Archie Roach and Ruby Hunter smile for the camera.
https://www.nfsa.gov.au/sites/default/files/collection/hero_image10-2019/nfsa_0796_archieroach_exhibitionimages_herocc2_0.jpg

Archie Roach and Ruby Hunter

Archie Roach and Ruby Hunter

A love story set to music

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

It was Ruby who encouraged Archie to make his first album when he was reluctant, telling him 'it's not all about you, you know. How many blackfellas you reckon get to record an album?'.

A musician and author in her own right, her song 'Down City Streets' was included on Archie's debut album Charcoal Lane (1990). She went on to record her own solo albums Thoughts Within (1994) and Feeling Good (2000) and sang and toured with Archie.

Ruby (1955–2010) was a Ngarrindjeri, Kokatha and Pitjantjatjara woman born on the banks of the Murray River in South Australia. Archie (1956–2022) was a Gunditjmara (Kirrae Whurrong/Djab Wurrung), Bundjalung Senior Elder, born in Mooroopna, Victoria in 1956.

To coincide with the release of Archie's autobiography and companion album Tell Me Why (2019), the NFSA honoured Archie's four-decade career with two curated collections filled with rare footage, live recordings, photographs, home movies and excerpts from an online-exclusive interview.

This collection explores the collaboration between Ruby and Archie. To explore more Archie content, follow this link to the Archie Roach collection, which includes a Japanese news story about Archie and a Beijing Olympics-themed Coke ad from 2008 featuring a jingle sung by Archie.

WARNING: this collection contains names, images or voices of deceased Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Archie Roach and Ruby Hunter ‘Down City Streets’
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
1011788
Year:
Year

Archie Roach and Ruby Hunter talk about their life as street kids, followed by an excerpt of a live performance of Ruby's song 'Down City Streets', which featured on Archie's debut album Charcoal Lane (1990).

This clip is from a documentary titled Murundak – Songs of Freedom (2011), which follows some of Australia's best known Indigenous musicians on the road, performing songs of resistance and freedom. 

A lot is packed into this short segment, from Archie and Ruby engaging with an Indigenous woman in public, to one-on-one interviews and a live performance in front of a very large audience.

It is very effective in representing the arc that both of them have travelled, from being destitute to becoming respected musicians.

Notes by Beth Taylor and Adam Blackshaw

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
Archie Roach: Ruby Hunter on Writing ‘Down City Streets’
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
1041065
Year:
Year

In this clip, Ruby Hunter offers a frank retelling of her beginnings in the music industry. It includes footage of her and Archie Roach singing a live version of Archie's song, 'No No No' from his album Charcoal Lane (1990).

Ruby's candid telling of her story is appropriately captured by the simplicity of the production. There is no need for multiple camera shots or elaborate editing. Ruby talks of the honour of having her song 'Down City Streets' included on Charcoal Lane.

Archie and Ruby were a couple long before they became recording artists and their musical partnership is beautifully encapsulated in this clip.

Archie says proudly in his autobiography Tell Me Why: The Story of My Life and My Music (2019) that all he did was teach Ruby a few chords on the guitar and some basic stuff about structuring a song, but the rest of her abilities were innate. She was an incredible performer and all of this charm comes across in this clip.

The excerpt is from a short film titled They Took The Children Away: Archie Roach and Ruby Hunter, An Inside Story (1990). It was produced by Townsville Aboriginal and Islander Media Association, which is now the Townsville Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Corporation for Media.

Notes by Beth Taylor and Adam Blackshaw

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
Archie Roach: Ruby - ‘I’m his rowdy troublemaker’
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
1492509
Year:
Year

In this excerpt from an unidentified episode of ICAM (Indigenous Cultural Affairs Magazine) in 2000, Ruby Hunter talks about the dynamic between her and partner Archie Roach.

It's a delightful vignette; the style of interview is intimate and unaffected, inviting us into Ruby's brief and loving portrait of Archie. It's almost as if she is holding our trust and telling us a secret. The clip beautifully captures her warm, cheeky and authentic personality.

Ruby's words beautifully capture the mutual respect and love they have for each other. She says:

'He’s my silent hero and I’m his rowdy troublemaker. We both appreciate each other’s humour, strength and love. And yet … life is not full of roses but we stick it out because we’ve got something we’ve never had – a good family, good life.'

