This week has been very windy and rainy. Every time the sun comes out and I think I can take our puppy, Ollie out it begins to rain again. I’ve learned he isn’t crazy about the rain/wind combination. A little soul who takes after me.
Our games are confined to the house and there have been several very funny high speed runs throughout the place, much to the amusement and sometimes dismay of three cats.
The other evening I went into town to Fuller’s Book shop to attend the launch of Archie Roach’s new book, Tell Me Why: The Story of My Life and Music. Archie Roach is an Aboriginal musician, in his mid 60’s who has had great success in his music career but when you read his book you wonder how it is this man is still alive. He was part of the Stolen Generation, being taken from his home by the government when he was two years old along with his sisters and brother. He never saw his parents again. He was put into an orphanage with his older sisters and then adopted by an older, Pentecostal, Scottish couple who he loved and was treated kindly by. There had another Aboriginal child they raised who ran away in his teens and never heard of again. There is a time period before this adoption where he was in foster care and treated very badly. He doesn’t talk or write about this experience. He only says he was treated very cruelly. However when he was 16 yrs of age he learned he had biological family when his oldest sister sent him a letter at his school. It triggered forgotten memories and created a great deal of confusion in his mind.
From there on the story becomes familiar. He goes off the rails, leaving his comfortable home, becoming homeless as he tries to discover who he is, who is family is and how he ended up where he is and why it happened. He went to Sydney and accidentally met a woman in a pub that turned out to be his biological sister. From there he went to Melbourne and found other Aboriginal people who knew of his family. The book is his story.
When he arrived at Fuller’s book store the other evening he was in a wheel chair as his health has certainly suffered from his alcoholic past, the number of years he smoked both cigarettes and weed, his life living rough. He now has several respiratory ailments and as he was wheeled into the book store he had his agent with him and a friend, Rosie Smith, who is also a writer of poetry and she facilitated the conversation with us. He was helped into his seat and looked out at the packed bookstore. I was in the second row having arrived early to get a seat.
He is softly spoken and began telling us stories, several of which are in the book. He seemed tired but his smile came out during the telling of some of these stories and everyone in the audience sat spellbound. You could hear a pin drop.
He told us stories for about 35 minutes and then he tired. He was wheeled into the back of the shop where he used the facilities, then came out again and was seated before us. He asked if we wanted more stories and Peter, the staff member at Fuller’s said we could listen to him for days but he could tell he was tiring. Archie pulled out his guitar and sang the first song he ever wrote to us. The book describes how the songs he wrote came to be created. We would have loved to hear more but we all could see he was fading a bit.
There weren’t going to be anymore songs and we all respected that.
He couldn’t sign books either due to his poor health but there was a woman on the tour who had a stamp and ink impression of a wedge tailed eagle. Each book purchased had the wedge tailed eagle stamped onto the title page of the book. Archie explained the wedge tailed eagle had been his mother’s dreaming animal and it would be with him always. His father had the dreaming animal of the red bellied snake. He told us the snake is in his veins, the eagle is in his heart.
I purchased the book and had finished it within 48 hours. I couldn’t put it down and as the weather agreed with staying indoors and reading so I took full advantage of it.
The book is well written and we learn of the lives of all of his family members. He speaks at length about his beloved wife Ruby who was truly a soul mate and a writer, poet, singer in her own right. They travelled the world together singing and writing songs together.
I’m not a big music follower and admit I knew who Archie Roach is but haven’t listened to his music extensively. Each chapter begins with the written lyrics to a song, then the story behind it is revealed.
When I finished the book, I sat silently and thought, “Wow, what a tale.” I will never understand as long as I live why the Australian government thought it a good idea to remove the children of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and put them into orphanages, missionaries, run by the churches to be assimilated into white families. The ongoing tragedies of this decision continues to be ongoing and those affected by it were lucky in many cases to survive the experience. Most of Archie’s relatives are gone now and there is a visible sadness that lives in him still. It can never be erased and he has learned to live with it, and continues to be successful. I loved everything about this book and although I know the story of many events around the Stolen Generation and how Aboriginals have been and continue to be treated in this country this book makes it very personal. I can’t recommend it enough, especially to people who aren’t familiar with the government policies that happened in this country for several decades.