By Luke Voogt
The years tore “twin flames” Stella Tassone and Ondrei Aiello apart, but their love affair with sand helped them fall for each other all over again.
The star-crossed Sand Whisperers tell Luke Voogt how art brought them together after 20 years.
Stella Tassone and Ondrei Aiello still remember the day they met 31 years ago, at an Italian festival in Swan Hill.
“Both my mother and I had travelled from Mildura to participate in Italian folklore dancing,” Stella says.
“Ondrei was dressed as a clown with his mum entertaining. Our mums were talking, and I guess for us it was love at first sight.”
Three years later, they met in the rain on a street corner in Melbourne while Stella was on an excusion and Ondrei on work experience.
“I had an umbrella and I turned to Stella and said “the rain’s a bit of a hassle isn’t it?” Odrei says.
“As soon as I said I was from Swan Hill and my name is Ondrei, Stella turned to me and asked, ‘Are you the clown?!’ We both laughed and couldn’t believe it.
“That’s when the butterflies in the stomach started to flutter.”
After a day at the Victoria Market, they spent four years running up their parents’ phone bills and writing love letters, as the letterbox became their “best friend”.
“Funny enough I kept many of our photos, poems and love letters, which I still have today,” Stella says.
“Ondrei still has some poems he wrote for me.”
Their paths split when Ondrei moved to Melbourne for a career in graphic design and Stella started at Deakin University in Geelong.
“I contacted Stella and informed her that things had changed,” Ondrei says. “We stopped our communication.”
But 20 years later, Ondrei recognised Stella on another fateful day at the Victoria Market, in 2011.
“Stella was buying bread and I recognised her,” the 43-year-old says.
“I called out her name and she turned to look at me. We both froze. “Instantaneously I began to have flashbacks of childhood memories shared with Stella.
“I immediately felt the pain of my heart being broken 20 years earlier,” Stella says. “I was nervous and it was difficult to look at him in the eyes.”
They became Facebook friends a year earlier, but neither knew what to say.
“Even though Stella was still Stella, I felt like a stranger with my heart beating a million miles an hour,” Ondrei says.
“Yet in my heart I was feeling the love I had always felt for her.”
But that night Stella sent him a message and they began talking about how their marriages had ended.
They remained in contact, which led to Ondrei discovering Stella’s unique talent.
Stella’s art began building sand castles with her two children, but soon developed into mind-blowing 3D sculptures.
“I began to go the beach any time I had to myself,” she says.
“It became my therapy, my tool for healing. I’d take photographs and send them to Ondrei.”
They started going to the beach together, creating side by side.
“This unique way of Stella expressing her feelings now had me driving from Melbourne to Geelong,” Ondrei says.
“The formations began to heal our broken hearts.
“Before we were writing love letters to each other using paper and pen,” Stella adds.
“Now together we write messages of love and healing to the world using a stick and a rake.”
The ancient art of sacred geometry influences the Sand Whisperers’ work.
They represented Australia in a global project, joining sand artists across the world creating the Sri Yantra – an ancient symbol of feminine and masculine union.
“Sand art is our love and passion and it’s really special creating together,” Stella says.
“We feel joy when people are curious and come over and see what we’re doing.”
“Nearly everyone” loves their art but the couple gets the occasional detractor, Ondrei admits.
“The craziest thing someone has said is that we are littering on the beach,” he says. “We laughed.”
The couple helped others express their love through marriage proposals and angel wings for a little girl who had passed away.
They even created a sculpture for motorcycle champion Valentino Rossi when he was at Phillip Island for the MotoGP.
Each time they create a piece the tide claims it back on behalf of “mother earth”.
“People think it’s sad for us to create and then have the ocean take it away,” Stella says.
“For us, that’s the beauty of all of it.”