Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that this story contains the name of a person who has died.
Less than a year after his death, Archie Roach has been posthumously made a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC).
The Gunditjmara-Bundjalung elder was one of 1,047 people to receive honors at this year’s awards. The event was held today, January 26 – a date known as “Australia Day”, also known as Survival Day or Invasion Day. He was recognized for his distinguished service to the performing arts sector, his support of First Nations artists and his activism for Indigenous rights and reconciliation.
Other notable recipients in the music and arts sector include actress Claudia Karvan who was named a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM), director Phillip Noyce as an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) and actor David Wenham who was named a Member of Order of Australia (AM).
Roach was a strong voice for many First Nations people. He released 10 studio albums throughout his career, including ‘Charcoal Lane’ in 1990. ‘Took The Children Away’, a deeply personal song from that album about The Stolen Generations, saw Roach win two ARIA Awards and a Human Rights Achievement Award.
During his career he also published a memoir, a book of poetry and a children’s book about the Stolen Generations – a period when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were forcibly removed from their families under government policy.
In 2014, Roach founded The Archie Roach Foundation, which he established to support emerging First Nations musicians.
Talking to SBS, Roach’s son Amos said, “He just had a balanced way of making people aware of what was happening, and he could articulate some things about this country through his own history.”
“The foundation was a kind of extension of his cultural roles, responsibilities and obligations that he was always passionate about,” he added. “I remember dad saying he believes in the future of this country. And I think he helped shape [sic] a bit of it.”
Talking to That GuardianRoach’s manager Jill Shelton added: “He loved this country, loved coming out, loved his audience and loved singing. It kept him going when all the doctors predicted he wouldn’t make it. They called him superhuman.
“He always saw awards as an honor, not just him … it was an award for his whole community, brothers, sisters, artists everywhere,” she said. “What a privilege to walk with such a great man, one of the most important storytellers for this country.”
Roach died last July, aged 66, after a long illness. He was subsequently honored with a public funeral procession through the streets of Naarm/Melbourne before being laid to rest in Warrnambool.
A state memorial service was also held for Roach in December, with Victorian Premier Dan Andrews apologizing on behalf of the Victorian Government for the “immense pain, suffering and despair” experienced by Roach as a victim of the Stolen Generations.