There is a magical quality to the way Lowell Hunter brings his artwork to life along the coastline of Waddawurrung Country and beyond.
Using moves emulating those he learned through traditional dance, the artist’s feet become his tools as he carves meaningful stories and symbols of his people into the shoreline’s sandy canvas.
It is a pastime Lowell began one year ago as a way of staying connected to Country and managing his mental health.
It has since flourished into a creative business aptly named Salty One.
“I’m a Nyul Nyul and Bardi man from the Kimberley region of Western Australia so I’m a salt water man through our people’s salt water connection to Country,” the 35-year-old explains.
“But I have grown up mainly in Victoria, particularly down the south-west coast of Warrnambool on Gunditjmara Country.
“I have loved being by the sea and in the water through swimming, body boarding or surfing which has allowed me to maintain my connection to salt water and the ocean while growing up in Victoria.”
Lowell, a keen drone photographer, recalls standing on Bells Beach one evening in November last year to clear his mind after a tough day at work.
“I just started to think about cultural safety and what that meant for me,” he says.
“So that particular evening I drew a circle in the sand and some new shapes around the outside that represented our people using Country as that safe place they have.
“I put the drone up to take a look and I thought ‘wow, this is incredible’.”
Lowell, who lives in Armstrong Creek, shared the image on his Facebook page and the response was immediate.
“People were blown away by it and I had a couple of people say I should collaborate with an Aboriginal artist and do more of it,” he says.
“But I thought ‘I created this – an artist who paints might not know how to do sand art’.
“So, I went out again and I tried some other symbols and stories and it just grew and evolved into this amazing outlet that I now have.”
Orders started flowing in for limited edition prints of his art – each which tells a story of family, identity and connection.
His Instagram account also grew to almost 10,000 followers.
“I’ve had people from all over the world wanting to buy my art from countries like Germany, Austria and Canada,” he says gratefully.
“To know where it started to where it is now is just amazing.”
Each sand creation takes two to three hours to complete and Lowell takes into consideration consistency of the sand, time of day, tides and winds.
“Before I get into it, I take a moment on the beach and think about how I’m feeling, notice what the ocean is doing and see if there are any animals or living things around that might give me inspiration,” he explains.
Using only his feet is an integral part of the creative process.
“I tried using a rake once just to bring in different styles but it didn’t have that same feeling as when I creating with just my feet,” he says.
“Keeping that connection that I had of my feet to the land, just like I do when I dance, is really important to me.”
Lowell and his eldest son, 14-year-old Djamari, recently collaborated on a sand ar
twork together at Thirteenth Beach which they titled ‘Country and Connection’.
“I have three sons and I’m really conscious of how they develop an understanding of who they are and own that and not shy away from the fact that they are Aboriginal,” he says.
“A lot of our young people, through obvious reasons like Stolen Generations and not being able to grow up in communities where culture is at the forefront, they don’t necessarily have that privilege of learning first-hand about who they are and where they come from.
“I want to make sure my kids have that opportunity.”
Another artwork he recently created is ‘Always Was, Always Will Be’ – a tribute to this year’s theme for NAIDOC Week which began on Sunday and runs until November 15, after being postponed due to COVID.
“It doesn’t matter who comes here, through colonisation or invasion, and people maybe naming places differently and trying to maybe override who we are, it is important to state it ‘Always Was, Always Will Be’ Aboriginal land, that’s undisputed,” the artist says.
Lowell and his brother-in-law run Wan-Yaari Aboriginal Consultancy Services which works in areas of justice, employment and education, as well as advising organisations wanting to increase their capacity to work with Aboriginal communities.
“We do a lot of cultural awareness training, talking to people about the history of this country, what’s happened in terms of colonisation and invasion, and how that’s impacted Aboriginal communities today and how that affects them in a transgenerational sense.
“I found that I was giving a lot of my energy away by sharing my personal journey a lot and that brought up a lot of past traumas from my own experiences.
“At times I felt depleted and was not looking after my own spirit – what we call our Lian.
“Some people have different views and maybe have racist attitudes and you are trying to educate people a lot on how to just be nice people, in a sense.
“I found it to be emotionally, physically and spiritually exhausting.”
Lowell discovered the ocean washed away his troubles in the same wa
y the tide swallowed up his artworks.
“If I’d had a crap day I would go out and try to harness that negative energy and put it into these designs and then I developed this sense of letting go of that energy on things I couldn’t necessarily control,” he says.
“That was really powerful and therapeutic to let go and deal with those things rather than react to those things.”
He now hopes to share that with other communities through workshops.
“One thing I want to do is try to adapt it and not just keep it on the sand – maybe it’s red dirt,
I know it’s got potential to be used in other environments as well,” he says.
“When we look at the statistics in terms of Aboriginal suicides and young people taking their lives that really inspires me to engage with our young people in a way that speaks to them.
“I know having our connection to Country and our art is really strong in our culture so how can we use modern technology to capture and tell those stories.
“They are things I want to explore moving forward.”
For potential collaborations or further information about Salty One limited edition prints contact Lowell via his Instagram @salty_one_here or email [email protected]