26 September 2023

Charcoal Lane

Start the conversation

Reviewed by Ian Phillips.

By Archie Roach, Mushroom Records 1990.

Australia has lost an important healing voice with the death of musician, storyteller, and artist Archie Roach.

Although he has gone, he has left an incredible legacy in his music.

One that is an important part of our most sacred and treasured recorded history.

His music and words will be studied for generations as we come to terms with our past, begin the healing process, acknowledge past wrongs, make reparations and sign a treaty.

While many artists have spoken uncomfortable truths to us few have touched the raw nerve and shame for our past actions like Archie Roach and his partner, and love of his life, Ruby Hunter.

Archie’s story is a poignant one. He, along with Ruby, were removed from their parents as children during what has become known as ‘the Stolen Generation’, a misguided and ultimately cruel and pointless policy that attempted assimilation.

It’s important for us to acknowledge that the aim of the policy was the eventual eradication of Aboriginality in Australia.

Archie spent time in missions, in foster homes, institutions, and living on the street.

He was a long time lost and struggled with his identity.

He worked as a professional tent boxer, beautifully told in the song he co-wrote with Paul Kelly, Rally ‘Round The Drum.

He experienced life on the margins, an experience that so many of our first nations people know only too well.

And then he met Ruby, a kindred spirit and fellow traveller, and his life changed. Archie rediscovered his roots and turned his experiences into songs.

Charcoal lane was his debut album and it was recorded at Curtain Street Studios in Melbourne and produced by Paul Kelly and Steve Connolly.

It’s hard to overstate the impact that it had.

It contained the immortal Took The Children Away and the equally impressive co-write with Ruby Hunter, Down City Streets.

What made these songs so powerful was their authenticity, Archie sang about his life.

And although the subject matter is about dispossession, mistreatment, and sadness the songs are uplifting and life affirming.

Non-indigenous Australians can learn a lot from Archie Roach.

His quiet dignified strength spoke louder than the shrill bigotry and hatred that he regularly encountered in his life.

If you only buy one Archie Roach album, I recommend Charcoal Lane.

Start the conversation

Be among the first to get all the Public Sector and Defence news and views that matter.

Subscribe now and receive the latest news, delivered free to your inbox.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.