WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised this article contains an image of a person who has died. Archie Roach passed away on July 30, 2022, and his family has given permission for his name and image to be used.
At 9.20am today, a roaring motorcade of Harley Davidsons came thundering down Smith Street in Fitzroy. “The Rocks”, on the corner of Stanley Street, a well-known meeting place for Aboriginal people, was the first stop on a procession to take Archie Roach home to his ancestral Gunditjmara Country.
Crisp winter sun shone down on an emotional crowd, which had come to pay respects to a giant of Australian music and culture, just over three weeks after his passing on July 30. Federal Greens senator Lidia Thorpe rode pillion on one of the dozens of Harleys that revved in reverence in the cavalcade. On the footpath, a tearful onlooker draped in an Aboriginal flag rose a clenched fist and offered her final farewell: “See ya on the other side, Unc.”
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Broadsheet spoke to some of those there to say “Catch ya later” to Uncle Archie Roach.
Bundjalung man Kevin “Sheepy” Ellis – who was a friend of Roach and partner Ruby Hunter’s children – lived with Roach during his teenage years and said the time they spent together was “the best experience ever”.
“There’s just so much I can say about this man. We’re here today to pay our respects to him. He gave us a lot of love and respect through his songs and through his heart alone, just as a human being. He was a gentle giant, you know, a very beautiful man.”
From the Melbourne music sector, Helen Marcou and Quincy Mclean of Bakehouse Studios in Richmond said they were there to pay their respects to their former patrons, Uncle Archie and Aunty Ruby.
“Archie was not only such an important voice of his generation and his people, but he also spoke for music, too. His songlines have transcended more than music. His music, his songwriting, his storytelling – there’s no-one like him,” Marcou told Broadsheet.
“We are in awe of him. I get goosebumps just thinking about the legacy of Archie and Aunty Ruby, as well. It’s really important that we pay our respects.
“It was always such an honour to have them [in our studio]. Just the joy they brought with their music – and sometimes the sorrow – but the storytelling will live on forever. It’s iconic in Australia.”
John, a Wadawurrung man, stood with his daughter as he readied to ride in the procession that would send Roach off to his burial in Warrnambool tomorrow via Charcoal Lane – a site of significance so profound to Roach it inspired his debut album title – past the Aboriginal Health Service and out to St Kilda.
John told Broadsheet he was part of the “Indigenous political club” Black Death Australia IPC – a motorcycle club that serves to bring attention to Aboriginal issues, especially deaths in custody. “Archie was a voice for all Indigenous people over decades. He was brave enough to write songs about the atrocities that have occurred over the last 200 years. So, of course, we acknowledge him and we love him and hold him in very high esteem because of that.”