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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

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Archie Roach

1992 (printed 2010)
Bill McAuley

type C photograph on paper (sheet: 49.0 cm x 36.0 cm, image: 41.0 cm x 28.0 cm, frame: depth 4.3 cm)

Archie Roach AM (1956–2022), singer/songwriter and storyteller, has been described as the voice of the Stolen Generations. A Gunditjmara and Bundjalung Elder, he was removed from his parents at age four and eventually happily settled with a couple at Lilydale, Victoria. Roach recalled being introduced to music through his adoptive father’s LP collection, and by hymns at church. His foster parents had been told that his natural family had died in a house fire, and he grew up believing this was true. But at age fifteen, he received a letter from his natural sister telling him of their mother’s death. Confused and embittered, he ran away in search of his family and spent the next fourteen years on the streets. While staying at a Salvation Army shelter in Adelaide in the early 1970s he met Ruby Hunter (1955–2010), a Ngarrindjeri woman who became his creative collaborator and life partner and with whom he had two sons. In 1987, having experienced homelessness and overcome alcoholism, he wrote his first song, ‘Took the Children Away’. He performed it for the first time amidst the protests at the bicentenary celebrations in 1988; his performance, to a mainly white audience, was met with stunned silence. Paul Kelly invited him to open a concert in early 1989, and Kelly co-produced Roach's first album, Charcoal Lane (1990), which was on US Rolling Stone's list of Top 50 albums for 1992, achieved gold sales in Australia, and earned Roach two ARIAs and a human rights award. In all, Roach recorded ten studio albums, including Into the Bloodstream (2012) and Let Love Rule (2016). His ninth album Tell Me Why (2019) won two ARIAs and was released in accompaniment to Roach’s memoir of the same name, for which he won the Victorian Premier's Literary Award for Indigenous Writing. Both solo and with Hunter, Roach recorded and performed with many top Australian and international acts, and a subsequent generation of First Nations musicians and performers have cited Roach and Hunter as inspiring influences on their own lives and work. ‘Took the Children Away’ was added to the National Film and Sound Archive’s Sounds of Australia register in 2013 and it was among the songs Roach re-recorded for The Songs of Charcoal Lane in 2020, when he was also inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame.


Purchased 2010
© Bill McAuley

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. Works of art from the collection are reproduced as per the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). The use of images of works from the collection may be restricted under the Act. Requests for a reproduction of a work of art can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.
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Audio description

1 minute 47 seconds
Show transcript

Artist and subject

Bill McAuley (age 41 in 1992)

Archie Roach AM (age 36 in 1992)

Subject professions

Performing arts

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

This website comprises and contains copyrighted materials and works. Copyright in all materials and/or works comprising or contained within this website remains with the National Portrait Gallery and other copyright owners as specified.

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. The use of images of works of art reproduced on this website and all other content may be restricted under the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). Requests for a reproduction of a work of art or other content can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

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