An induction into the ARIA Hall of Fame that was an historical night for the Australian music industry, singer-songwriter Uncle Archie Roach has now revealed he was critically ill at the time of his emotional performance.

Uncle Archie has lived with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease for years, but his condition escalated in November 2020. He was admitted to Warrnambool Base Hospital where spent some days in intensive care prior to his performance.

He performed his most celebrated song, Took the Children Away, sitting down and breathing through a nasal cannula from a venue near the hospital.

Roach had a medical team on standby and an ambulance waiting outside before being taken back to the hospital after his performance.

He was taken from the hospital via ambulance to accept the award via a broadcast from Warrnambool’s Lighthouse Theatre.

“It wasn’t looking too good for a while,” Roach told Guardian Australia.

“Fluid had gone from my legs to [around] my heart, so I had to go to ICU for a while, they tried to get me under control. After the ARIAs, things seemed to pick up after that.”

He said the induction into the Hall of Fame meant a great deal to him, particularly to be standing alongside and as an example to other Indigenous artists.

“I’ve been doing this for a while now, over 30 years, and seeing some of the other people inducted, especially Uncle Jimmy Little and Yothu Yindi and others I was very proud to see that.”

“To be recognised in such a way, of course, is great, and important, but to also be an example to others especially our First Nations people — that no matter where you come from you can achieve great things if you put your mind and heart to it,” he said.

Roach accepted the Hall of Fame accolade along with Best Adult Contemporary and Best Male for his album Tell Me Why at the ARIAs.

Broadening his achievements, earlier this month Roach won a Victorian Premier’s Literary Award, winning the Prize for Indigenous Writing for his memoir by the same name.

Released 30 years after his debut award-winning album Charcoal Lane, Roach touches on his childhood, being a member of the Stolen Generations and his struggle with alcoholism in the memoir.

At 65-years-old, Uncle Archie is still performing, with an upcoming show on February 19 at Melbourne’s Sidney Myer Music Bowl.

He told NIT he is looking forward to reconnecting with an audience.

“It’ll be good to get back out there again and see an audience again,” Roach said.

“Storytelling is important to me, not just to express myself, but to share that with others as well.”

By Darby Ingram