Archie Roach’s Tell Me Why

Archie Roach, Tell Me Why: The story of my life and my music (Simon & Schuster 2019)

This book. It’s exactly what you’d expect of a memoir by Archie Roach, whose song ‘Took the Children Away’ became a kind of anthem for the Stolen Generations. It’s a warm, generous account of a life well lived, as a member of the Stolen Generations who went in search of his lost family, and having found them struggled with addiction to alcohol, won the love of a remarkable woman, and became an internationally celebrated singer-songwriter and respected Aboriginal elder and activist.

The telling doesn’t minimise the systemic racism he has faced or the destruction it has brought on him and the people around him, culminating in the deaths of many loved ones, especially the great love of his life, Ruby Hunter. The book’s title bewildered rage at the cruelty of colonialism and racism.

But the book focuses on the goodness, kindness and resilience of Aboriginal people, as well as the kindness that he has encountered from others all through his life – from his much-loved foster parents and an occasional exceptional police officer, all the way through to singer-songwriter Paul Kelly and British actor Pete Postlethwaite.

There’s not a lot of laugh-out-loud humour, but the book is far from unrelentingly grim. To give you a small taste, here’s a passage that comes when Archie has gone to Melbourne to spend time with his family, leaving Ruby pregnant in Adelaide, and has stayed longer than he intended, hitting the grog. Horse is his oldest brother:

‘Tell me about this little woman of yours,’ Horse said, surprising me.
I told him about her – she wasn’t tall but had flowing dark hair, and big cheeks that matched the deepest brown eyes you’d ever seen. I told Horse she was the most beautiful girl.
‘Is that her behind you?’ he asked.
I turned. It was. She had her hands on her hips. It wasn’t good. If looks could kill, I’d be a dead man.

{Page 145)

Each chapter of the book begins with the lyrics of a song, and we are told the origin stories of some songs. This is wonderful for someone like me who has a limited knowledge of Archie Roach’s music, and I was glad to discover that there’s a companion album with the same title, with eighteen songs from the whole range of his extraordinary career. It’s now on my phone.

6 responses to “Archie Roach’s Tell Me Why

  1. I’ve read his wife’s story, but not Archie’s yet. Maybe this year’s IndigLitWeek will be the year that I do it!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. PS I’ve added your review to my Indigenous Lit Reading List:)

    ANZLL Indigenous Australian Reading List: Non Fiction & Life Stories

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I read this last year – I think it was – and enjoyed it immensely too. You’ve expressed it so well, as so succinctly – the warmth and yet the reality of racism too. That’s a great quote you’ve shared. I guess it’s not a surprised how well written the book is – compared with some memoirs – given he’s a songwriter.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Ruby Reads 30: Billie B Brown | Me fail? I fly!

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