It protects our countries. It covers our deserts. It exists in almost every childhood photo album alongside slippery bottles of SPF sunscreen and wet saggy togs. Sand reminds us of warmth, of salty hair, and sweaty skin. So what is our emotional attachment? How do we think of this element, and if possible, how can it come to define our lives?
In the modern, scientific world that we live in, good health is often considered as existence free from disease. This definition neglects to consider both mental and social well-being. Health is described by scientists as including “a supportive environment, personal security, freedom of choice, social relationships, adequate employment and income, access to educational resources, and cultural identity”.
From a positivist framework, the connection between the environment people inhabit and their well-being is well documented. Scientists have discovered the wealth of health benefits people receive from experiencing nature and biodiversity. While this exposure is necessary for well-being, there’s also a harsh side to nature documented in the last 3 months of news headlines. Four people were reported dead after Typhoon Maysak ripped through islands in the Federated States of Micronesia. A man died after being washed away in floodwaters in Brisbane, Australia. A drought in southern Pakistan has claimed 211 malnourished children this year. Nature bring can bring tragedy.
Sand caused my destruction
Jason Kingsley was a 16 year-old boy with hair the colour of chocolate, and tan, sun-soaked skin. Growing up in Grafton, NSW, Jason spent his summers in the nearby coastal town of Yamba. These were fond memories, until one day – one day when sand became his enemy.
On a Sunday afternoon Jason and his friends caught the bus to Yamba with their boards and the intention of surfing all day before returning home on the bus late that afternoon. Jason was frolicking in the warm waters of Pippi Beach, when he went to dive under a wave and feel the rush of movement on his back that Australians know and love all too well. What he didn’t realise was the pile of sand raised beneath the water. Hands together, Jason dove and crashed into the sandbank. He immediately broke his neck. Jason emerged from those waters a quadriplegic. He was taken to Maclean hospital before being airlifted to the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane where he spent the next 10 months recovering in the spinal unit. That small pile of sand changed his life forever.
Inevitably, Jason’s relationship with sand is conflicted, and emotional. His story will explore how sand came to define his very existence.
I found Jason via his Facebook. He had commented on a Facebook post by the Today Show about a young boy having the same injury.
Sand is my art
Dennis Massoud has a very different opinion of sand. Rather than it slipping through his fingers, he’s got a firm grasp. Sand is his enabler. Sand is his art. Dennis is a sand sculptor, a world champion sand sculptor, and his art has become a performance.
Another member of this artistic family is Steve Matchell. Like Dennis, Steve is a Queensland local who also found the magnetic pull of the sand too strong to resist.
In a preliminary interview, Dennis described sand as tumultuous. “I’ve been attracted to sand all my life”, he said. “The way that life affects the sand, the way that the colours change is incredible. Sand teaches you what to make. I’m not a creator, I am just pulling the sand away to reveal what’s really there. When you’ve playing with the sand or building with the sand you’re touching something that’s the foundation of our creation, and it’s timeless. It moves, it changes dramatically. It’s squeaky, it’s noisy. It’s a magical mysterious feeling. Being a sand sculptor is almost like being an archaeologist. And you’re building something new through something that already existed in another conscious state.”
Steve also expressed this emotional entanglement with sand. “Sand sculpture is ephemeral”, he said. “It’s a creation, and I don’t have a product to sell. It’s all blown away in the wind or jumped on by the end of the day. And the best thing is that it makes people feel vibrant. It takes you back to a childhood space in yourself. It’s a joyful and innocent fascination.”
Through Dennis and Steve, the connection humans have with sand will be explored.
I discovered sand sculpting through picking up a flyer about an exhibition held on the Gold Coast in late February. Dennis and Steve were both to be featured artists. I found them through their websites, and contacted them via email.
Sand helps me recover
The third and final story this project will explore sand as a form of therapy. Julie-Ann Wood is a transpersonal life coach and counsellor. While she utilises regular counselling techniques like speech and text, Julie-Ann also uses sand. Simply, she is a a sandplay therapist and uses sand to help people heal.
Sandplay therapy was developed by a Swiss psychotherapist by the name of Dora Kalff. She based the therapy on the work of C.G Jung, who founded analytic psychology. The therapy itself involves clients using miniature figurines contained in a small sandbox that represent all aspects of life. Clients create a visual representation of their inner psyche that they can physically see and move. Sandplay therapists believe it helps a client’s express their unconscious thoughts. It is specifically useful for treating internal conflicts that can be represented as anxiety or depression. Children who find it difficult to express and even understand their emotions can use sandplay. In this regard, sandplay therapy is disguised as a form of play, rather than an intervention.
Through Julie-Ann Wood, the power of sandplay will be discovered. I am also hoping to contact an individual who uses sandplay, and can discuss this experience. This contact will inevitably be discovered through Julie-Ann.
Late last year, a sandplay therapist opened up a practice near my house. Intrigued, I did some initial research about this type of counselling, and kept it in the back of my mind as a story idea. After emailing around 20 sandplay therapists based in Brisbane, Julie-Ann was one of the few to respond. I found her via her website.