Acknowledgement of Country

The NFSA acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Custodians of the lands and waterways across Australia. We pay respect to their Elders, past and present.



WARNING: The Archie Roach online exhibition contains names, images and voices of deceased Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Navigating the exhibition

Use the dots and chapter headings left of screen to navigate.

The arrow controls at bottom left and right of screen allow you to move back and forward between slides within each chapter.

You can also use the arrow keys on your keyboard to navigate.

Exclusive interview with Archie Roach (2019)

Archie welcomes you to the online exhibition


'Took the Children Away'

Inspired to write the song by Elder Uncle Banjo Clarke, Archie explains the inspiration behind the iconic song that he first performed publicly in 1988:

'I thought, "Here I’m writing for my people – at last a song that tells this terrible thing".

But non-Aboriginal people are coming up to me and saying it meant so much to them, because they didn’t have to be Aboriginal to understand the emotion of being separated from your mother.'

'Murundak - Songs of Freedom' (2011)

The story behind 'Took the Children Away'

Seamlessly interweaving Archie and Ruby Hunter's own experiences of being stolen from their families with a live performance enriches both the song and the interview.

'Blackout: Best Kept Secret - A Profile of Archie Roach, Singer-songwriter' (1991)

'This history should be told'

The interviewer wisely chooses not to interrupt as the camera stays on a close-up of Archie. The effect makes his words all the more powerful.

'Liyarn Ngarn' (2007)

'A gift from our old people'

Pat Dodson and Archie yarn about important concepts: connection to spirit, managing pain and the purpose of art in a remarkably accessible way. The camera's position offers us a seat at the table.

'Talking Heads: Archie Roach and Ruby Hunter' (2008)

Archie's first concert with Paul Kelly

Hearing Archie recount the genesis and first performance of this important song captures a significant moment in our musical history. The inclusion of footage with Uncle Banjo Clarke and scenes from the music video give the story useful context.

ARIA Awards (1991)

ARIAs for best new talent and best Indigenous release

The simplicity of this single shot set-up creates a feeling that we are there, witnessing history in the making. Any cutaways to reactions from the crowd would have lessened the power of Archie's words and they chose wisely to not include them.

Exclusive interview with Archie Roach (2019)

'The Songs Grow With You'

'Down City Streets'

Archie and Ruby Hunter were partners in life and music for 35 years before Ruby's death in 2010.

Her love and humour is a source of inspiration for Archie and it was Ruby who encouraged him to share his gift with the world, reminding him 'It's not all about you, you know. How many blackfellas you reckon get to record an album?'

A musician in her own right, her song 'Down City Streets' was included on Archie's debut album Charcoal Lane (1990).

'Murundak: Songs of Freedom (2011)'

'I had no bed, I had no home'

A lot is packed into this short segment. The combination of verité, interview and live music performance effectively represents the arc Archie and Ruby have travelled from street kids to respected musicians.

'ICAM (Indigenous Cultural Affairs Magazine)' (2000)

'I'm his rowdy troublemaker'

This delightful vignette beautifully captures Ruby's warm, cheeky and authentic personality. The interview achieves real intimacy with Ruby as she tells us about their relationship.

'Awaye!: Archie Roach in conversation with Daniel Browning' (2007)

'Best of mates and soul partners'

Archie's authenticity shines through in this interview and his warm voice draws you into the story. Browning is right not to interrupt.

'They Took The Children Away: Archie Roach and Ruby Hunter, An Inside Story' (1990)

The inspiration behind 'Down City Streets'

The candid nature of Ruby's story is appropriately captured by the simplicity of the production. There is no need for multiple camera shots or elaborate editing.

'Archie Roach and Ruby Hunter: Home movie' (1997)

'Watching Over Me'

This home movie footage provides an engagingly unrehearsed glimpse into Archie and Ruby's lives. The detail of their son Eban watching television in the foreground of their impromptu performance adds to the clip's charm and warmth.

Exclusive interview with Archie Roach (2019)

'When one of us shines, we all shine'

Archie remembers Ruby's comment that spurred him on when he was unsure about recording an album. She said 'it's not all about you, Archie Roach'. He also talks about other Aboriginal leaders that have inspired him.

I was only 15 years when I met my brother
He looked at me and his face lit up for joy.

'F Troop' - Archie Roach

A song about family

'F Troop'

Archie lived on the streets of Fitzroy in Melbourne after finding out he'd been stolen from his family when he was two years old.

His fellow Fitzroy parkies called themselves the 'F Troop drinking school' and they reunited Archie with some of his blood brothers and sisters.

This is the only photo Archie has of himself and his brothers. Pictured left to right: Johnny 'Horse' Roach, friend Darren, Archie and Lawrence Roach.

'Express' (c. 1995)

A song for Archie's brother Lawrence

The interview and live performance effectively convey the warmth, humour and honesty that Archie's fans admire.

'Singing His Story: Archie Roach in Concert' (2007)

The people left behind

Archie's stunning revelation that the mother he thought had died in a fire had instead been alive is captured in the most matter-of-fact way. We don't see any cutaways of reactions from the crowd so we are left to contemplate Archie's story.

