I'm Peter Hewitt. I'm a Djiringanj Yuin man from the south coast of New South Wales. So I'm a father, a son, an uncle, a cousin, nephew. All those things. And I say that because I've got a mixed heritage. My father is from English descent and my mother her Djiringanj people and herself, she has a mixed Irish descent as well. So I frame that because I'm all of those things, not one thing in particular. I'm a practising artist and I've also been a teacher since 2005. I've had numerous roles in schools working as the head teacher of creative arts at Figtree High. More recently I've worked as the deputy principal instructional leader at Figtree High. In 2023 I'll be taking a bit of leave so I can work at the University of Wollongong, lecturing in Aboriginal education. With the master's degree, or the research master's degree, the impact that it's given me, it provided the framework for thinking and writing which enabled me to to really look at what had come before me from a contemporary aspect, what my contemporaries were doing. And then looking at that from that Western knowledge system to see how I could share some of my story within that written form and then that also paralleled my art making. I'm effectively giving voice to country through the materials that I use. And that's why I've started using more traditional materials. If I'm going to give voice to country, I need to use country to tell that story. We've going to give it away to keep it. As an oral culture, we need to keep our traditions and culture in our day to day. Basically, the painting is a document of my dance and my storytelling. What do people get out of my work? So I want them to- I'd rather them stop and look at it and not like it, as opposed to just walk by the artworks. I want them to engage with the artwork, really sort of sit with what that story may be - who's told this story, what's the mark-making behind it? What is that message? But also for the audience to take their own message. My art-making previously was very focussed on on self culture. When I say culture, you know what I knew - kinship, connection, family, country. However, as I've shifted and really sat within looking at my own culture, Yuin culture specifically, I've wanted to teach and bring people introduce people to the country. What is country? Why is it important? Basically country provides for us clean water, clean air. We need we need to look after it. That's the essence of of my culture. So that little shift in terms of teaching, moving from being a visual arts teacher and working in high school to teaching over at the university is I can really look at that space and sit in that space and really engage with new career beginning teachers and introduce them to country. Introduce them to my culture. I've got a big story to tell and I know that can help inform how they work with young Indigenous people, their community, their families, and help strengthen the narrative around Aboriginal Australia.
Peter Hewitt, a Yuin artist and teacher, is introducing people to Country through his art and work in education.
“I’ve been taught by my Elder, Uncle Max Harrison, that as an oral culture, we’ve got to give it away to keep it. We need to keep our traditions and culture in our day-to-day,” says Peter.
“As an educator, I want to bring Country into my teaching and as an artist, I engage with Country myself through the art making process – the ceremony of making.”
Peter did not start his formal art making until he was 16 years old. He wanted to take Economics as an elective subject in year 11, but when the course did not go ahead, he studied his second choice, Visual Arts.
“It was the Visual Arts subject that kept me engaged in school. I turned up more regularly and it provided a pathway for moving out of year 12 and into university.”
Peter enrolled in a Bachelor of Creative Arts at the University of Wollongong (UOW). After graduating, he completed a Graduate Diploma in Education so that he could teach visual arts and continue his art making.
“I graduated with two goals in mind – to become an inspiring teacher and to continue to engage in artistic practice.”
Eleven years after graduating, Peter returned to UOW to study a Master of Creative Arts (Research).
“I got to a point in my art making where I wanted to go a little bit deeper and look at what I was doing and what I was saying. The University provided the framework for me to do that.”
Peter explains how the biggest impact of the master’s degree was giving him the space to look at his story.
“When I say my story, it’s unpacking my identity and the impact of colonialism on my culture.
“I explored what came before me and what my contemporaries were doing. I then looked at it from a Western knowledge system to see how I could share some of my story within the written form and that also paralleled my art making.
“As I looked, felt and sat within my culture, and our long and deep history, I've been able to bring that into my art making.”
Peter’s art style changed after completing his master’s degree. He has since brought elements of Country into his art making process and uses his art as a form of storytelling.
"I've moved from using unconventional materials such as bitumen, plaster and spray paint to using ochres and stringybark – because if I’m going to give voice to Country, I need to use Country to tell that story.
“The painting is a document of my dance, my story, and depending on where I’m at in the present, is what will come through on the canvas.”
Peter wants people to engage with his artwork. He says that he does not mind if people do not like his paintings, but he would prefer that they stop to look at them instead of walking by.
“I want people to sit with the art and ask questions like, who has told this story and what is the message? I want the audience to take their own messages too because there is my intent and my message that’s there, but I want the audience to form their own perspective and to feel something from the artwork. Something that goes deeper inside them.”
Peter has spent the last 18 years teaching high school students visual arts and is now an Indigenous Studies Lecturer at UOW. As a professional artist, he has held solo exhibitions and has work displayed in several galleries across New South Wales. Peter has also won national awards including the ‘Aboriginal Section Winner’ in the Fishers Ghost Art Prize in 2007 and 2008, the Telstra National Indigenous Art Prize, and the Darwin and NSW Indigenous Parliament House Prize in 2008 and 2009. But for Peter, the highlight of his career is providing mentorship to Indigenous youth.
“Thanks to the teachings of Uncle Max Harrison and my cultural mentor, Dr Anthony McKnight from the University of Wollongong, I've been able to sit deeply with what it means to be a Yuin man.
“Knowledge has been passed to me so there’s a level of commitment, responsibility and obligation within that. As an educator, I’ve always worked with young men and provided mentorship. I’ve held yarning circles for young fellows to sit within their culture, look at themselves and introduce them to Country and the yearning for it. It not only helps to settle them as young people, but it also allows them to look at their own culture.
“Being able to sit with young people as they worked on themselves really solidified for me what it is I need to do – to hold my own culture and share and bring young people along as best as I can.”
To learn more about UOW's research degrees, visit our Graduate Research page.