A PIN drop could be heard in the Crossley Hall as Killarney's Archie Roach recounted details of his past to a crowd packed with his family, friends and home community.
The singer-songwriter launched his memoir Tell Me Why and accompanying album on Saturday in conversation with long-time friend Shane Howard, and the duo performed three songs to a 250-strong crowd.
Roach spent part of his childhood growing up at the Framlingham Aboriginal Mission, before he was forcibly removed from his family at two years of age.
Howard asked Roach about key moments in the book, including Roach's homelessness, alcoholism, musical beginnings and serendipitous reconnections with family.
Roach at times made the audience laugh as he described naive moments stumbling upon his heritage, and at other times he wiped away tears while he recounted a letter he received naming his immediate family members as a 14-year-old schoolboy in Lilydale.
He said afterwards that he told his story to show that "hard times and obstacles" could be overcome and to show future generations "what life was like".
"It was a bit more emotional today because of it being here, not far from Framlingham, the old mission where mum was born and where I was taken from," Roach said.
Roach said it was "special" to launch the book alongside Howard, who he believed he would have met earlier had he grown up in the south-west.
"If the circumstances may have been different we may have grown up together. His old dad knew my farther, and Shane's father spoke fondly of my father," Roach said.
He told the audience that his song Place of Fire referred to possible evidence at Warrnambool's Moyjil, near the Hopkins River, suggesting Aboriginal settlement went back 100,000 thousand years.
"We are all really Aboriginal people, we are all decedents from the original inhabitants of this earth," he said.
Howard said Archie's story recounted a chapter of south-west history and had echoes of spirituality.
"At a local level it's an important story because it reminds us of a very sad and sobering aspect of our history," he said.
"What's extraordinary is that Archie rises above all that hardship and sorrow and is unbelievably forgiving and believes inevitably in the power of love. It's very redemptive."
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