On Wednesday the Aboriginal community in Australia lost another of its more compelling voices with the passing of Uncle Jack Charles. Last month, they saw the passing of Archie Roach.
Both men were important voices of the stolen generations. Roach was a singer and a song writer and Charles was a performer, singer, and activist both for Aboriginal rights and for those in prison and who struggle with addiction especially through his acclaimed play Jack Charles vs. The Crown. A 2008 documentary, Bastardy, provides some insights into his complex charisma.
Both Uncle Jack Charles’s and Archie Roach’s family have approved the use of their images and names after they have passed, but out of respect, I won’t post any here. You can, if you like, click through.
First, I want to post a couple versions of a song that Uncle Jack Charles and Archie Roach performed together from time to time: “We Won’t Cry.”
Roach and Charles were both cross generational figures and their voices and messages will echo long after their passing.
Here’s the Aboriginal group Baker Boy sampling Jack Charles and in a more contemporary song called “Survival” that carries his message (and reminds me of Gerald Vizenor’s concept of survivance in the context of Native American culture):
It seems appropriate to post a few of my favorite Archie Roach songs. I’m especially fond of the song “Charcoal Lane,” which he performs here live with a bit of commentary.
(Here’s Courtney Barnett doing it with Paul Kelly (who is also a Australian music legend):
Of course, Roach is particularly known for his song “Took the Children Away” which helped catalyze public sentiment regarding the horrors of the forced removal policy that produced the stolen generations. You can hear it here.
When I first heard these men’s music, voices, and stories, I didn’t know much about the Stolen Generations or the long struggle for Aboriginal and Indigenous rights. I still don’t know very much about these things, but their quiet and powerful voices pushed me to learn more and recognize the pain and suffering racism and colonialism continues to inflict on these communities. I know that I can’t do anything to fix the past, but I also know that we have a responsibility to what we can to make the future better.