The Bowery Theatre
The intimate theater is sold out this evening, not an empty seat as Annette Xiverras welcomes us to Wurundjeri country. She begins the evening by telling a cultural story about how Aboriginal women would pull of the leaf of a Kangaroo plant and drink it to stop women getting pregnant. She talks of meeting a really beautiful lady with the voice of an angel that helped guide her early learning and cultural knowledge, a woman that she looked up to – Ruby Hunter- Archie’s wife. She tells us how Bunjil the Creator, made the land and welcomes us to the country we are on this evening.
Assisted out the the stage comes Archie Roach, a presence and a force. With the dreaming of both his mother – the Wedge-tail Eagle and his father the Red- bellied black snake as his backdrop Archie commences the evening.
Archie begins the evening with a story about sitting at the kitchen table, writing songs and eating biccies, drinking tea and sharing communal spirit. He captures the moments of his song writing with beautiful stories.
Speaking of being stolen from his parents at the age of two years old and taken to Camberwell’s William Booth Orphanage and being fostered out, he reminisces about the families he was placed with that shaped his early years. He moves on to share how one fateful letter from Merytl Evans in Glebe changed his destiny.
This leads into the song ‘ Charcoal Lane’, a song about Melbourne and the iconic locations Gertrude Street and Smith Street, drinking wine and ‘ biting’. He weaves in tales of his youth, and his story telling translates into song as his husky deep voice rings out across the auditorium. He speaks of friends long gone, voices he can still hear over his shoulder.
When Archie speaks he shares intimate moments of his life, its almost like you could be sitting with him in his living room, or around the kitchen table. He is engaging and funny, each story is thought provoking and emotional. He lets us into his life and aspects that shaped him, places and people that don’t exist anymore and things left in the past.
‘Took the Children Away’ his iconic song about the tragedy of being stolen from his family and his Mother’s heartbreak is next on the set list . When reminiscing about the song he mentions that each time he sings it is a healing song, and each time he sings it he lets a little bit of it go, healing him.
” Like Neil Diamond – you know Song Sung Blue, you heard Song Sung Blue? I love that song because music has the capacity to help you, heal as well” and as his voice rings out you can almost see the pieces floating up toward us, healing a little more.
Moving onto ” Tell Me Why” a song about his parents and how they met, and a love that was strong when they met, but how when their children were taken away they ended up going their separate ways ” the poor old fullas, bless em’“. “Open Up Your Eyes” concludes the first half of the evening, and Archie leaves the stage to take a short break.
Returning to the stage he begins the second set with ” Down City Streets” followed by ” Nopun Kurongk” and ” The Old Days”. He talks about writing his memoir ” Tell me Why” and how its been a healing experience for him. The double bass, violin and gentle guitar tones of the band make the arrangements sound minimalist and are the perfect accompaniment to Archie’s voice.
Archie is a remarkable story teller, gifted with a gravelly voice that sings the songs of these stories and the tapestry of his life. There is a magic to Archie Roach that is captivating, endearing and lovable, his ease on stage makes you feel like you’ve been welcomed into Uncle Archie’s mob to share a tale or two, and leave just a little richer from having been in his presence. Being let into Archie’s world is a rare delight and one that will remain a pleasant memory for a long time.
Words and images by Amanda Lee Starkey