Tell Me Why

2021 - Shortlisted


Archibald William Roach was born at Mooroopna, near Shepparton, and at age two, when too young to remember the events, he was taken from his parents and put into foster care. After an abusive placement he found a happier home with an immigrant couple in Melbourne, where his foster father, Alex Cox, introduced him to traditional Scottish ballads, guitar and keyboards. At 15 he received a letter revealing the death of his natural mother, a disruption that led him to spend the next 14 years living rough and battling alcoholism. From this troubled time Archie Roach drew the material that would make him famous as a singer, songwriter, musician, and campaigner for Indigenous rights. 

With the words of his own emblematic songs prefacing each chapter, Roach’s early memories are skilfully interwoven with research into the events that led to his childhood separation and eventual rediscovery of siblings and homeland. This lively, strong and authentic account of an ascending musical career does not shy away from the realities of being an Aboriginal man and a musician in modern Australia. Roach’s quiet dignity and generosity of spirit shine through on every page.

About the author

Archie Credit: Adrian Cook Photography

Archie Roach

Archie Roach AM, a Gunditjmara and Bundjalung man, was born in Victoria in 1956. Taken at the age of two from parents he never saw again, he was placed into foster care. He started writing songs after meeting his soulmate Ruby Hunter when they were both homeless teenagers. His heartbreaking signature song, ‘Took the Children Away’, from his 1990 ARIA award-winning debut album Charcoal Lane, has become an anthem for the Stolen Generations.

The song was the first to win an Australian Human Rights Award and the album was featured in US Rolling Stone magazine’s Top 50 in 1992, won two ARIA awards and went gold in Australia. Archie’s recording history includes twelve albums, soundtracks, film and theatrical scores and his books include the award-winning memoir Tell Me Why, accompanied by a companion album, and the picture book Took the Children Away, illustrated by Ruby Hunter.