Tuesday, June 22, 2010

CONFERENCE PAPER NOW ONLINE – Tasmanian Shell Necklace Making

Ray Norman's Paper to be presented to the CAIA Conference in Hobart on Thursday June 24 is now online.
The paper discusses the cultural tension linked to necklace making in Tasmania and most specifically those known as 'Hobart Necklaces' and sometime euphemistically as 'Truganini Necklaces'.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Truganini Necklaces

Click on the image to enlarge

This image came in today for scrutiny and comment. Immediately it was clear that the necklace on the left might be the so-called "Truganini Necklace" held in the South Australian Museum's collection. It would be very surprising if this necklace was indeed made by Truganini given that it is made with "rishells" [rice shells sometimes] as Truganini is unlikely to have had access to these Furneaux Island shells at the time it is reported to have been made.

Truganini may well have been making 'rishell' necklaces at Wybalena on Flinders Island but not at these dates. However women on the Furneaux have to have started using these shells at sometime as they do today and it seems they have been using smaller shells for a very long time post contact when cotton thread and steel needles became available.

The likelihood is that this necklace, and others like it, were euphemistically known as 'Truganini Necklaces’. As likely as not it was made on the Furneaux Islands by one of the Tasmanian Aboriginal women who found themselves there in various circumstances. Also, there is nothing to suggest that Truganini might have been using these shells but it is a possibility albeit an outside one. The circumstantial evidence for Truganini making or owning this necklace seems to be missing.

The necklace on the right could also have originated on the Furneaux Islands as stated given that the shells are most likely juvenile maireener shells. If this is the case, and there is provenance at the TMAG to support that – circumstantial or concrete – then most likely this necklace is a part of that Furneaux Island Tasmanian Aboriginal women’s cultural practice.

Alternatively, given its date, and if there is no provenance information as is often the case, this necklace almost equally could be a ‘Hobart Necklace’ of the period and made by the thousands given that it seems there is growing evidence for that scale of commercial production in Hobart late 19th C early 20th C.

Tasmanian Aboriginal authenticity of production is entirely dependant upon the provenance now – circumstantial & concrete. However there is reason to suspect that there may have been commercial inhibitions in regard to using juvenile shells in Hobart Necklaces. More shells take longer to string and are thus less profitable to make. It seems that necklaces with juvenile shells did turn up in Launceston at “Wonderland Curious & Souvenirs” and, circumstantially, as likely as not this shop was sourcing its necklaces on the Furneaux Islands.

This necklace, without clear provenance, would be typical of the necklaces that are possibly best regarded as ambiguous – albeit quintessential Tasmaniana. It must be said that there is good oral histories that says that Furneaux Island women were selling their shell necklaces in Launceston to various shops and provedores for a very long time. This trade it seems was quite separate from the Hobart Necklace trade.

NB: The description of these necklaces in this publication reflects the best understanding at the time – 1988. In the early 1990s there was an increase in the numbers of necklaces being produced as a part of a cultural development.retrieval project.

The Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter UK returned a provenanced "Truganini Necklaces" to the Tasmania Aboriginal community in 1997.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Interesting eBAY Find

Click on the image for more information

Monday, February 8, 2010

Fugitive Shell Necklace Production In Tasmania

There is increasing evidence for a kind of shell necklace production in Tasmania that is coming to light via oral histories. Albeit a somewhat romantic aberration, ‘native settler’ Tasmanians talk about making shell necklaces and often along the lines of those made by Indigenous Tasmanians and the colonial commercial necklaces that mimicked them.

It seems that by-and-large they were made by a relatively small group of Tasmanians as children, sometimes aided by adult family members, while “holidaying at the beach.” Nonetheless, now that people are beginning to talk more openly about this aspect of family memories, and memorabilia, it seems quite likely that more first and secondhand stories, and firsthand recollections, will emerge. With this a better idea of the scale of the activity will be gleaned.

Seemingly it seems that this activity was prevalent post WW2 when beach side holidaying and recreational day tripping became more possible due to greater access to motor transport and more workers in Australia having statutory holidays. Nonetheless some of these oral histories seem go back much further to the early 20th Century, or even earlier, for one location in northern Tasmania. There some families that were able to travel with relative ease to their beach location by boat to their holiday retreat before motor vehicle access was possible.

By necessity these holidays were somewhat rustic affairs that involved, necessitated even, a certain amount of ‘hunting and gathering’ given the relative remoteness. Apparently this seemed to evoke an atmosphere of ‘going native’.

If the shell necklace making mimicked Indigenous necklace making and at the same time provided a diversion on “wet and windy days”, this is not particularly surprising.

In its romanticism, this activity is relatively innocent and benign. These necklaces were never ‘up for sale’ but interestingly it seems making them is invested with the idea of connectivity to place Tasmania and Tasmanian beaches in a European cum settler context.

Yet somehow, these necklaces still seem to carry some kind of colonial subtexts to do with Aboriginal dispossession while reflecting Tasmania's settler communities’ yearnings to be connected to place. These stories are ever likely to be very local stories with a colonial flipside of a kind and the kind that oftentimes are likely to be lost.

It has been suggested that some of these necklaces have been unknowingly donated to museums and the National Trust. The network would welcome any further information readers may have.

