In March 2022, the NFSA presented the documentary Wash My Soul in the River’s Flow (2021) in Arc cinema. After the screening, I hosted a Q&A session with director Philippa Bateman:
Wash My Soul in the River’s Flow is a love story told in song and spoken word, from the points of view of Archie Roach and Ruby Hunter — First Nations singer-songwriters and icons of Australian music.
Roach has been named one of the most influential Australian artists of all time. Hunter was called a trailblazer back in 1993 when she was the first Indigenous woman to sign with a major record label, and she led the way for a new generation of First Nations women in music.
The documentary showcases archival footage of their 'Kura Tungar: Songs from the River' performance, created with Paul Grabowsky and the Australian Art Orchestra, alongside intimate interviews with Roach and Hunter, and behind-the-scenes footage of their preparation.
The film lays bare the story of their love, their relationship and their personal and collective traumas, and we learn how they have used music and song to express their history, and to heal.
Supported by gorgeous cinematography of Hunter’s Ngarrindjeri country in South Australia, and quotes from Ruby and from Archie’s memoir presented in English and Ngarrindjeri language, the film offers a layered approach to its acknowledgement of the artists and of culture.
During our conversation, Philippa talks about how she came to create this profoundly moving documentary and we were extremely grateful to be able to hear her experience.
Learn more about Archie and Ruby’s collaborations, history and performance and more specifically about Archie Roach.
Main image: Archie Roach. Photographer Martin Philbey. Courtesy of Wash My Soul Productions.