Singer-songwriter, campaigner, and national treasure Archie Roach has re-packaged his acclaimed memoir Tell Me Why for a young adult readership. Whilst it’s an abridged version, it’s no less inspirational, and contained not only his voice and story, but the stories and voices of many other Elders, as well as young people.
Roach was taken away from his family at a young age and brought up by foster parents. He could only vaguely remember a life with his real parents. When he was a teenager he received a letter which changed everything. After hanging onto this letter for a while he eventually felt a calling to find his mob. He had visions of his people in the letter and he knew he was bound for more. “My spirit was stirring. I needed to find out who I was, who my family was”, Archie writes. What followed, as he vividly documents, was a painful and lengthy time till he found the peace he needed.
Tell Me Why follows Roach’s story from Melbourne to Shepparton onto Sydney and then the world, as he goes about finding his family, and eventually meeting the love of his life, Ruby. It’s full of Roach’s reflections and recollections of growing up in Australia as one of the Stolen Generation. Roach is also quick to highlight the support he has received from so many of his peers, whether they be family, friends, or musical colleagues. In fact, one of the most pleasing things for me, was reading about the support he now has around him.
The memoir also recounts Roach’s development as a voice for his people. In the book, he discusses how he felt could make the most impact around the 1988 Bicentennial festivities: “I was happy to celebrate our nationhood with any Australian who wanted to celebrate with me – but not on the day that my people started being killed”.
I struggled to put this memoir down. It was an incredibly emotive read, and I found myself on the verge of tears countless times, reading about his past and his struggles. It’s an unflinching read from an author that seemingly has nothing to hide. Most importantly, Tell Me Why, is a well written and engaging memoir. It’s a book that, frankly, all Australian’s need to read, and it’s great it’s being made accessible to a new generation of readers. Archie Roach is an acclaimed songwriter, known for his autobiographical songs, it’s clear he’s also quite the writer. Pick up Tell Me Why, you won’t be disappointed.