Kalgoorlie, 1986

This is the saddest song I have heard in Australia and it always receives everyone’s attention when it is played. It is of great significance for the Aboriginal people of the stolen generation in Australia.

Part ballad and jazz lament, it also has the rhythm of country music.  Most of the versions I have heard were by Bob Randall, although Paul Kelly also has sung it.

It starts with the very sad exclamation:

Ya-aaaa-yow-we-eeee, Ya-aaaa-yow-we-eeee…

Brown Skin Baby (They Take Him Away) was written in 1970 by Bob Randall and became well known when it was sung as a singalong by the famous Bob Maza and the Aboriginal actors in the film The Fringe Dwellers, made by Bruce Beresford in 1986.

This is important for me as this was the year my family migrated to Australia.  In Kalgoorlie I  taught from the 1961 novel The Fringe Dwellers by Nene Gare in Aboriginal Studies, and heard many stories of  people being taken away.

Those days were early steps to open the discussion in adult education with students who were part of the stolen generation.  Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s Apology 22 years later in 2008 was a poignant moment but, now in 2020, there is still the need to review placing Aboriginal children away from their families.

There have been similar songs received with the same intensity, the best-known being Archie Roach’s  Took The Children Away.  At the 2020 Adelaide Writers’ Week I was lucky to hear him perform this. It was also received, not surprisingly, with great respect from a very large crowd.

Bob Randall (1934–2015) was an Yankunytjatjara Elder and a traditional owner of Uluru. He was the author of two books: his autobiography Songman and a children’s book Tracker Tjginji, and was the subject of the 2006 documentary film Kanyini.

 

Stereo Story #547

 

Ya-weh, ya-weh 
My brown skin baby they take him away

As a young preacher I used to ride
My quiet pony round the country side
In the native camp I’ll never forget
A young black mother, her cheeks all wet

Ya-weh, ya-weh
My brown skin baby they take him away

Between her sobs I heard her say
Police been take’em my baby away
From white man, boss, the baby I had
Why he let ‘em take baby away?

Ya-weh, ya-weh
My brown skin baby they take him away

To a children’s home a baby came
With new clothes on and a new name
Day and night he would always say
Oh mummy, mummy why they take me away?

Ya-weh, ya-weh
My brown skin baby they take him away

The child grew up and had to go
From a mission home that he loved so
To find his mother he tried in vain
Upon this earth they never met again

Ya-weh, ya-weh
My brown skin baby they take him away.

 

 

I am a French-Australian linguist in Adelaide. I love writing about cultural experiences and spent years teaching English in a multi-lingual context. I have published an anthology and a memoir. I write flash fiction at the moment.