian
Aboriginal poet Jack Davis. Archie played it to him before he passed
away in Fremantle hospital.

Also on the album are Ruby Hunter, Bart Willoughby, Amy Saunders
(formerly of Tiddas), David Birdie, Mark Punch, Troy Cassar Daly, Ewen
Baker, Helen Mounfort, Jarad Hearman, Shane Howard, Dave Arden and
Amos Roach.

Archie Roach has seen a lot, some would say too much hurt, but still
these hallowed songs reach out to bridge the divide between black and
white and challenge Australia's culture of racism. Archie Roach turns
suffering into hope and art with his music. His unique voice is in the
league of Ray Charles, John Lee Hooker or George Jones. He is an elder
statesman of Aboriginal music, Archie takes us on a journey of epic
dimensions but the music and the message are absolutely clear and

I encourage you not just to buy his album but also to see him perform.
I helped organise his Katoomba performance where he was joined by
Shane Howard, Dave Arden and Amos Roach. For tour dates and venues
check out these links www.archieroach.com.au

This article was first published in the New South Wales Teachers Federation journal, Education November 2007

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