By Archie RoachIndigenous WritingSimon & Schuster Australia

Tell Me Why: The Story of My Life and My Music

A powerful memoir of a true Australian legend: stolen child, musical and lyrical genius, and leader.

Not many have lived as many lives as Archie Roach – stolen child, seeker, teenage alcoholic, lover, father, musical and lyrical genius, and leader – but it took him almost a lifetime to find out who he really was.

Roach was only two years old when he was forcibly removed from his family. Brought up by a series of foster parents until his early teens, his world imploded when he received a letter that spoke of a life he had no memory of.

In this intimate, moving and often shocking memoir, Archie’s story is an extraordinary odyssey through love and heartbreak, family and community, survival and renewal – and the healing power of music. Overcoming enormous odds to find his story and his people, Archie voices the joy, pain and hope he found on his path through song to become the legendary singer-songwriter and storyteller that he is today – beloved by fans worldwide.

Tell Me Why is a stunning account of resilience and the strength of spirit – and of a great love story.

Portrait of Archie Roach

Archie Roach

Archie Roach AM, a Gunditjmara and Bundjalung man, was born in Victoria in 1956. Taken at the age of two from parents he never saw again, he was placed into foster care. He started writing songs after meeting his soulmate Ruby Hunter when they were both homeless teenagers. His heartbreaking signature song, ‘Took the Children Away’, from his 1990 ARIA award-winning debut album Charcoal Lane, has become an anthem for the Stolen Generations. The song was the first to win an Australian Human Rights Award and the album was featured in US Rolling Stone magazine’s Top 50 in 1992, won two ARIA awards and went gold in Australia. Archie’s recording history includes twelve albums, soundtracks, film and theatrical scores and his books include the award-winning memoir Tell Me Why, accompanied by a companion album, and the picture book Took the Children Away, illustrated by Ruby Hunter.

Judges’ report

This book is beautifully written with a powerful story told with exquisite tenderness and care. When one reads this book Uncle Archie holds your hand with his words and takes you through his life and tells you stories of the past which many may have forgotten. His story and aspects of his life is one which many Indigenous people and families can relate to across Australia. Uncle Archie has been at the forefront of Indigenous activism within the music and arts sectors of Australia and this book represents another significant contribution to his body of work. Uncle Archie structures his autobiography around his songs and prose, reminding us of his significant lifework and his achievements over his life using prose in his music to tell stories which shift national conversations about Indigenous people and histories, and literally change the world.

This work continues Uncle Archie’s legacy of advocacy about Indigenous history, lives and experiences, and his words build bridges between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. Uncle Archie’s incredible literary work takes us on a journey through a nostalgic lens of Australia, while also reminding us of the fight we all need to get back to – the fight for justice. This book also offers us a beautifully told love story between Uncle Archie and Auntie Ruby Hunter, and shows us the love and power of Aboriginal families.

Extract

Prologue

Lilydale, Melbourne 1970

Sometimes you can go years without really changing as a person. Maybe you get a little rounder, a little balder, but inside you’re the same man. Same values, same hopes, pretty much the same bloke.

Sometimes, though, it can all change in a day. In the morning you have one life ahead of you and in the afternoon another.

That happened to me once, when I was a boy.

I was in Mrs Peterss English class, one of my favourites, minding my own business, which was something I used to be very good at. Then that moment came, through the rickety old speaker in the classroom.

PSSSSSHT. . . Could Archibald William Roach  come  to the office, please? Archibald William Roach. Thank you.’

The message didnt mean much of anything to Mrs Peters or the other children  there was no Archibald William Roach at the school  but it had me squirming around in my seat like it was a stove. Archie Cox had been my name for as long as I could remember, or so I thought.

I tried to go back to my work after the message, but couldnt. My eyes glazed over and all I could hear was that name  Archibald William Roach. Afterwards, something deep in  me  started  to take over.

This something had been in me pretty much as long as I could remember. It had tried to take over before, when I was alone in the bush, or when I was listening to certain sad and lovely music. It whispered in my ear, trying to tell me about another world and another life. I was usually good at ignoring those whispers, but on this day I couldnt.

I wanted to stay in my seat and finish my day, live Archie Coxs life.

‘I think that message is for me,’ I said, standing.

Mrs Peters was a lovely old lady. She loved my writing  espe- cially my poetry  and would encourage me to share my work in front of the class, but I would stumble through it, embarrassed. She saw something in me, though, in my love of words. She still had her Canadian accent but had been living in Australia long enough to know something wasnt quite right.

You better go then,’ she said.

When I got to the office, the secretary asked if I was Archibald William Roach. I dont know why I knew that name was mine, but by then I knew it was. I told the secretary that was me and she passed me a letter that seemed to vibrate in my hands.

Across from the counter was a wooden bench for students awaiting punishment, and there I sat, staring at the envelope. The front read:

Archibald William Roach C/O Lilydale High School 25 Melba Avenue
Lilydale, Victoria

The boy I started the day as would have handed the letter back and explained that he’d made a mistake. He would have said this letter wasnt for him and he would have gone back to his class, back to his schoolwork, back to his house where his guitar and supper and parents were waiting for him.

I took the letter out of the envelope and unfolded it.

Dear Brother,

YoudeaolMupasseawaweeagoHenamwaNellie AustianshhabeeliviniSylvanYouothebrothers ansisterarJohnnyAlmaLawrenceGladyand DianaYour dad already passed away, and his name was Archie too.

I thought it was time to get in touch with you. Love,

Myrtle

The world started to spin with names and faces and thoughts and songs and feelings that were brand new and also old and familiar. I saw a dormitory packed with beds and black children. I saw two girls. Big girls, bigger than me, anyway. I saw their names, Gladys and Diana. These were my sisters. It was all so suddenly vivid.

I flipped the envelope over and saw a return address:

Myrtle Evans

Toxteth Road, Glebe, SydneyNSW

I folded up the letter, tucked it into my school bag and dragged my feet to a classroom that was no longer mine. In Archie Coxs favourite class, I stared past his essay and thought of my dead mother. I thought about my father, too, also dead. I thought of the brothers and sisters I knew nothing of, and about my name.

I thought about Toxteth Road, Glebe, Sydney.

‘Is everything all right, Archie?’ Mrs Peters asked quietly. It took me a little while to reply.

‘I’m not sure.’

I reckon that was the last thing Archie Cox ever said.

The Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards shortlist