ICAM was hosted by Karla Grant and aired on SBS from 1995 until 2002. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander current affairs program is now called Living Black.

Notes by Beth Taylor and Adam Blackshaw

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
Archie Roach: 'When one of us shines, we all shine'
Year:
Year

Archie Roach discusses the momentous occasion when Paul Kelly and Steve Connolly asked him to make a record. Archie nearly let the opportunity go until his partner Ruby Hunter told him, 'It's not all about you, you know'.

Luckily for Australian music history, Archie took her advice and went on to record Charcoal Lane in 1990. In 2019 he's released his ninth studio album Tell Me Why.

Archie names other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have served as inspirations to himself and others: boxer Lionel Rose (1948–2011), tennis player Evonne Goolagong Cawley (born 1951), Pastor Doug Nicholls (1906–1988) and AFL footballer Polly Farmer (1935–2019).

This clip is taken from an exclusive interview with the NFSA from the online exhibition Archie Roach: His Story in Song.

Notes by Beth Taylor

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
Archie Roach and Ruby Hunter perform ‘Watching Over Me’
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
1496591
Year:
Year

Archie Roach performs the song 'Watching Over Me' from his 1997 album Looking for Butter Boy in this home movie footage. His partner Ruby Hunter plays a rainstick.

This delightful short segment provides an engagingly unrehearsed glimpse into the lives of two accomplished musicians and recording artists. Roughly filmed in the pair's lounge room it captures the playfulness between Archie and Ruby and is a wonderfully intimate recording.

The presence of their son Eban watching television in the foreground of their impromptu performance adds to the clip's charm and warmth.

In this interview clip Archie talks more about his musical family. Learn more about Archie and his music in the NFSA's online exhibition Archie Roach: His Story In Song.

Notes by Beth Taylor and Adam Blackshaw

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
Archie Roach and Ruby Hunter perform ‘Beggar Man’
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
1497333
Year:
Year

Archie Roach and Ruby Hunter perform live, accompanied by the Deadly Band (Archie Cuthbertson, Kerry Gilmartin and Dave Steel), and introduced by Annette Shun Wah on series four of Studio 22.

The level of professionalism by the studio crew is evident in this clip. The use of camera cranes and jibs add a visual dynamism to the perfect sound mix.

Archie, Ruby and the band were seasoned performers by the time of this appearance and they deliver a deadly set – tight, confident and soulful.

'Beggar Man' comes from Archie's third album Looking for Butterboy (1997).

Written in the first person, the inspiration for the song is drawn from Archie's experience of living on the streets of Sydney and Melbourne as a young man. The song mentions 'biting', which Archie explains in his autobiography Tell Me Why (2019) is slang for begging.

The live music show Studio 22 ran on ABC television from 1999 to 2003.

Notes by Beth Taylor and Adam Blackshaw

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
Archie Roach and Ruby Hunter at the Sydney Opera House: ‘Walking Into Doors’
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
1492526
Year:
Year

On 24 October 1993, Archie Roach and Ruby Hunter performed an outdoor concert to a big crowd on the steps of the Sydney Opera House. The concert was part of the celebrations for the Opera House's 20th anniversary.

Switching between multiple camera shots provides visual interest to their performance of this poignant song about domestic violence. The sound quality is exceptional for an outdoor recording.

Archie often shines a light on subjects that can be difficult to talk about, like stories of the Stolen Generations in 'Took the Children Away', alcoholism and homelessness in 'Charcoal Lane' and 'Down City Streets' (written by Ruby), and racism and injustice in 'Louis St John'. This song is no different.

As always, his intention isn't to educate but to honour an experience or a truth, and this song is a great example of that. Archie's respect for his audience, as evidenced by his truth-telling, is one of the reasons why he has such a close relationship with his fans.

Notes by Beth Taylor and Adam Blackshaw

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
Archie Roach live radio performance of ‘Charcoal Lane’
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
1285775
Year:
Year

Archie Roach and Ruby Hunter perform 'Charcoal Lane' from the 1990 album of the same name.

The footage is filmed live in the 3CR radio studio during the 9 September 1990 broadcast of the Building Bridges Across Australia nationwide hook-up between a number of radio stations.

