Known as Salty One, artist Lowell Hunter fuses traditional dance and storytelling with a strong connection to the Victorian coast to create his unique style of sand art. Carved into the shoreline with rhythm and beat, his sprawling art pieces need to be seen from above to be fully appreciated.
Coming around the bend on the Great Ocean Road, you might be lucky to spot immense concentric circles and rippling lines radiating across the sand like words on a page: ancient symbols speaking to the connection between the land, sea and Australia's First People. And if you're luckier still, you'll spot their creator, Lowell Hunter, sitting in the middle of it all in meditation.
Drawing on his long-standing love for traditional dance, Lowell stamps, hops and carves the sand to create vast contemporary artworks that are integrated into the landscape, with each creation using Aboriginal knowledge to represent the connection between Country and culture. To fully appreciate the immense scale of Lowell’s art, you need to take to the sky. That's why he uses a drone to capture his work from above, with prints of his art available online.
Originally from the Kimberleys in Western Australia, the Nyul Nyul man moved to Warrnambool as a kid and quickly fell in love with Victoria's coastline. His childhood was filled with salt water – bodyboarding with friends, jumping off the breakwater, and spotting whales calving off Logan's Beach.
'I knew within myself that I needed to be near the ocean, and that was important to me from a cultural point of view,' Lowell says. 'Growing up in Warrnambool allowed me to still be connected to the sea and the ocean.'
Lowell was also taken in by the local Gunditjmara and Eastern Maar Aboriginal communities, who nurtured and helped teach him about their culture, what it meant to be strong and proud in identity and, most importantly, to dance.
'As a young person, you're not sure about how you connect to your culture, not sure about how you express yourself. I was introduced to a young Aboriginal dance group, and that allowed me to develop a sense of what it meant to be Aboriginal, what it meant to be proud and strong. Dance has been a big part of my life.'
Through his dance experience, Lowell was able to perform nationally and overseas and develop a deeper sense of cultural identity. Now as an adult, Lowell finds solace in being on Sea Country and expressing himself creatively through dance.
'When I'm going out onto the beaches and creating my sand artworks, I feel like I've got my ancestors and my elders looking down on me.'
It was after a particularly challenging day running a cultural awareness session through his Aboriginal consultancy business, which often requires him to speak publicly about personal trauma, that Lowell returned to the beach to find comfort in the waves. Deep in thought while walking on the sand, he began to draw small circles and shapes with his foot, which represented his ancestors and elders.
'I sat myself in that circle and from that moment I just felt this overwhelming feeling of being safe. There's no judgment. I can be me and I don't have to put on this facade of being someone else or not being Aboriginal.'
With a little encouragement after sharing his creation on Facebook, and with restrictions imposed by the global COVID-19 pandemic giving him more time to spend at the beach, Lowell began to experiment more and more with his sand art. His work can now be found online as well as in cafes along the Great Ocean Road. Lowell recently participated in Warrnambool Art Gallery's Sea Country exhibition alongside other First Nations artists.
'When I started doing sand art, I found this really strong synergy with how I've been dancing. When we dance, there's movement, there's beat. I felt when I was creating this sand art that I've been here before, I've done this before.'
'When I'm going out onto the beaches and creating my sand artworks, I feel like I've got my ancestors and my elders looking down on me. I can feel that energy of them watching over me. You can't replace that feeling. It's just so powerful. I know what our mob is talking about now, when they say we have a spiritual connection with the land.'
Lowell is also involved in teaching other dancers how to create art too, recently partnering with the Koko dance troupe, a collection of young Aboriginal boys from the Warrnambool area. Together they created a specially commissioned piece that featured the shapes of eels and whales, a homage to the storytelling traditions of the Eastern Maar people, the original custodians of parts of Victoria's southwest.
Today, Lowell likes to go down to the beach, slip on his headphones and lose himself in dance and creativity.
'I'm just dancing for myself and no one else.'