Archie Roach on creating a whole new story

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It’s clear from this year’s Sorry Day concert that Archie Roach’s fans are a dedicated bunch. Commemorating 20 years since the handing down of the Bringing Them Home Report, the multi-award winner took to the stage with local Indigenous supporting acts on Friday 26 May at the Astor Theatre, Perth.

It was a night of storytelling, remembering those affected by the Stolen Generations. As a non-Indigenous Australian, I was there to listen.

Beni Bjah opened the event with his hip hop single ‘Survivor,’ accompanied by traditional dance. The song took out the WAM Song of the Year award in 2016, making him the first Indigenous artist to win the award.

Other acts included Gina Williams, whose gorgeous voice filled the theatre as she sung stories in her Nyungar language. Her performance was a soulful celebration of culture and a highlight of the night for me.

Leading into her track ‘Bindi Bindi’ (Nyungar for ‘butterfly’) she said to the crowd, “They tried to stamp out our language and our language has been reduced to a whisper. Bindi Bindi the butterfly, she’s not weak; she keeps a strong heart. She’s looking to her future.” These words resonated with me, and throughout the song it was as if you could hear the Bindi Bindi, through the music, fluttering around the theatre.

The Madjitil Moorna Choir includes Indigenous and non-Indigenous members and has been described as ‘reconciliation in action.’ They performed a number of songs, one including a reading of the Apology to Australia’s Indigenous Peoples, originally delivered by then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in 2008. Young singer, Chloe Maynard also joined the choir to sing a moving tribute to Archie’s late wife, Ruby. Chloe’s voice especially moved me; her innocence and strength shined on stage and it was a beautiful moment.

To the backing of the choir, Archie Roach graced the stage with cheering and applause from the anticipating crowd. Together they performed his most well-known track, ‘Took the children away,’ telling stories from people of the Stolen Generations.

After a quick intermission, Archie returned, accompanied by Nancy Bates and Craig Pilkington, to perform songs from his latest release, Let Love Rule.

You could sense the eagerness of the crowd to listen as Archie told stories between songs; his humble presence on stage was inspiring.

Archie told of how he had been taken away from his family and raised in three different foster homes, and realising that he enjoyed church because he enjoyed music. He shared his fondness for children, with their honesty and spirituality. He shared his grief in knowing friends who have lost their way, and he shared stories he’d gathered over the years from members of the Stolen Generations.

He also shared the hope that, together, Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians can create a new story.

“It always breaks my heart when I hear the stories, but we were there together,” he said. “Tonight is a night where we can sit together at the same table.

“There’s fresh water and salt water. When the fresh water meets the salt water it’s a special place; it’s brand new. That’s what Australia is today; creating a whole new story. Every one of us here can be the authors of that new story.”

I’ve not experienced much of Archie Roach’s music before this Sorry Day, and as the night came closer to an end, with the crowd requesting songs and finally giving a standing ovation, it’s obvious he’s well-loved among Australians.

His ability to listen and tell such emotional stories in a way that all Australian’s can engage with and be moved by is particularly evident, making him an important part of the movement which creates that space where the fresh and salt water meet.

Archie Roach’s latest album, Let Love Rule, is available now.

Heather Dowling

Photos: Trevor Walley

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