Like many stringers, my earliest memory of the tradition is of being on the beaches collecting shells. It was something we always did as a family. There is an expectation for us, as a group of Aboriginal women responsible for maintaining such an important part of our culture for future generations, to follow cultural protocol: look after Country, understand the environment and how to sustainably collect the shells and protect the seaweed beds. In honour of the elder stringers uphold the quality of work, it reflects on all of us.
Jeanette James was born in Launceston in 1952. She collected shells with her sister for their mother Auntie Corrie Fullard, since early childhood. From 1961 to 1967 the two sisters would help their mother make shell ornaments that were sold at a local shop. The art of shell stringing is a valued Palawa cultural tradition that has remained intact and continued without interruption since before white settlement; it is a tradition many thousands of years old.
James travels widely around the coastlines of Tasmania, including the islands of Bass Strait, collecting shells that are then cleaned in readiness for necklace creating. This collecting and cleaning process may sometimes take up to eight months. The shells that both these women favour are the mariner, blackcrow, oat, rice, toothie, gull and penguin shells. The Aboriginal community has always highly valued the blue and green mariner shell. The green mariner species are harder to locate and collect and therefore very highly valued. Contact Bett Gallery to enquire about the current availability of green mariner shell necklaces.
The necklaces of Auntie Corrie Fullard and Jeanette James have been acquired by many museums and private collections throughout Australia and internationally including the National Gallery of Australia. Jeanette James has also been nationally recognised for her very fine work winning the 3D category of the 2000 Telstra Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Awards with a mariner necklace.