Adelaide-based playwright Sean Riley’s radio play This River, written especially for the One River project, is now online. Simply follow this link:
One River is the vision of Creative Director of the Centenary of Canberra, Robyn Archer AO. “The characters in Sean Riley’s new play for voices, written specifically for the One River project and the Centenary of Canberra, vividly bring to life the rich and layered experiences of people who, some would say, have the very waters of the Murray and Darling Rivers, and their many tributaries, flowing through their veins” Robyn said. “Sean’s willingness to take a journey into unchartered waters for this play, and work in collaboration with many groups who expressed an interest in being involved, gives This River a voice that is strong and honest. Canberrans themselves now have a chance, through this project, to reflect on their own experiences of living in the largest city in the Basin, and the fact of its proximity to the headwaters of the Murray, the Murrumbidgee, the Cotter and the Molonglo rivers.”
As part of the One River project, from March to August 2013, ten local projects were delivered in throughout the Murray-Darling Basin, in towns large and small, regional, remote and very remote, in Queensland, NSW, Victoria, South Australia and the ACT. These community engagement projects used an artist-in-residence approach to gather local experiences of living in that part of the Basin and to present these experiences locally. The ten local projects were then brought to Canberra and presented as an installation involving exhibition and performance at the Belconnen Arts Centre on Sat 24 August.
Concurrent to the development and delivery of the ten local projects, Sean Riley worked with a number of regional communities in SA, Victoria and NSW to create a radio play This River, which used a creative collaborative process with regionally based writers and theatre groups to unlock the secret, forgotten and never-before-told stories of river life. The play premiered as a live reading as part of Canberra Youth Theatre’s program The Seed, on 4 June, 2013 in Canberra at Gorman House.
Writer Sean Riley has said of the play: “It was a journey that I’d never taken before. The Riverland in South Australia was as far as I’d been along the Murray River. So it was a treat when I was asked to take part in this project – who doesn’t love a road trip? – and coupled with making direct inroads into communities by sharing and collecting what I’m good at; telling stories. People’s lives are endlessly fascinating, and good writing is nothing more than holding up a mirror to one’s audience; all audiences want is the truth, their truth, reflected back at them. The groups of writers I worked with along the river, in communities as varied as the stories they created, observed this simple rule with staggeringly beautiful results, and their stories were an endless wealth of inspiration for me as a writer, and for the final script of This River. This River is really an amalgam of many ideas offered through the workshops I ran along the river. For me the struggle was what to leave out, rather than what to include. Some stories were so beautifully structured and told, I’ve deliberately kept my writers hands off them, encouraging the communities to write them themselves. More than anything, I wanted the river to be a character in this final work; grand, moody, tempestuous, changeable, reliable, calming – a mass of contradictions. I hope you enjoy the journey.”
Robyn’s mother was born on the banks of the Murray River at Cadell, where her grandfather ran the punt. Robyn’s grandmother Agnes was brought there as a young bride to a tin shed on the river. They went through the Depression there. As Robyn likes to tell it, all they had to eat during the Depression, because they clearly had no money, was lobster and butter for breakfast. Robyn and her family maintain a strong and lively connection with that part of the river, but Robyn has also spent time in other significant Murray-Darling Basin locations, mentoring the Mildura-Wentworth Arts Festival for some years, and, since taking on the Centenary of Canberra role, exploring connections in places like Echuca, where the Paddlesteamer Canberra is tied up. “While researching for the Centenary of Canberra, I learned that Canberra is the largest city in the system,” she said, “and is connected to four states and a territory via the tributaries to the Murray-Darling. This gave me a new perspective on the capital – and that’s what the Centenary is all about – asking Australians to re-imagine the capital.
Following the live reading, actors were joined by Robyn Archer reading the lead role and the play was recorded in studio by Kimmo Vennonen. With the support of Canberra-based community radio station Art Sound FM, sound engineer Tony Hunter and producer John Shortis, a 58 minute radio program was created to tell the story of One River, and This River. The program made its debut on Art Sound FM in late December 2013.
Groups that contributed to the plays development included: Edwards Crossing Writers Group with Murray Bridge Players & Singers Theatre Group, Murray Bridge SA; Mildura Theatre Company, Mildura VIC; Art of Ageing, Writing Together, Avoca, VIC.
Anyone wanting to present the radio play in their community can download a copy of the script here.