Archie Roach visits Hobart

puppy in the house
Yes, there is a puppy in this house.

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. Archie 2

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.

Archie Book Tell Me WhyHe 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.

Archie 1When 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. Instagram Penguin

Australian’s Indigenous Publisher

Mangabala Books is described by their web page as:

Magabala Books is Australia’s leading Indigenous publisher. Based in the pearling town of Broome in the far north of Western Australia, Magabala Books is one of the most remote publishing houses in the world.

Since its incorporation in 1990, Magabala Books has been recognised as a producer of quality Indigenous Australian literature receiving accolades in prestigious literary and national achievement awards.

Snip20180218_7As one of the most respected small publishing houses in Australia, Magabala Books works to celebrate the talent and diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices through the publication of quality literature. Magabala Books has released more than two hundred titles from a range of genres.

Snip20180218_1I thought I’d have a poke around our State Library to see what indigenous publishers they stocked on their shelves. I have been slowly exploring them.  This came up first off and as I checked it out I saw some beautiful children’s books. I noticed that one of them, Mad Magpie, written and illustrated by Gregg Dreise, won the 2017 Speech Pathology Australia Book of the Year in the Indigenous  Children’s category.  That is an association that was very dear to my heart years ago when I was working and I sat on their national committee as Vice President Finance for several years in the 1990’s.  I remember when the book awards were established by the association but later forgot about those awards in my retirement years and was happily surprised to see it again.  I had to check it out and see what it is about.

Snip20180218_2Mad Magpie is a story about dealing with bullies.

“Way back before Once-Upon-A-Time time, there was the Dreamtime,

and during this period there lived an angry magpie called Guluu.

Guluu was so angry that he would swoop down and peck the other animals on their heads.”

Anyone who is familiar with Australian birds will know that several species of our birds are bullies.  The magpie is known for swooping people who get in its way. This is the story of how the magpie deals with the butcher birds who bully him.

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The Butcher birds tease him, they chase him away when he is trying to eat worms on the riverbank. They laugh at him. This makes him very angry.  He thinks if he is angry and tough enough they will leave him alone but they don’t. The other birds in the area, the cockatoos, the Mopoke Owl, the Emu, tell him being mean and angry will not get him what he wants.  He needs to stay calm like the river that roars through the mountains and then is calm again.  He begins to work on becoming calmer, walking away and being strong on the inside like the water’s current. He begins to sing so loudly he can’t hear the taunts of the butcher birds anymore.  Of course it begins to work and the Magpie becomes a happier bird who is no longer bullied. It is a very relevant, timeless tale.

Snip20180218_5The book is beautifully illustrated with Indigenous art and I am sharing a few pages with you. Gregg Dreise has written and illustrated other books for children and I see that Silly Birds won this same award in 2015. I have placed two more of his books on my wishlist at the library and will look at them after I return from my March travels.  I enjoy the stories of the Dreamtime as they explain the Indigenous versions of nature. They are beautiful tales.

Snip20180218_4I will continue to explore this publishing establishment as they have a range of books for children through to adults.  Our library seems to have quite a few of their books.

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