Pain and for­ti­tude on the road to rec­on­cil­i­a­tion

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Visual Arts -

KEV Car­mody ex­cepted, no singer- song­writer in the coun­try comes within cooee of Archie Roach in ex­press­ing the suf­fer­ing of Abo­rig­i­nal Aus­tralia. Jour­ney pauses for re­flec­tion on past in­jus­tice while con­tin­u­ing the up­hill path to­wards rec­on­cil­i­a­tion. The au­thor of sem­i­nal songs such as Took the Chil­dren Away tac­itly ac­knowl­edges AfroAmer­i­can strug­gles of yore, en­cas­ing his songs in clas­sic blues, coun­try and spir­i­tual cov­er­ings. Shane Howard ac­com­pa­nies Roach through­out his jour­ney, as pro­ducer and ses­sion con­trib­u­tor. An­other cham­pion of Abo­rig­i­nal mu­sic, Paul Kelly, stops by to duet on Jack Davis’s emo­tive poem set to mu­sic, John Pat, in­spired by the man whose death trig­gered the royal com­mis­sion into Abo­rig­i­nal deaths in cus­tody. Troy Cas­sarDa­ley lends a hand on Trav­el­lin’ Bones, a song that crit­i­cises the prac­tice of in­dige­nous re­mains be­ing spir­ited to over­seas mu­se­ums and cel­e­brates the re­turn of some of th­ese relics. Lit­tle Sis­ters ( Spe­cial Place) re­lates to the tragic death of Louis John­son, an adopted Abo­rig­i­nal youth who was the vic­tim of a racist at­tack in Perth in 1992, and his sub­se­quent burial at his an­ces­tral home out­side Alice Springs. Light­house, an­other in­tensely mov­ing song, urges John­son’s birth mother and adop­tive mother to look for their son inside of joy rather than pain. Emo­tion drips from all th­ese pieces, fu­elled by Roach’s care­fully cho­sen words, his heart­felt de­liv­ery and beau­ti­ful vi­brato. Li­yarn Ngarn, also the ti­tle of a doc­u­men­tary DVD linked to the album that Roach made with Bri­tish ac­tor Pete Postleth­waite and Abo­rig­i­nal leader Pa­trick Dod­son, stands as an elo­quent an­them for rec­on­cil­i­a­tion: ‘‘ We are all born of dif­fer­ent skin / but it doesn’t mat­ter if we can be­gin / to cel­e­brate life and all that means / and we must not be afraid to live our dreams / come to­gether ev­ery­one / where the moon meets the sun.’’

Tony Hil­lier

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