On Music's Healing Powers And Why He Loves Victoria

11 November 2015 | 4:01 pm | Bryget Chrisfield

"[Music] affects you in so many ways... it can pick you up and it can also help when you're down, and when you're going through tough times."

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The Age Music Victoria Awards (formerly The Age EG Awards) turn ten this year. A special concert has been scheduled to mark the occasion and also celebrate the induction of ten representatives from Victoria's illustrious musical heritage into The Age Music Victoria Awards Tenth Anniversary Hall Of Fame. A voting panel comprising former inductees, musicians and music professionals selected the following legends who will be honoured in this way: AC/DC, Bill Armstrong, John Farnham, Olivia Newton-John, Stan Rofe, The Seekers, Sunbury Festival, Palais Theatre, The Thunderbirds and Archie Roach.

Roach and Farnham are the two representatives from this year's inductees list who will also be performing on the night alongside artists such as Brian Cadd, Mark Seymour, Colleen Hewitt and Vika Bull. Roach says he's shared the stage with Farnham before, but while Farnham is scheduled to play a 30-minute set, Roach reveals, "I think I'll be doing probably one or two songs, three even if I can squeeze in another one."

"I grew up in Fitzroy, so I mention Fitzroy, Gertrude Street, Smith Street — places like that."

When asked what he particularly rates about Victoria, Roach says with a chuckle, "I was born here!" He was born in 1956 at Framlingham Aboriginal mission and continues, "I think [Victoria's] a beautiful state. It's got a lotta great places, but it's a great place to live." Roach's music always conjures a distinct sense of place. One of his songs, Old Mission Road — from his latest, 11th album Into The Bloodstream (2012) — is particularly close to home and he confirms it's "about south western Victoria, the mission where my mother comes from just near Warrnambool". He grew up in Melbourne, and Roach often includes local references within his lyrical content: "I grew up in Fitzroy, so I mention Fitzroy, Gertrude Street, Smith Street — places like that."

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Reflecting back on performance highlights from a musical career that boasts impressive longevity, Roach pauses to contemplate before singling out A Day On The Green at The Hill Winery, Geelong in 2013 when he supported Leonard Cohen: "I think performing with a lot of the great artists that I've looked up to through the years," Roach offers by way of conclusion. He's also shared stages with Bob Dylan and Joan Armatrading, but Roach quickly adds, "And probably the great Australian artists too, you know, Paul Kelly and others like Jimmy Little, Slim Dusty, Jimmy Barnes — I've loved their music through the years."

This year marks 25 years since the release of Roach's ARIA and Human Rights Award winning debut solo album, Charcoal Lane, which features Took The Children Away — a song that is now included in the National Film & Sound Archive's Sounds Of Australia registry of historically and culturally important recordings. Roach shared his experiences as part of the Stolen Generation of Aboriginal children (he was removed from his family at the age of three) and educated us on a part of Australia's history many choose to ignore through his harrowing song: "They took us away/Snatched from our mother's breast/Said this was for the best/Took us away."

Also in 2015 Roach, a Gunditjmara Bundjalung man, was made a Member Of The Order Of Australia (AM) for his outstanding contribution not only to the performing arts, but also for his significant contribution to the community as a spokesman for social justice. He describes music as "the better way to express myself". "It affects people on so many levels, you know," he praises, "and so I find that music is a good way to communicate."

Many people have reached out to Roach to share their personal stories and to tell him how much his music has moved them over the years. When asked to recall just one of these occasions, Roach offers, "I suppose one that really stands out was a young brother boy, a young Aboriginal guy, in Western Australia in Perth. He came up to me and he said, 'I'd like to thank you for your song, Walking Into Doors,' that's a song about domestic violence, and he said, 'I really sat down and had a long, hard think about my life, and about things, and it's really helped me a lot,' you know? And so, I think things like that they really, really stay with you."

He's often found comfort in music over the years and Roach points out, "It's a healing, isn't it, music? It affects you in so many ways, you know: it can lift you up, it can pick you up and it can also help when you're down, and when you're going through tough times. It helps you through, yeah."