Owen history projected on silos

A fascinating account of Owen’s history was shared in front of a crowd in the town hall on Sunday who gathered to mark and give thanks for the striking artwork now featured on the town’s towering silos.

The silos’ transformation is ninth in the network of SA sites to be painted and follows a hectic two-year journey involving a passionate committee and world-renowned artist Riverton’s Robert Hannaford, with support from painter Cam Scales.

Wakefield Regional Council Mayor  Rodney Reid and proud Owen resident, who addressed the audience, promoted how the landmark now provides a stunning timeline of the rural town’s history.

“It has become a major drawcard for the region,” he said.

Adding the artwork has meant an increase in visitors stopping in the town, as was intended, and those changing their travel route to include the site on their list of experiences.

Entitled ‘Wheat Bags to Sand Bags’, the two-part visual pays tribute to those farmers sewing wheat bags in the paddocks in 1914, only to fast forward a few months to see the same farmer fill the sandbags in Gallipoli.

Mayor Reid’s sobering comment hit when he said, “Eighteen (men) didn’t come back (from war)”.

Sadly, this included the Toohey men who worked the former drapery business on Main Street; a building which continues to stand today.

Yet the background of how the blank and expansive concrete canvas came to be transformed first surfaced in August/September 2018.

It involved a conversation between three townspeople in the Owen Hotel, including a visionary Nick Smyth, keen to establish a major tourist hook for the town and region.

A phone conversation to the Wakefield Regional Council for support also led to the Owen Community Centre Committee forming the Owen Silo Art committee involving a handful of dedicated residents, all led by chairman Graham Duncan.

The group was later referred to as the biscuit group from their acronym SAO.

Funding was crucial and financial contributions were received from the council through the drought recovery package, grain company Viterra, and Veterans SA who chipped in $20,000.

The project cost about $150,000.

And as Mayor Reid shared, it only seemed natural to draw on the expertise of Robert Hannaford AM, who on Sunday was praised for his previous works including the Sir Donald Bradman sculpture in Adelaide and paintings of prime ministers.

The passion project also gained legs when in 2019 the community dug deep during a black-tie fundraiser further boasting an outcome of $20,000.

Other generous community donations were also received.

However, COVID-19’s reach impacted the project greatly with works put on hold.

The patience of waiting for the final outcome was rewarded this year when the final lick of paint was completed in time for this year’s ANZAC Day service.

As Mayor Reid explained, the key economic project now includes a walking path and plants.

A QR code has since been placed on a sign under the nearby shelter, which enables people to log in by their smartphone and learn more of the town’s history through special footage, documenting the seven weeks, created by Chris Oaten.

Veterans SA director Catherine Walsh, who was among the dignitaries to attend, including Frome MP Geoff Brock, said the artwork leaves an indelible mark on the landscape and is now a constant reminder of Australian history.

Mr Hannaford, also joined the stage, pointing out the use of classic, contemporary colour use of blue, yellow and orange.

“Different colours come out at different times of the day …  it makes the colours sing, especially coming in from the East” he said.

Meanwhile, Graham Duncan who officially cut the ribbon at the town hall stage, to mark the opening, was honoured for his 23 year’s service as chairman of the Owen Community Centre Committee.