A single fixed camera provides an adequate document of this performance. It was not intended for any other public use but in retrospect it's a shame that the vision and sound quality is not better.

This unassuming footage now has special significance because of its rarity as one of the early filmed performances of two beloved Australian musicians. Archie's choice of an electric guitar instead of an acoustic one also makes it a rarity.

The song ends with the words 'I'm a survivor of Charcoal Lane' – a sentiment Archie still reflects on today. Charcoal Lane was a drinking spot in Fitzroy, Melbourne where Aboriginal people met up, shared stories, built community and reunited with family members that had been separated by the Australian government's policy of forced removal of children from their families (which created the Stolen Generations).

Archie's honest reckoning with his own story of homelessness, alcoholism and recovery, both through his music and working as a drug and alcohol counsellor in the 1980s and early 1990s, has helped many.

He says in his autobiography Tell Me Why (2019):

I look back now and see the darkness that would have touched every moment unless we numbed it with beer and port and sherry. We were part of an obliterated culture, just intact enough to know it existed, but so broken we didn't think we could be put back together again. We lost mates and family young, and we would again ... There was death in our past, and death in our future, but we craved a carefree and happy present, and booze offered us that ... We wanted to forget, and retell the stories of our lives as triumphs and comedies, not tragedies. That's why we drank I think.

Notes by Beth Taylor and Adam Blackshaw

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
Awaye!: Archie and Ruby – Soul Partners
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
1504310
Year:
Year

On the ABC Radio National program AWAYE!, Archie Roach talks to host Daniel Browning about his partner in life and music, Ruby Hunter. 

The authenticity of Archie shines through in this interview. Browning gives Archie space and is right not to interrupt. The warmth of Archie's voice draws you into his story. It's a delightful short segment.

Their mutual love and respect is evident in a beautiful, candid interview from 2000 where Ruby describes Archie as her silent hero and herself as his 'rowdy troublemaker'.

They were partners in life and music for more than 35 years before Ruby's death in 2010.

Notes by Beth Taylor and Adam Blackshaw

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
Archie Roach: Ruby Hunter Recording ‘Louis St John’
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
1496623
Courtesy:
Archie Roach
Year:
Year

This clip of home movie footage shows Ruby Hunter recording vocals for the song 'Louis St John' from the 1997 album Looking For Butterboy.

Archie wrote the song about the racially-motivated murder of Perth teenager Louis St John Johnson (Warren Braeden) in 1992. Ruby's raw vocals evoke a powerful sense of love and loss.

Bill and Pauline Johnson, Louis's foster parents, asked Archie to write a song about Louis and gave him a photo of Louis to guide him. In his autobiography Tell Me Why (2019) Archie says 'Ruby had a big part in the song as well. She was the spirit, the voice from the Dreamtime, calling Louis back home.'

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.

The poor lighting reflects the choice to record in a house in Port Fairy, Victoria, rather than a traditional studio, which also gives the recording and the footage an intimate, down-to-earth feel.

Notes by Beth Taylor and Adam Blackshaw

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
Archie Roach and Ruby Hunter: ‘Love in the Morning’
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
1496443
Courtesy:
Archie Roach
Year:
Year

This is an excerpt of a live performance of the song 'Love in the Morning' from Archie's 1993 album Jamu Dreaming. The clip comes from Archie Roach and Ruby Hunter: Cape York, 1997.

The quality of the audio and vision are unfortunately not the best, but the clips has the charm of an unpolished home movie. It provides an interesting glimpse of a live performance of two accomplished musicians.

For most of the clip the camera frames Ruby, rather than Archie who is providing the lead vocal. It is a delight to watch her enthusiasm and the smile on her face beautifully exemplifies the joy they derived from performing together.

Notes by Beth Taylor and Adam Blackshaw

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
Archie Roach: A musical family
Year:
Year

Archie Roach talks about his musical family. This clip is taken from an exclusive interview with the NFSA from the online exhibition Archie Roach: His Story in Song.

It's not hard to understand how their sons became musicians when he and Ruby Hunter played music constantly while they were growing up.

For a lovely example of this check out this home movie of Archie and Ruby singing 'Watching Over Me' with son Eban in the foreground watching television.

