Music legend and Indigenous rights campaigner, Archie Roach, received the Lifetime Achievement award at last night's National Dreamtime Awards for his talent, singing against the injustices and discrimination of Indigenous people, as reference to his own experiences in music.
As he was called to stage, Roy Ah-See from the NSW Aboriginal Land Council outlined just some of the challenges Mr Roach had conquered to persevere to such success. 'This is a person who lived in a time when babies would be taken from their mothers and fathers. This is a person who lived through the White Australia Policy,' Mr Ah-See said.
"He is not inspirational," Mr Ah-See said. "He is aspirational."
The crowd all stood and watched Mr Roach head to the stage, as he was assisted in his wheelchair. The atmosphere in the fine lit room was overwhelmed with cultural pride.
Mr Roach took time in his speech to reflect on a moment when he and others were debating in an open forum in La Perouse, an event that was getting increasingly getting heated.
Once he recognised the conflict, he told the audience, he got up with his guitar and sang a new song he had written to calm the intense atmosphere.
"For me it as one of the most proudest things in my life. Not because of what I had done, but because I found that this song affected so many of my people, and that song was 'Took the Children Away'," Mr Roach explained.
The crowd applauded and cheered his memory. Mr Roach went on to acknowledge the love between Aboriginal people.
"I just want to let people understand, non-Aboriginal and non-Torres Strait Islanders, the great love that we have for each other and how that love has kept us strong," Mr Roach said in his speech.
"Doesn't matter what anybody says, our love will always keep us strong and our love will always lead the way."
Mr Roach is no stranger to prestigious accolades. Having a successful music career from the early 1980s, he has won multiple ARIA awards, as well as the APRA Ted Albert Award for Outstanding Services to Australian Music in 2017.
He is also the only songwriter to receive a Human Rights Achievement Award for his song, Took the Children Away, a track that drew global attention to the impactful Stolen Generations, of which he is a survivor.
Mr Roach was taken away from his family home in Framlingham Aboriginal Mission, south-west Victoria, at just three years old.
Through many of Mr Roach’s lyrics, listeners can visualise the harrowing memory of his past and the challenges he faced growing up through foster homes.
They took us away / Snatched from our mother’s breast / said this was for the best.
Mr Roach was also a performer of the evening, and sung his most acclaimed song to hundreds in the audience, allowing a moment to reflect on the heartache that still lingers today among many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families.
Mr Roach currently works with Indigenous youth in detention centres and continues to advocate for Indigenous rights.
Highlights of the evening
Leading up to the event, the day was grey with patches of rain. However, inside Sydney's Star Casino, guests and nominees were sheltered and the red carpet facilitated stylish suits, formal gowns and lots of heels.
Big name guests included model Samantha Harris, actor Miranda Tapsell, footballer Josh Addo-Carr, hip-hop favourite (and recipient of Male Artist of the Year) Baker Boy and hosts of NITV's The Point, Rachael Hocking and John-Paul Janke, and many more.
The ceremony opened with a performance from Christine Anu singing her famous song, 'My Island Home'.
Writer and actor Leah Purcell was honored with Female Actor of the Year category, accepting her award, acknowledging how proud she was to be in a room filled with creative and talented Indigenous people.
Break-out star from Galiwin'ku in Arnhem Land who made his acting debut in the acclaimed film, The Nightingale, Baykali Ganambarr, received the award for Male Actor of the Year. He gave a powerful acceptance speech, dedicating the award to his mother who passed away from breast cancer when he was 15-years-old.
"It's because of her, I can," he said, referencing this years' NAIDOC theme.
He went on to voice the important work the films, like The Nightingale, does for Australian society.
"Australia's history has been whitewashed and it's through these confronting films where we can tell the true stories," he said. The audience cheered and whistled in response.
Mr Ganambarr, who received the Marcello Mastroianni Award for 'Best New Talent' at the Venice Film Festival earlier this year despite having no prior acting credits or professional training, later told NITV News that those who are aspiring to become actors should never let their dream fall short of a reality.
"There's going to be obstacles, there's going to be ups and downs so you just keep going ... just keep chasing your dreams and don't give up,"
"You always have your mob, your people, your family behind you supporting you, and you also got mine, support," he said.
Uncle Bruce Pascoe receives Person of the Year
Taking home the other major award, was author and BoonWurrung elder, Uncle Bruce Pascoe. Mr Pascoe wrote the award-winning and groundbreaking non-fiction novel, Dark Emu, a book that disproves the 'hunter/gatherer' concept and highlights the sophisticated agriculture and farming that Indigenous Australians practiced pre-colonisation.
Mr Pascoe won the crowd over with the story behind his formal wear.
"I'm really at a loss to think of getting an award amongst this crowd of people," he said accepting the award.
"I have gone out my way for you mob. I've never owned a suit.
And I enlisted my daughter to go shopping with me the other day. We had a look about, up the main street and eventually went to the family store, the Salvos," he said, as the audience reacted with laughter and cheering.
Mr Pascoe went on to talk about the contents of his most notable work, Dark Emu and the potential to present more historic Indigenous practices.
"The story that I told about our people in Dark Emu, comes straight out of the ground. It was always there," he said.
"And it's a bloody disgrace to a country with so many universities that it took this long for our people to be recognised for the achievements of a civilisation without land war.
You can't underestimate it. We really haven't investigated it to any degree. This will be our greatest achievement. What our old people did to organise a system of government that didn't rely on war. This will be our greatest export, if only we're allowed.
The National Dreamtime Awards, now two-years-old
The Dreamtime Awards began last year, returning again in 2018 to continue acknowledging the successes of our people in sports, arts, entertainment and education.
The event sets itself apart from other community celebrations like the notable NAIDOC awards with government and private sectors sponsoring the different award categories, as well as an event with a strong focus on entertainment.
The wider community is able to nominate groups and individuals online, with the judging panel choosing a final four and then coming together to discuss the winner.
Dennis Stokes, CEO of the Tandanya National Aboriginal Cultural Institute, was one of the judges on the judging panel.
He told NITV that the seven judges come from all different states and territories, each specialising in one of the categories. Mr Stokes comes from an arts background.
"Out of the four [finalists], we make out who our top person is ... then we give reasons to why we think that person is the best choice for that award," Mr Stokes told NITV News.
At the end of the discussion, if the judging panel is not in agreement with the one individual, majority would rule.
Mr Stokes said that some of these discussions would include looking at the character of each group or individual, rather than only looking at their skills or contributions.
"I think it's about giving a positive view of Indigenous people around the country and looking at how that affects the mainstream as well," Mr Stokes said.
"There's not a lot of awards out there for Aboriginal people to get that recognition and I think it [to win a Dreamtime award] means a lot."
List of 2018 Dreamtime Award winners
Dreamtime Person of the Year – Bruce Pascoe
Dreamtime Elder of the Year – Thelma Weston
Lifetime Achievement Award – Archie Roach
Student of the Year – Ashley Walker
Educator of the Year – Nicole Watson
Institute of the Year – NAISDA Dance College
Community Organisation of the Year – Redfern Aboriginal Medical Service
Business of the Year – Red Centre Enterprises
Community person of the year – Steve Hall
Best New Sports Talent – Harley Windsor
Female Sportsperson of the Year – Ashleigh Barty
Male Sportsperson of the Year – Latrell Mitchell
Sportsperson of the Year – Tai Tuivasa
Female Actor of the Year – Leah Purcell
Male actor of the year – Baykali Ganambarr
Female artist of the year – Mojo Juju
Male artist of the year – Baker Boy
Media person of the year – Allan Clarke