Meeting of the Waters: Owen Love

Playwright, theatre performer and diesel mechanic Owen Love is one of the artists featured in Meeting of the Waters, a project supported by Country Arts SA involving a residency at Wellington, the development of a series of short films, interviews and blog posts featured on a website – and culminating in a show at the Wellington courthouse in September. 

Owen is a Ngarrindjeri man who grew up in Wellington, has travelled Australia extensively performing his own play No Shame in schools, and living interstate. Two years ago he came back to Wellington to live.

“I met Michelle when I was working as a stage tech – I put her on stage for The Long Lunch [another Country Arts production],” says Owen, explaining how he met Michelle Murray, one of the other featured artists in Meeting of the Waters.

“Michelle found out a bit about myself – that I was into theatre. I had seen her perform so I had an idea of what she did and how she was to work with, so that sort of led to this show. I threw my ideas at her and she liked them – I grew up in Wellington… but she didn’t know that at the time [when she was developing her ideas for the residency there].

“Then it was just a matter of gathering a group of people that we really wanted to work with to make this particular show happen.”

Owen is a diesel mechanic who has morphed over time into a playwright and performer. His play No Shame – a play about racism and sport – was written in 1995.

“I was a diesel mechanic working at the Department of Road Transport,” Owen explains. “I did a few performances at a community gig, and an artistic director was in the audience and wanted me to come and work for a theatre company.

“I laughed at them – ‘what, I’m a mechanic not an actor!’ Anyway they pestered me and pestered me, and I ended up saying, ‘well if you can pay me as much as I earn as a mechanic then I’d be happy to come and work with you’. And they found the money, and within the first six months, I knew I wasn’t going back to mechanic-ing! I was really enjoying what I was doing, workshops in schools, and everything just came so natural. Obviously the artistic director saw something in me.”

Within a couple of months of being with the Mainstreet theatre company, Owen was asked if he could write a theatre show. He went to Tennant Creek to work with a writer up there.

“He was an Indigenous fella called Roger Bennett,” says Owen. “He had a concept of what I wanted with No Shame… it was about an old man – an ex-boxer – sitting in a park, and he tried to get money stolen off him by a non-Indigenous kid… The old man was based on my grandad. It’s about how everyone is equal.

“I actually wrote the show to a theatre touring set; I’d already designed the show in my head and how we were going to do it. Because I was a breakdown specialist – I had to go out on the road and fix these breakdowns, so before I left I would have to micro-think what I would need before I even jumped in the ute and drove off.

“So it became a very simple touring show, and I toured it for eight years all around Australia. I saw all of Queensland, Victoria; we went up to Darwin and they put me on a 10-seater plane and flew me into all these different communities up there – they’d drop me off in the morning and pick me up the next day, so I’d get to stay there, and it was just amazing.”

After eight years of touring, Owen was happy to stay in one place for a while. He lived in Queensland.

“I worked with the Kuku Yalanji people up there, who were going through all the native Title stuff, and getting their land given back to them. I also was working for a tourist company as well, I did tours with them.

He also did GPS cultural mapping of sacred sites. “They would fly me round in a helicopter – across the Daintree – and I’d have to climb out of the helicopter while it was hovering, down this skinny ladder…”

Owen came back to South Australia two years ago, because of his aging parents and because of what was happening with the river… “I couldn’t stay away any longer,” he says.

“I grew up at Wellington and Jervois… so all those people who live along there, I used to know. They were proud farmers… so I understand where they were coming from – it was important to survive and be productive… so I’m not trying to bag anyone with what has happened to the river…

“With the footage we shot of the river for Meeting of the Waters, it was important to show the river as it is now… there used to be trees all along the river bank…

“A lot of the people who see the river now see it in a brochure, and they see a houseboat in front of a gumtree. But there’s these big drains, and dead willows. It’s not a river – with those levee banks either side, it’s a drain. And a lot of people don’t see that.”

Owen consulted with his father for Meeting of the Waters.

“Dad talked about the wetlands where he grew up and how they should have been an Aboriginal Reserve; instead of creating Raukkan, they should have kept those as reserves – that way the Ngarrindjeri people round there still could’ve had their hunting rights, they could have self-sustained themselves, by being able to go out and get themselves a feed, and it would’ve kept the culture alive.

“The land could have been shared… so it wasn’t all used for dairy farming, and it would’ve maintained the birdlife, and everything else.

“Even now, I think the government should buy back the land from the farmers.” Says Owen. “At least they would walk away with something in their pockets. Like, they’ve bought all this and, and now they can’t even use it. Then they could do a big tree-planting thing and rehabilitate the whole place. And maybe there would be another industry they could look at you know, – tourism. All those houseboats – NOW they’ve got something to see – birdlife and so on…”

For Meeting of the Waters, Owen Love will elaborate further on these ideas about the river in a live performance, film footage, and interviews.

Photo: Richard Hodges