Notes by Beth Taylor

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
Kyana Corroboree: Archie Roach and Ruby Hunter perform Louis St John
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
267127
Year:
Year

At the official opening of the Kyana festival of Aboriginal arts, music and dance, on the Perth Esplanade in February 1993, Archie Roach and Ruby Hunter perform the song 'Louis St John'. The song was later recorded for the album Looking for Butter Boy in 1997.

This is an exceptionally clear recording of their outdoor live performance. The vocal and solo guitar sparkle and the audio faithfully captures a song about the murder of Louis St John (Warren Braedon), who was killed by two men on his 19th birthday because he was black.

The racially-motivated murder affected Archie deeply, with him saying in an interview on ABC radio in 2007, 'Louis is me, and I am Louis'.

Archie also took part in a documentary about Louis and his family's stories alongside English actor Pete Postlethwaite and Pat Dodson called Liyarn Ngarn in 2007.

Notes by Beth Taylor and Adam Blackshaw

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
A portrait of Archie Roach and Ruby Hunter.
https://www.nfsa.gov.au/sites/default/files/10-2019/1520086_smaller.jpg
Archie Roach and Ruby Hunter
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
1520086
Courtesy:
Archie Roach and Jill Shelton
Year:
Year

A portrait of Archie Roach and Ruby Hunter taken in 2008, two years before Ruby died at the age of 54. The two had been together for 38 years.

This delightful photograph of Archie and Ruby is taken in a natural setting, and shows the close bond between the two. Although they have a similar difficult past this photo suggests they have arrived at a point of contentment. 

Ruby is wearing a headdress which represents 'yesteryear, yesterday and today' made from rock cockatoo feathers from Arnhem Land, pelican feathers from her traditional home, raffia, sequins and mirrors.

The two talk about their loving and musical partnership in these two clips - here, Archie describes them as 'soul partners' and in this clip, Ruby says he is her 'silent hero' and she his 'rowdy troublemaker'.

Notes by Beth Taylor and Adam Blackshaw

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
Archie Roach: ‘Took the Children Away’
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
1011788
Year:
Year

Archie Roach and Ruby Hunter talk about their experiences as members of the Stolen Generations. A Gunditjmara and Bundjalung man, Archie was forcibly separated from his family, who were living at the Framlingham Mission in Victoria, when he was two years old. Ruby was stolen from her family in South Australia when she was eight years old.

The clip also features their performance of 'Took the Children Away' from Murundak - Songs of Freedom, a documentary featuring some of Australia's best known Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander musicians, released in 2011. The word 'Murundak' means 'alive' in Woiwurrung language spoken by the Kulin people around the Yarra in Victoria.

Anyone who enjoys the art of songwriting would appreciate this segment giving the background to one of the most important songs ever recorded in Australia. The cross-cutting between the live performance of 'Took the Children Away' and the backstory provided by Archie and Ruby is done seamlessly. It enriches both the song and interview.

Uncle Banjo Clarke asked Archie to write the song and provided him with his recollections of when the children were taken, which Archie incorporated in the lyrics.

Archie says in his autobiography Tell Me Why (2019) '...it's my healing song. Through songs, I have been able to deal with the pain and trauma in a more positive way. Every time I sing it, I let a little bit of the hurt and the trauma go.'

Notes by Beth Taylor and Adam Blackshaw

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
A photograph of Archie Roach and Ruby Hunter standing on a busy street in London. People walk behind them and there is a red double decker bus in the background.
https://www.nfsa.gov.au/sites/default/files/10-2019/twarchieroachrubyhunterlondon1993_2_tim-webster-photographer_web.jpg
Archie Roach and Ruby Hunter in London
Year:
Year

Ruby Hunter and Archie Roach were photographed on tour in London in 1993 by Tim Webster.

This is an evocative image of the two performers on the road in England. It perfectly captures an exciting moment in time as the two musicians are hitting their stride and making a name for themselves internationally.

Webster gives the photograph a sense of energy and excitement by capturing Archie and Ruby standing still, watching, while people and a red double-decker bus are moving around them.

The two wear Aboriginal colours and sunglasses, with Archie's denim jacket and Ruby's feather headdress completing this arresting image.

Notes by Beth Taylor and Adam Blackshaw

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons