• Steven Oliver is the host of new Aboriginal arts show, Faboriginal (Noble Savage Pictures)
Having been a talented performer from a very young age, Steven Oliver reflects on his love of performance and what has led to his success today.
By
Yatu Widders-Hunt

13 Feb 2020 - 11:53 AM  UPDATED 13 Feb 2020 - 12:05 PM

Steven Oliver may be best known for his work in comedy, but the talented playwright, dancer, screenwriter and poet is taking on a brand new challenge, hosting the cheeky new game show on NITV, ‘Faboriginal’.

A descendant of the Kukuyalanji, Waanyi, Gangalidda, Woppaburra, Bundjalung and Biripi peoples, Steven has been performing for most of his life. Growing up in the outback Queensland town of Cloncurry, he remembers regularly being called on as a five-year-old, to come and perform for family members at backyard BBQs.

Steven said he was a creative child and would often be found wandering around with a sketch pad or watching the films of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire with his grandfather in the family’s living room.  

Although he was always entertaining, Steven never really thought he would end up in comedy.

“I honestly never thought I was that funny because my family members would always make me laugh as much as I made them laugh,” he tells NITV. “I think I was just the one most likely to jump in front of a camera!

“Growing up, people would always think of me as Steven Oliver the dancer, not Steven Oliver the comedian.”

“Growing up, people would always think of me as Steven Oliver the dancer, not Steven Oliver the comedian.”

In 1994, it was, in fact, through dance and musical theatre that Steven got the chance to start his professional performing career.

“The choreographer of Aboriginal musical Bran Nue Dae, Michael Leslie, was looking for performers for the chorus and was offering three-to-six month programs to train people up in Perth. I was lucky enough to be accepted and headed over to Western Australia and that was the start really,” he said.

From there, Steven was accepted into prestigious Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) which boasts Hugh Jackman, Lucy Durack and Eddie Perfect amongst its alumni.

Although known for his cheeky humour and high energy stage presence, Steven also has a very serious side. He is a prolific writer and acclaimed poet, inspired heavily by the work of well known Aboriginal activist and writer Oodgeroo Noonuccal.

“I used to read a lot of her poetry. Growing up, no one ever told me that I could be a writer, but when I read her work it was like it was speaking to me and telling me that I could. She really inspired me.”

Writing is clearly something that still means a lot to Steven personally.

Amongst all of his achievements which include becoming the Assistant Artistic Director of the Aboriginal Centre for the Performing Arts and creating iconic television characters for ABC’s ‘Black Comedy’, Steven said that his proudest moment was when he was asked to read out his well-known poem ‘Hate he Said’ at Parliament House.

“I would say it was really more a moment of reflection because it forced me to actually think about how far I had come. It made me think of my grandparents and the fact that here I was, their grandson, someone who had grown up in a town of only a few thousand people being asked to perform at the national Parliament.”

Steven said he will always continue writing, whether it’s poetry, stageplays or feature films, but will never give up his passion for acting, cabaret, dancing, producing and now, game show hosting. Describing himself as a ‘black of all trades’ he truly loves working across a diverse range of creative projects.

“I do all sorts of things because I find that I when I start doing my writing, I miss my music, or when I start doing music, I miss my acting, so I’m trying to combine more things.”

“I do all sorts of things because I find that I when I start doing my writing, I miss my music, or when I start doing music, I miss my acting, so I’m trying to combine more things.”

This love of diverse art forms and new challenges inspired him to co-create his new show, ‘Faboriginal’ which he describes as “an Aboriginal version of game show Spicks and Specks, with a whole of learning.”

The show is centred around Aboriginal art, where Steven brings his cheeky humour to host two competing teams led by Elaine Crombie and Daniel Browning to battle it out to become the grandest of ‘Aboriginal art connoisseurs.’

In terms of what’s next, Steven said he’ll be as busy as ever in 2020. On top of the new show, he is working on a number of feature films, as well as a touring cabaret performance.

Despite all of his success, however, Steven said it’s the connection his work has to the people around him and those he meets on the road, that continues to both drive and humble him.  

“Whenever I meet people who enjoy my work, there is definitely always laughter but I also have some really lovely, touching moments with people as well. It just reminds me of the power and the responsibility we have when we put our work out there.”

Yatu Widders Hunt is a Director at Indigenous social change agency, Cox Inall Ridgeway and founder and curator of the Australian Indigenous Fashion social media community. Follow Yatu @ausindigenousfashion 

Faboriginal premieres Thursday, 13 February at 8.30pm on NITV (Ch. 34). Binge all episodes after broadcast on SBS On Demand.