Child dancers carry on the legacy of Archie Roach

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 this is for the best
Took them away.

The child dancers of an Indigenous dance troupe, Dusty Feet Mob, are among the many people deeply touched by the life and work of celebrated Aboriginal singer-songwriter Archie Roach, who passed away last week after a long illness, aged 66.

After being formed in Port Augusta, South Australia, five years ago, Dusty Feet Mob performed with Uncle Archie many times, bringing to vivid life his most famous song, Took the Children Away.

Roach both introduces and appears in a short documentary made about the collaboration with DFM called This Story’s True, which won Best Documentary in the 2020 SASA awards and at the ‘My Hero International Film Festival 2020.

“It’s a healing, it’s a blessing what you do, what you bring, not just to me, but others,” Roach tells the children in the film.

“Like, us older fellows that have been taken from family, you know, when we see you dancing, that helps us, it makes us feel better. Thank you for that.”

DFM’s artistic director and choreographer, Wanita Calyun, says: “The kids get to re-enact something that their grandparents or parents or someone has gone through. They know why they’re dancing to this.”

“The churches are starting to have ownership of what happened.” – Maria Anderson

Dancer Tyeisha Taylor says: “I see people in the audience crying. And after we finish our dance, people coming up to us and telling us about their emotions and how they’re feeling.”

Sarcha Taylor explains it’s about: “that people get taken away from their mothers, their fathers, and they’ll be brought to a mission.”

Adds Marika Garlett: “People need to know, to see what happened back then.”

Wanita’s mother, Maria Anderson, chairperson of DFM and a Christian, says the ripple effects of the Stolen Generation still live in families today.

“The churches are starting to have ownership of what happened. And a lot of Aboriginal churches have invited Dusty Feet to go and dance at their services. So today, all of a sudden, we’re finding a space to talk about what happened.”

Paul Tanner, Manager of DFM, says, “Carrying on uncle Archie’s legacy is really important to us. Doing this performance gives people in the wider community a bit of an idea about why there are so many people still affected.”

“The words of Uncle Archie resonate throughout the whole of Australia, throughout our communities, throughout our families.” – Justin MoGridge

Justin MoGridge, Wanita’s father, and a member of the Stolen Generation, was very moved the first time he saw the children dance to Took the Children Away.

“Our people went through a lot of trauma, a lot of loss, and there were a lot of sad stories, just too many, and it gets you back to a place where you just feel a lot of your own pain through the kids doing these dances – it’s an opportunity to tell the story as it is.

“When you hear the song, and it takes you back to a place where we don’t sometimes talk about … because we might feel we’re trying to still protect ourselves from all that pain. So it’s an opportunity to have your little moment.

“The words of Uncle Archie resonate throughout the whole of Australia, throughout our communities, throughout our families.”

Maria believes the biggest strength of Dusty Feet Mob is that it’s her family, “no matter what cultural group we come from, no matter what background we come from, you become our family.”

When Wanita heard about the childhood trauma suffered by her father, his brothers and sisters, she felt numb at first and didn’t understand her emotions.

“What keeps me going with Dusty Feet, it’s about my kids, it’s about our community – they’re our next generation. As we kept continuing to go to more and more performances, you could see the changes in the kids, and they just come right out of their shells. And I guess if it wasn’t for the kids, I wouldn’t be here where I am today, as strong as I am, because they’ve taught me a lot.”

Paul Tanner says he loves the privilege of carrying on Uncle Archie’s legacy.

“I like to think that Dusty Feet Mob is also doing this for all the Stolen Generation descendants,” he says.

“If it wasn’t for the kids, I wouldn’t be here where I am today, as strong as I am, because they’ve taught me a lot.” – Wanita Calyun

In the film, Archie says he has great memories of performing live with Dusty Feet Mob.

“The first time I saw it when they danced the song, it was very emotional for me. It’s important that they keep doing it because … the Stolen Generation didn’t just affect us that were taken away. It’s affected our children and our grandchildren as well.

“I’ve seen children of Stolen Generation growing up very angry and getting into trouble and just not very happy because of what happened to their parents or their grandparents. So it’s good to see young people being able to process that trauma through the arts, through music or dancing like the Dusty Feet Mob.”

As well as performing Took the Children Away, live with Archie Roach on a number of occasions, Dusty Feet Mob also do an inclusive rendition of We are Australian (Yabu Band – WA) at various events and in schools.

Note: The family of Archie Roach has given permission for his name, image and music to be used during this period of grieving so his legacy will inspire others.

You can watch This Story’s True here.