Archie Roach took out Album of the Year at the National Indigenous Music Awards on the weekend.
From his Killarney home, Roach tells reporter Kyra Gillespie the story behind the award-winning album and memoir Tell Me Why, capturing the 2020 Victorian Australian of the Year's extraordinary life as a Stolen Generation child and his ascent to becoming one of the country's most revered songwriters.
THIS time of year one would usually find Archie Roach in Arnhem Land, celebrating the National Indigenous Music Awards.
However this year's awards, like many things, were shifted online and instead the Gunditjmara and Bundjalung singer-songwriter received the accolade from his south-west home.
"I feel very humbled to be acknowledged once again," he said.
"It was a bit surreal this year, it's always a great night to catch up with other people I know, it would have been good to be there.
Tell Me Why re-imagines 11 songs which have defined Roach's extraordinary three-decade musical career and brings together an additional two songs previously written but never recorded, two songs of early-influence and three brand new recordings including Rally Round The Drum featuring Paul Kelly.
It includes songs like Took the Children Away, where Roach sings about his removal from the Framlingham Mission, on the outskirts of Warrnambool, when he was just two years old.
It's also the title of his memoir, which at the time of writing it he described as a "surreal and strange" experience.
"A paperback is being printed now as we speak, it's good because people hear about families or children being taken away from families without really knowing anything else about their life," he said.
"So I suppose I feel good that people have been able to read that story about a boy who was taken at a very young age and found his way back, and all the problems he came across on his way back home.
"The south-west, the memories I have and the stories I've been told about my mother in particular, and going out to the old mission at Framlingham, I have a strong connection here."
Roach returned to live in the south-west about 10 years ago.
He said If things had been different he most likely would have grown up around Framlingham, where his mother was born, and around Warrnambool.
On the weekend his late wife Ruby Hunter was posthumously inducted to the Hall of Fame as part of the awards.
For years Roach ran Ruby's Foundation which looks to improve opportunities for young First Nations people through art and culture.
"It's a shame it couldn't happen while she was alive but I'm so glad she's been recognised now for her contribution and the lasting legacy that shes left, especially younger emerging artists and women," Roach said.
"It's such an honour to be part of that as well."
Roach's last major performance was the 2020 Port Fairy Folk Festival, where his shows drew crowds in the thousands.
Now with live shows all but halted he has found new ways of staying creative.
"We were all going along and all of a sudden the brakes came on and it was all a standstill, not just for me but for other artists and performers, it's crazy and strange times," he said. "It's tough for a lot of people.
"I now realise what an audience means, it's more than people who come along and listen to me sing and tell stories, there's a real connection with the people and I feel that from them, it's an interaction.
"You feel the love and you can see people relating to the stories, I miss that."
Roach has launched a Charcoal Lane YouTube series - a virtual tour through the songs and stories behind the songs from his debut album, Charcoal Lane which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.
"It's been fun, at first it was a bit strange but now I'm easing into it and becoming more comfortable with it," he said with a laugh.
"It's been good talking about my seminal album Charcoal Lane and the songs and inspiration behind those songs.
"I can't believe it's been 30 years, it feels like yesterday, I think wow, it's been that long ago already?"
He said he's been turning to his guitar and the windy beaches around Killarney and Port Fairy to alleviate the stress of the pandemic.
"You hear about elderly people passing away and it's really disheartening, it makes you sad and you don't know what else to think about sometimes," he said.
"You have to try and get your mind off the moment and off this coronavirus, we have to take care of each other and be safe, but I just try and focus on something else and not let it be the main thing I think about.
"I love the sea, in Port Fairy I like to sit in my car and watch the surfers. I'm amazed how people surf, I don't know how they do it.
"Sitting on my verandah you can see birds and appreciate where you are, I can be very still sometimes and just take in the birds and focus on the wind and just life around me and what is beautiful in this world.
"It makes me feel at peace and that's a good way to be."
Roach hopes to see Australia unite through the Black Lives Matter movement.
"It's healthy to talk about it rather than brush it aside and not talk about it," he said.
"I'd love people and governments to sit down as a people, as Australians, talk about where we come from and try and sort it out.
"After all what it all boils down to is we all matter, people have to realise that sometimes, and the history of the country has shown us, that certain lives really didn't matter in the beginning.
"Things have changed but to have that negative beginning as part of our history people have to realise we're still dealing with that today. There are children and grandchildren trying to come to terms with why those things happened.
"We need to come together as one people and say let's stop the nonsense, let's sort this problem out and not have so many negative things happen to people and try to prevent any more deaths in custody or any more injustice happening toward people.
"As one country try and stop this from happening because we're a broader community and should be able to sort things out together."
Roach hopes to put out new music soon and collaborate with younger Indigenous artists like Baker Boy, Jessica Mauboy and Dan Sultan.
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