maireeners ...... Makers & Wearers

Tasmanian Aboriginal Language Groups
Image: Wiki Commons

Given Tasmania's somewhat extraordinary colonial history too little is known about the cultural life of Aboriginal people on this island at the bottom of the world. Nonetheless, the practice of making shell necklaces, and related customs, has millennia of continuity.  Despite the assertions that "they're not there .... not really" ... 'these people' maintained a vibrant cultural life. By-and-large all this has been going on somewhat away from the gaze of mainstream settler society until relatively recently – late 20th C

There is a rich vane of storytelling and tradition invested in maireener making that is both revealing itself and evolving – and is gaining strength in the Tasmanian Aboriginal and wider community

 The images below draw on the rather scant record of Tasmanian Aboriginal cultural production at the time of first contact and post colonial settlement. Without doubt, Tasmania Aboriginal histories are among the most contested and controversial of all such histories in Australia. Unavoidably, these histories come loaded with social tensions, and some bitterness, yet the traditions continue to evolve in positive ways – sometimes in quite extraordinary ways.

NOTE: 'maireener' is the palawa-kani (Tasmanian Aboriginal language) for a group of shell species used by the community for making necklaces. It is also used sometimes as the generic name for all shell necklaces of Tasmanian Aboriginal cultural production. Also, palawa-kani does not have proper nouns and only uses lower-case spelling.

The word 'maireener' has also gained currency in the international lexicon as 'the word' to describe and identify the 'rainbow kelp' shells in Tasmanian shell necklaces of non-Aboriginal production which went on in Tasmania for a century plus – circa 1860s up until circa 1960s. In large part the words contemporary cum global currency is due to these 'necklaces' being traded on eBAY. Most weeks, an example of this '100 years trade'  in Hobart Necklaces can be found on eBAY.

These colonial ‘settler souvenir' necklaces are quite different to maireeners even it they borrow heavily from them in so many way – and even look a lot like them. A maireener is a maireener and it has palawa culture cargo. Hobart necklaces are Hobart necklaces and they carry their own baggage – baggage that sets them apart. Yet both stets of storytelling is extraordinarily rich – each in it own way.

In Tasmania in 'colonial times' these necklaces were made in large numbers and known generically as Hobart Necklaces and marketed internationally – Hawaii, UK, Austalasia. It's often been the case that Hobart Necklaces have been confused with maireeners but without Aboriginal provenance they cannot be. Nonetheless, both have become markers of 'Tasmainanness' and have gained currency in the wider Tasmanian community as such. Indeed, much of Tasmania's histories, colonial and cultural, are invested in these necklaces. 

See research links below


INTRODUCTION: This set of images, texts and hyperlinks below aims to set up rhizomic linkages from this entry that may take readers on a journey. Quite simply its an attempt to briefly put Tasmanian shell necklaces in a 21st C context. In the context of Tasmania's history and heritage plus the layers and the layering of understandings at work in Tasmanian communities 'shell necklace making' has a special place in the Tasmanian imagination. There are Aboriginal stories and settler stories that interweave and they are always in the background somewhere in Tasmanian imaginings and story telling.

maireener – white cockle and grey gull shells
Lola Greeno
Lola Greeno, a contemporary Tasmanian Aboriginal woman, along with a growing number of women in the Tasmanian Aboriginal Community carry on an unbroken cultural practice that may well be an exemplar of the oldest surviving cultural practise on the planet. Lola Greeno's necklaces, rather maireeners, in the images here evolved out of PROJECTmaireenera cultural development cum research project – auspiced by riawunna at the University of Tasmania 1992 -1995.
Lola Greeno's maireeners, along with the work of other makers in the Tasmanian Aboriginal community, are held in several public collections throughout Australia as exemplars of the continuity of Tasmanian Aboriginal cultural production and for their extraordinary aesthetic values ... click here for additional images & text
Lola Greeno has also achieved national recognition in Craft Australia’s Living Treasures award. Lola is a highly respected Tasmanian Indigenous shell worker, sculptor, installation and fibre artist, originally from Cape Barren Island but she is now living in Launceston Tasmania. With more than 30 years of close community involvement in maireener making Lola draws upon the knowledge and customs that have been passed down from mother to daughter for eons. As a community leader, she is now deeply involved the celebration of her community's cultural hertitage and passing on cultural knowledge ...
click here to read more


Wearer: Delia Sommers Tasmanian Aboriginal Artist

Click below to go to source to see & read more
Ray Norman Feb 2013



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