<em>Pilunimina’s</em> (Flora’s) shell necklace – <em>cultural continuity</em>

No. 40 Pilunimina’s (Flora’s) shell necklace – cultural continuity

Nothing captures the heritage, resourcefulness and resilience of Tasmanian Aboriginal women like their shell necklaces. The skill of shell-stringing – a painstaking process requiring intimate knowledge of the island’s coastlines –survived European invasion and continues to be a highly regarded cultural practice.
Pilunimina (c.1809–60) was a Trawlwoolway woman from Tasmania’s north-east. As a young girl, she was stolen from her family by sealers. In 1831, Pilunimina joined George Augustus Robinson (who gave her the name Flora) to help him search for Aboriginal people in the north-east of Tasmania. She was taken to Wybalenna on Flinders Island and later transferred to Oyster Cove – where she died, on 27 May 1860, aged 51. It was while living in the miserable confines of the Oyster Cove camp that she continued the tradition of shell-stringing – making this beautiful necklace, as many thousands of generations of Tasmanian Aboriginal women had done before her. more...

Made of the pearlescent rainbow kelp shell (Phasianotrochus irisodontes), or ‘maireener’ as it is known, Pilunimina’s necklace is one of the oldest shell necklaces in the TMAG collection – and possibly the most unique. The maireeners vary in size, and are meticulously graded from small at the back of the necklace, to larger at the front – it is possible that Pilunimina’s adaptation of the western needle and thread allowed for the use of the smaller shells.

Today, a small number of Tasmanian Aboriginal women continue shell-stringing as Pilunimina did, maintaining and developing the tradition to include a wide range of shells in many unique patterns. These necklaces are admired and respected the world over for the cultural jewels they truly are.

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  • Object maker: Pilunimina
  • Object date: c.1854
  • Object size: 27 x 20 cm
  • Object location: Oyster Cove
  • Object display location: Henry Hunter Galleries level 1: Tasmania. Life and Environment.
  • Object source: Purchased 2006, Art Foundation of Tasmania, the Friends of TMAG & the Office of Aboriginal Affairs
  • Accession number: M8699