Remembering Joe Hurst  

With a career spanning more than 30 years, Joe created special pieces connected with the land on which they were built. 

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that this page contains the names and images of people now passed and resting in the Dreaming. 

We are deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Boomalli artist, Shane ‘Joe’ Hurst. 

Longtime member of Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Cooperative, Joe descended from the Johnson clan of the Murrawarri people, Northern NSW. Working across a vast array of disciplines including design, construction, sculpture, printing, painting, set design and public art, Joe completed a number of commissioned pieces for government bodies such as the Department of Aboriginal Affairs (NSW Government) and NSW Premiers Department. 

Taylor had the privilege of working with Joe on Schools Infrastructure NSW’s redevelopment works at Kyeemagh Public School. With its origami-inspired design, the two-stage project thoughtfully incorporated local Aboriginal totems and artworks. 

The various artworks have their own totemic significance, selected in collaboration with the school’s students and Dean Kelly. Dean is an Aboriginal Liaison Officer from NSW National Parks who grew up in the surrounding Matraville area – a part of the Sydney coastal region known as the traditional lands of the Bidjigal and Gadigal peoples of the Eora nation.  

Dean spoke with the children about animal totems from the local area, sharing the importance of protecting your personal totem, and also that people can have more than one totem. Following this teaching, Joe collaborated with Dean and the children to design a variety of totemic artworks to be allocated across the school grades from Kindergarten to Year 5. 

Joe was responsible for creating these special pieces, including a mix of Aboriginal sculptures, concrete relief stencils, and log carvings. Joe’s sculptures for Kyeemagh Public School were designed and fabricated at Francesco’s Forge, a unique studio in Botany. Home to Joe’s longtime collaborator and fabricator, Francesco Petrolo, the Forge is full of history, character and an impressive portfolio of displayed artworks. Here is where Kyeemagh’s eight totemic sculptures were molded and forged from recycled steel off-cuts. Symbolic of the local animals surrounding the school, the totems include the Rainbow Lorikeet, Butcherbird, Blue Tongue Lizard, the Black Cockatoos that fly through the local area each April, as well as insect totems, the Native Ant, Snail, Bee and Spider. Drawing inspiration from his own backyard, Joe took photographs and used illustrations to sketch each totem before bringing the sculptures to life. The pieces are the cooperative cultivation and amalgamation of Joe’s artistic interpretation, connection with the land the project is built on, and Francesco’s lifelong forging skills. 

Joe also designed and created four concrete stencils and four log carvings featuring local plants Wattle, Banksia, Grevillea, Lilly Pilly. These plants have historically been used as emblems at the school. Sea creatures local to the traditional lands on which the school is situated are also present in Joe’s artworks. These include the Whale, Abalone, Mullet, and Cockle.  

We are thankful for Joe’s collaboration and connection to culture, helping educate our project team on the history and importance of the local land. 

Rest in Peace, Joe.  

03 diversity and inclusion boomalli artist joe hurst sketches of birds with tools at francescos forge in botany taylor construction photography
03 diversity and inclusion boomalli artist joe hurst close up of animal totems taylor construction photography
03 diversity and inclusion portrait of boomalli artist joe hurst creates animal totems at francescos forge in botany taylor construction photography