Australian Aboriginal singer Archie Roach was one of my biggest musical influencers in my young adulthood. I ended up seeing him in concert in Melbourne with David Bridie who produced his second album. The above record Charcoal Lane, his debut record produced by the iconic Australian folk-artist Paul Kelly I played incessantly. Archie Roach is a proud member of the Stolen Generation. He was forcibly separated from his family, who were living at the Framlingham Mission in Victoria, when he was two years old. I have written about Archie here before in my article Leonard Cohen’s ‘Come Healing’ and 5 other contemporary spiritual masterpieces. In that article I alluded to his spiritual masterpiece There is a Garden
Crawled out of the bushes early morn,
Used newspapers to keep me warm,
Then I’d have to score a drink
Calm my nerves help me to think,
Down city streets I would roam,
I had no bed I had no home,
There was nothing that I owned,
I used my fingers as a comb.
This song is story-telling at its finest. If you want to get a sense of how it feels living on the streets, then this is the song. Archie’s wife Ruby Hunter wrote these lyrics and Archie sung it. It is an autobiographical song she wrote recalling her time as a homeless alcoholic. She gave the song to her husband Roach to record for his debut studio album.
According to wikipedia: In 2015 Roach recalls the scenario coming home one night “… she was there and she screwed up this paper and tried to hide it under the pillow or something like that and I said, ‘What is that?’ She said, ‘Ah, nothing’. I said, ‘Can I have a look at it?’ She reluctantly gave me this piece of paper with a song written on it … and she just sat down and sang it to me.”
Where this song really floors me is when Archie sings the following in the final stanza:
Now I’m a man I’m not alone,
I am married, I have children of my own,
Now I have something I call my own
These are my children, this is my home.
That right there is the stuff of inspiration. It’s just brilliant and one of my favourite moments in all of music. It’s bizarre his songs aren’t more widely known especially in my home country. If you haven’t seen it already I highly recommend this video when Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on the 13th of February 2008 in the Australian House of Representatives, apologized for the government programs which took children from Aboriginal families, the “stolen generations”.
Fantastic Matt. I have to go on an Archie listening jag. You’re right more people should know him and his music.
I’m thrilled you liked it. I wish you well on that search. That song of his ‘There is a Garden’ is about the best thing I’ve ever heard.
I found Archie years ago from Paul Kelly. I have ‘Jamu Dreaming’. This might be a dumb question but do you know Kelly’s ‘Special Treatment’?
Paul Kelly produced Charcoal Lane, but I believe David Bridie produced his second Jamu Dreaming. I am not too familiar with Paul Kelly’s output although he’s a legendary folk artist in Australia.
Im a big Kelly fan.
I heard Special Treatment, but I prefer to hear the music of the indigenous about this, not to take anything away from Paul Kelly’s influence. There is a Garden from Archie along with Geoffrey Gurrumul’s songs are way beyond Kelly’s grasp in meaning.
I dont know Kelly’s heritage but obviously he was moved by something. Different takes from different perspectives bringing their feel and inspiration to the piece. They all work for me.
I’m not disparaging Kelly, but my point is I’d rather here from the mouths of Indigenous about hardships they have suffered than others who are not them.
Bottom line for me is the songs move me.