Saturday, January 9, 2010



Occasional Papers:
NB: Papers listed above will be available online for a limited time

1. The M M Martin enterprise established 1875 LINKS:2. The 1908 Hobart Necklace Robbery Trial – The theft of 100 Doz shell necklaces stolen from the Hobart Wharf by John Ward LINKS
3. The necklaces advertised LINK:
4. Bertie May 'Hobart Necklace' maker circa late 1940s-1950s LINK:
5. Shell Information LINK:

Friday, January 8, 2010

Shell Necklaces Online

Click on a link to go to the entry
eBAY has proven to be a useful tool in gaining some kind of perspective on the the ways this kind of necklace is understood and imagined. Below there are links to shell necklaces found on eBay and other online auctions. The links below date from August 30, 2009 until Jan 2010. The searching has not been consistent and is a random sample. A more protracted Internet search is likely to uncover more examples.
  2. Found on eBAY_ Maireener shell necklace - Australia, Melbourne
  3. Found on eBAY: Maireener Shells – Australia WA
  4. Found on eBAY: Maireener Shells USA
  5. Found on eBAY: Shell Necklace – USA
  6. Found on eBAY: Shell Necklace – UK
  7. Found on eBAY: Maireener Shell Necklace – Melbourne/AUS
  8. eBAY Find – Mairneener Neclace(?) Melb/Australia
  9. Found on eBAY: Maireener Shell Necklace – Australia Qld
  10. Found on eBAY_ Santa Cruz USA
  11. Found via eBAY _ Vintage Tasmanian Kelp Shell/Maireener Necklace – Australia
  12. Found on eBAY: Maireener Shell Necklace – UK
  13. eBAY FIND: October 2009
  14. Maireener Found On The Internet – Australia 3052, Vic.
  15. INTERNET FIND – Tasmanian Maireener Shell Necklaces
  16. NOT MAIREENERS – Leis From Hawaii
  17. Found Via eBAY: Maireener Shell Necklace – USA
  18. Found On The Internet – A Research Tool
  19. Found On The Internet – NOT Tasmanian or Tasmaniana
  20. Found On The Internet – Tasmanian Authenticity
  21. Found On The Internet – Tasmanian Authenticity
  22. Found On The Internet – Tasmanian Authenticity
  23. eBAY Find – Maireener Necklace(?) USA
  24. Found on RUBYlane – USA
  25. eBAY Find – Maireener Necklace(?) USA
  26. Found on eBAY: Maireener Shell Necklace – UK 2
  27. eBAY Find – Maireener Neclace, Southern UK
  28. Found via eBAY _ Maireener necklace in the USA
  29. Found on eBAY: Shell Necklace – TAS
  30. Found on eBAY: Maireener Shell Necklace – UK

Monday, December 14, 2009

Found on eBAY_ Maireener shell necklace - Australia, Melbourne

It’d be interesting to know about any additional provenance for this necklace. It appears to be in very good condition.As for the rarity of these necklaces it now seems that this kind of necklace in particular were made ‘commercially’ in quite large numbers in the late 19th C early 20th C by non-Aboriginal makers. This was mostly in Hobart it seems – see earlier posts here.

It also seems that during that time the numbers produced were indeed quite large based upon the evidence of a court case in Hobart 1907 where one John Ward was found guilty of stealing approx 100 dozen of what seems to be this kind of necklaces from the Hobart Wharf. More information can be found on all this in earlier posts.

The QUALITY of this necklace here seems to be very good but as with other such necklaces, unless there is clear and unambiguous provenance for its Aboriginal authenticity, increasingly its authenticity should be regarded as “ambiguous” if Aboriginal authenticity is the value determinant.

There are necklaces in collections – private and public, Australian and internatinal – with clear Tasmanian Aboriginal cultural produdution authenticity – contemporary, vintage and antique. However, it now seems that circumstantial evidence by itself would be insufficent to claim "Tasmania Aboriginal authenticity."

Vintage Aboriginal Mairreener Mariner Shell Necklace

Auction Ended 18 Dec, 2009 19:59:34 AEDST – 13 bids Winning bid: AU $405.00

Seller info: scrimshaw01 (99.8% Positive feedback)
Item number: 380186076930 Item location: Melbourne, VIC, Australia

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Found on eBAY: Maireener Shells – Australia WA

Interestingly here, the seller also says that "These shells sell for between $2000 and $3000 for a 180 centimetre strand in Australian art galleries." This in combination with other text (see image above) seems to suggest that it is Aboriginal authenticity (evidenced or other) that will be lending value to this item. It is worth noting that the shell necklaces that are bringing the prices suggested here are generally made by contemporary Tasmanian Aboriginal women who are carrying forward a family and cultural tradition. The provenance, and thus the necklace's authenticity, is absolutely clear here. This plus the quality of the necklaces combine and is reflected in the values attributed to them.
The problem that needs to be acknowledged with these items when sold as 'collectibles' and described as either "antique" or "vintage" is that new and unfolding information suggests that circumstantial evidence is by-and-large insufficient to assert Aboriginal authenticity.

If there is clear provenance, and there is within Tasmanian Aboriginal families, circumstance and oral histories can be relied upon to assert authenticity – see earlier posts. The shell necklaces made by Tasmanian Aboriginal people are now regarded as "Cultural Heritage Icon" status in Tasmania but this depends upon Aboriginal authenticity.

The seller here relies upon museums holding such necklaces in their collections thus by implication suggesting that this can be relied upon in underwriting authenticity. For many of these 'museum necklaces' there is indeed clear authenticity – generally contemporary examples with named makers. Nonetheless, there are some necklaces in various museums – Australia & elsewhere possibly – for which their authenticity is ambiguous.

None of this takes anything away from the quality of the shells or the visual aesthetic appeal of these necklaces. If their 'value' depends on this alone there is no problem. Something is always worth what is paid for on this criteria! However, if value depends upon 'Aboriginal authenticity' there are unresolved issues to be addressed. This is a work in progress.

Bidding Ended: 23 Dec, 2009 @ 01:59:01 AEDST
2 Bids & Winning Bid: AU $91.50