'Kutcha's Carpool Koorioke: Archie Roach' (2019)

Reunited with his sister Alma

Framed as two friends yarning, this clip beautifully captures Archie's early memories of Fitzroy and the excitement and raw emotion of his reunion with his family after being stolen as a child.

Exclusive interview with Archie Roach (2019)

Family in Archie's work

Family is an important theme for Archie: his biological family; the Cox family who fostered him; the family of 'parkies' he met living on the streets; and the family he created with Ruby Hunter.

'Deadly Sounds: Episode 151' (1996)

'Dancing around the jukebox'

This recording is framed as a casual chat but it's a great example of the inspiration Archie's life provides for his songwriting: family, love, loss, humour and fun.

'Building Bridges Across Australia' (1990)

Rare early performance of 'Charcoal Lane'

The title track from Archie's first album is about his Fitzroy days. This unassuming footage has low production values but it's a rare treat to see an early performance by Archie and Ruby.

Louis is me and I am Louis.

Archie Roach

Exclusive interview with Archie Roach (2019)

Singing About Social Justice

Archie's passion for social justice comes across in songs like 'Louis St John', about the racially motivated murder of a young man, and 'Beautiful Child', about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander deaths in custody.

'Liyarn Ngarn' (2007)

Murdered on his 19th birthday

Pete Postlethwaite's skilful narration gives the tragic story of Louis St John (Warren Braedon) the gravity it deserves.

'Kyana Corroboree' (1993)

The murder of Louis St John

This is an exceptionally clear recording for an outdoor live performance. The vocal and solo guitar almost sparkle and the audio faithfully captures a song about a very tragic event.

'AWAYE!' (2007)

'Louis is me and I am Louis'

Interviewer Daniel Browning rightfully gives Archie the space in which to form his thoughts. As a consequence his words have a greater immediacy and we feel he is talking directly to us.

Archie Roach and Ruby Hunter Recording 'Louis St John' (1997)

Behind-the-scenes home movie

Despite the poor lighting, this is a beautiful example of behind-the-scenes footage capturing a musician's creative process and offering us an intimate look at the recording of an album.

My aim in life is to pick my people up.
Lift them up as they do to me.

Archie Roach

'Kutcha's Carpool Koorioke: Archie Roach' (2019)

'We Won't Cry'

This episode effectively presents Archie, Kutcha Edwards and Jack Charles as three friends in an intimate moment. Rather than being intrusive, the camera films the trio at their eye-level, focusing us on the music.

Handwritten lyrics

'We Won't Cry'

The NFSA collection holds documents – like these handwritten lyrics for 'We Won't Cry' – as well as film, photographs, objects and audio recordings relating to Archie Roach.

Exclusive interview with Archie Roach (2019)

Music as a healer

In his autobiography 'Tell Me Why' (2019), Archie says 'I've wrestled most of my life with addictions, but music has always been my saving grace. It's where I go to heal.'

'The Chocolate Martini: Archie Roach' (1999)

'It's mighty to be able to help'

A naturally humble man, Archie articulates both the responsibility he feels towards his audience and the joy he derives from helping people. The jump cuts contribute unobtrusively to the flow of his thoughts.

'Singing His Story: Archie Roach in Concert'

'Music is my therapy'

It is a treat to hear an insight into Archie's creative process even if we don't get any cutaways to the audience to see their reactions as he is talking.

'Land of the Little Kings' (2000)

A circle of life

Archie relishes his role as an Elder as shown in this gentle clip. The camera direction is particularly effective as it slowly pans from ground level and from above, emphasising the circle he describes.

'A Place of Fire' (2019)

'Your spirit will no longer be alone'

This song from Archie's latest album has a laid-back feel and Archie's soulful vocal delivery echoes where he is at in both his life and career. The recording itself has a sense of clarity, warmth and intimacy.

Did you know?

He loved butter as a child so his family call him Butterboy.
As a young man he was a tent boxer, following in his father's footsteps.
After a stroke in 2010 Archie had to learn how to play the guitar again.

More Archie

Discover more about Archie Roach, Ruby Hunter and their music in our curated collections.

You'll find online-exclusive interviews, home movie footage, live show excerpts, photographs and an autographed poster.

There's even a Japanese news story about Archie from 1995!


With heartfelt thanks to Archie Roach and Jill Shelton, without whom this exhibition would not have been possible.

Thanks also to Warren Costello from Bloodlines and Anna O'Grady from Simon & Schuster - publisher of Tell Me Why (2019).

The NFSA would also like to acknowledge 3CR radio, Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation, the ABC, Brown Cab Productions, Daybreak Films, NITV, Seven Network, SBS, Tamarind Tree Pictures, Townsville Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Corporation for Media, the University of Western Sydney (Nepean) and Vibe Australia.

  • Exhibition producer: Beth Taylor
  • Multimedia producer: Rachael Priddel
  • Additional copy: Adam Blackshaw
  • Design elements: Cameron Emerson-Elliott
  • Audio services: Adrian Gibbs, Gerard O'Neill
  • Video services: Andrew Boyer
  • Document photography: Darren Weinert
  • Licensing and rights: Bronwyn Dowdall, Anna Yates
  • Curatorial: Maryanne Doyle, Ashlinn Harty