THE calm, strong presence of Archie Roach pierced a crowd of thousands on January 26.
The Gunditjmara and Bundjalung singer-songwriter, hailed widely as a national treasure, travelled from his Killarney home in south west Victoria to perform at Share the Spirit Festival in Melbourne to mark 'Survival Day'.
Before an emotional performance of his renowned song 'Took The Children Away', Roach spoke of significance of the day as an Aboriginal man.
"Today is a day my people had to sit down and declare a day of mourning and come together because of what had happened," he said.
"When the settlement from other people came to this country.
"On January 26 people only think about the discovery of this country by other people when it was already discovered a long time ago.
"People came here and said, nobody lives here, we will claim this country, we will claim this land.
"The full history has to be told, not only of what happened on January 26 but what happened to the first people.
"Until that story told and we are included it's no good celebrating Australia Day because it doesn't make any sense with us being part of this story.
"Until they do we come together and say we're still here.
"You have to recognise our country and our story within the whole story of this country and the bigger picture."
Roach spent part of his childhood growing up at the Framlingham Aboriginal Mission, before he was forcibly removed from his family at two years of age.
The lyrics of 'Took The Children Away' touched deeply on a day dubbed a painful one for many: "One dark day on 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."
Roach has long been a strong advocate for Indigenous rights and has spent his music career highlighting injustices experienced by Australia's First Peoples.
His work has seen many accolades and awards bestowed upon him, including recently an induction into the ARIAs Hall of Fame induction and named 2020 Victorian of the Year.
He said he wouldn't have achieved what he has without the support of his family and friends.
"The only way I've been able to do what I do through the years was because of my people and for the love of my people," he said.
"I came back to my family and my people I felt this immense love and belonging and it has carried me through the years and it carries me still today.
"It's hard to explain to some people what keeps you going when your spirit is stronger than your body; when body fails the spirit seems to pick you up.
"It's the knowledge when I walk on this land and country my mother is always with me and my people are always with me.
"Our spirits, our dreaming spirits, are always watching over me, it keeps me going."
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He spoke of recently watching acclaimed film Rabbit-Proof Fence which follows the official child removal policy that existed in Australia between around 1905 and 1967, now known as the Stolen Generations, which Roach is part of.
"They wanted to wipe us out all together, but that didn't work," Roach said. "We're living proof."
"People thought we weren't going to be here and we still are and we need to rejoice in that today, that we survived all their experiments and eugenic ideas.
"We're still here, we ain't going nowhere."
Pointing to his wheelchair and oxygen tube, Roach assured the audience it was only to help him to keep singing.
"I'm not going anywhere for a while," he said.
South-west Indigenous artists Brett Clarke, Andy Alberts and Lee Morgan also joined Roach on the Melbourne stage.
The Festival hosted a special tribute to Roach, during which his longtime friend Uncle Jack Charles presented him a possum-skin cloak.
The cloak was handmade by Roach's family and he wiped away tears as it was presented to him.