Archie Roach (8 January 1956 – 30 July 2022)
Archie Roach was so much more than a musician, singer, author and activist. He was a Gunditjmara and Bundjalung elder who fought hard for the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Through his music, he created awareness about the plight of the stolen generations of Aboriginal children who were forcibly removed from their families. For almost a hundred years, the Australian Government continued this inhumane practice of gathering up Aboriginal children in their big, black, fancy cars and placing them in foster homes or orphanages. The aim of this was to assimilate them into white culture and force them to reject everything they had known; their families, language, cultural heritage, freedom.
Nothing’s changed except for the setting
At the age of two, Archie, along with countless other Aboriginal children, was plucked from his family and placed with a white foster family. The government policy makers of the time must have been deranged to think that forced assimilation under the guise of protection was a good thing. But then racists don’t think. They just have a belief that white is superior and the policy was designed to annihilate Aboriginal society. Unfortunately, nothing has changed over the years except for the setting. These days, Aboriginal children are removed from their families and placed in prisons.
Many people had never heard of Archie Roach until he wrote and recorded Took the Children Away . This powerful song was based on his own life and experiences as a child of the stolen generations. ‘The significance of the song also resonated outside the Indigenous community with Roach winning ARIA Awards for Best Indigenous Release and Best New Talent in 1991. Took the Children Away received an international Human Rights Achievement Award, the first time that the award had been bestowed on a songwriter’. https://www.nfsa.gov.au/collection/curated/took-children-away-archie-roach
Judith Durham (3 July 1943-5 August 2022)
Judith Durham, an Australian singer, songwriter and musician was one of my musical heroes. She joined the Australian pop and folk group, The Seekers in 1963 and made them famous with her beautiful, pure singing voice. I first became aware of her at about the age of ten, when Dad kick started the wireless. The group was singing ‘I’ll never find another you’. When that old wireless had finally had its day, Mum bought a couple of records by ‘The Seekers’.
Another shopping spree
As a 13-year-old, Mum and Dad bought me a Seeker’s music notation book and a piano accordion. The music book was really for guitar, but it was adaptable. After a few lessons on the accordion, I started working my way through the Seeker’s book, but spent most of the time perfecting Morning Town Ride. It became my favourite piece, only because I could play it right through without a single mistake. Not sure how the neighbours felt about it, but I treated them to a free concert every afternoon on their way home from the office.
Planning for maximum audience
Practice sessions started at about 5.30 pm most afternoons. That was the time when a group of neighbours got off the bus at the top of Bedford Street and walked past our house every day after work. When I heard them coming, I raised the blinds and opened my bedroom window, rain, hail or shine. Sitting on my chair facing the open window, music stand slightly to the side, I’d start belting out ‘Morning Town Ride’. Can’t believe I used to do that really.
We had a connection
Aside from all that, I always felt a special connection to Judith Durham. A little part of her was Tasmanian. As a child, her family moved to Tasmania where she lived and attended school for seven years. Also, she’d had a brain haemorrhage in May 2013 as she was coming off stage. Coincidentally, later in that same year, I had a brain haemorrhage.
It was very late in her career when I first saw Judith Durham with ‘The Seekers’ in a live performance in Hobart, Tasmania. She reflected on her brain haemorrhage briefly. Her main concern was whether she’d still be able to beat her tambourine in time. It was obvious that she hadn’t lost any of her skills as she slapped the tambourine against her thighs and hand.
Olivia Newton-John (26 September 1948 -8 August 2022)
One of my all-time favourite films was Grease, a romantic/comedy/musical that was produced in 1978 and starred Olivia Newton-John as Sandy. The film was inspired by the Greaser subculture that emerged in ‘the 1950s and early 1960s from predominantly working class and lower-class teenagers and young adults in the United States’.
Olivia was ours
Although Olivia Newton- John was born in England, she moved to Australia at the age of five. She returned to England after winning a talent contest on a TV show hosted by Johnny O’Keefe. Her years abroad resulted in her becoming an international star. She recorded many numbers 1 hit songs and won a Grammy award for her musical achievements. But we Australians claimed Olivia as one of ours because she grew up here.
The Grease movie had a huge impact on impressionable young people of that era, especially me. So much so, that many of the youth in Tasmania (at the bottom of the world) started acting strangely. The movie had an influence on our dance moves and the type of music we listened to. Girls wanted to be Sandy, not just behave like her. I’m not talking about the ‘good Sandy’ who had a ponytail and wore ribbons in her hair. I’m talking about the ‘bad Sandy’.
Dressing like ‘bad Sandy’
We held our breath and compressed our lower bodies into black spandex pants and squeezed our tiny 1970s bodies into oh-so-tight off-the shoulder tops. Feet were enclosed in high heeled shoes that were impossibly difficult to totter around on. Some kids got lucky and had a tiny leather jacket, preferably with studs that they found at an op shop. If you weren’t blistered and chaffed after a night out, your clothes obviously weren’t tight enough and your heels weren’t high enough.
How much can an eyelid take?
And then there was the makeup. Foundation was thick and yellowish beige and applied to the face with a spatula. Next were the eyes. Brightly coloured eye shadow, black eyeliner and mascara were plastered on until the lids, brows and lashes couldn’t take any more. It was the same with lipstick. Bright, bold and layers upon layers of the stuff. A couple of giant loopy earrings dangling off the lobes and the hair, curly and blond, teased out beyond the width of the shoulder blades, completed the look.
Thanks for the memories, Olivia.