Archie Roach’s song: ‘Took the Children Away’

Archie Roach’s song: ‘Took the Children Away’

archir roach

When Archie Roach penned Took The Children Away, it became one of the most important songs in Australia’s contemporary history.

This song tells of the forced separation of children from their parents, as was done to thousands of Aboriginal children during the implementation of the government’s assimilation policies.

Many Aboriginal people identify strongly with the story carried by this song. It won two Aria Awards and a Human Rights Award. It was the first time a Human Rights award had been presented to a songwriter. It was in the US Rolling Stone’s Top 50 albums for 1992. It has subsequently gone gold in Australia.

While still a very young child, Roach and his sisters, along with many other young people of the ’stolen generation,’ were forcibly removed from their family by Australian government agencies, and placed in an orphanage. After enduring two unpleasant placements in foster care Roach was eventually fostered by the Coxes, a family of Scottish immigrants in Melbourne. The Coxes’ eldest daughter, Mary, played keyboards and guitar in a local pentecostal church, and taught Roach the basics of both instruments. He was further inspired by his foster father’s record collection, which included old Scottish ballads and songs by Billie Holiday, the Ink Spots, the Drifters and Nat King Cole.

Former Warumpi Band member Neil Murray says “Archie is the holy man of Australian music. There’s a great humility about him” and talks of Archie’s “astonishing grace and humility”, saying Archie brings with his art “the belief that spiritual healing is always possible, even in the damaged land he has walked”.

Paul Kelly says “Archie’s songs are at once both love songs and political songs.”

Bart Willoughby, whose band ‘No Fixed Address’ earned the admiration of bands like ‘The Clash’ and its song ‘We Have survived’ is now an anthem of epic proportions says ‘Archie is the voice of Aboriginal emotion’.

The first time Archie played this song to the audience, there was no clapping or any sound when he finished; that made Archie think that the audience didn’t like it so he walked off the side of the stage, when he heard clapping from the audience. He turned around and saw the whole of the audience cheering and clapping.

Sir Bob Geldof has said that “Archie Roach is one of the greatest singer songwriters in the world”

Archie Roach said that, like many Aboriginal people, he hoped the apology would be a beginning rather than an end. He said: “Once this is done, perhaps we can then make inroads into other issues. I understand that an apology is not going to solve all the problems, or the plight of Aboriginal people, but it’s going to help. It’s going to help people to feel a bit more free to go ahead. It will help me and my children.” That is something which I find incredibly humbling.

‘Archie’s autobiographic “Took the Children Away” along with Bob Randall’s “Brown Skinned Baby” are the two quintessential songs of the Stolen Generation. They are as important to this country’s heritage as“Waltzing Matilda”’ (Neil Murray 2007)

Archie Roach singing ‘Took the Children Away’

This story’s right, this story’s true
I would not tell lies to you
Like the promises they did not keep
And how they fenced us in like sheep.
Said to us come take our hand
Sent us off to mission land.
Taught us to read, to write and pray
Then they took the children away,
Took the children away,
The children away.
Snatched from their mother’s breast
Said it was for the best
Took them away.
The welfare and the policeman
Said you’ve got to understand
We’ll give them what you can’t give
Teach them how to really live.
Teach them how to live they said
Humiliated them instead
Taught them that and taught them this
And others taught them prejudice.
You took the children away
The children away
Breaking their mothers heart
Tearing us all apart
Took them away
One dark day of Framingham
Come and didn’t give a damn
My mother cried go get their dad
He came running, fighting mad
Mother’s tears were falling down
Dad shaped up and stood his ground.
He said you touch my kids and you fight me
And they took us from our family.
Took us away
They took us away
Snatched from our mother’s breast
Said this was for the best
Took us away.
Told us what to do and say
Told us all the white man’s ways
Then they split us up again
And gave us gifts to ease the pain
Sent us off to foster homes
As we grew up we felt alone
Cause we were acting white
Yet feeling black
One sweet day all the children came back
The children come back
The children come back
Back where their hearts grow strong
Back where they all belong
The children came back
Said the children come back
The children come back
Back where they understand
Back to their mother’s land
The children come back
Back to their mother
Back to their father
Back to their sister
Back to their brother
Back to their people
Back to their land
All the children come back
The children come back
The children come back
Yes I came back.


Stephen Hall
Stephen Hall
Lives in Perth, Western Australia.

1 Comment

  1. Avatar Tia says:

    Your song is the most incredible song I have ever heard and has the most moving message and meaning and really creates a thought in people’s mind about how the stolen generation of children would have felt during this time and how they would feel now from this traumatising event. As You said in the lyrics that the child was snatched from their mothers breast, forces great effect on the listeners as we imagine ourselves in that situation and can’t possibly bare with it, just with the thought.