The unique Tasmanian Aboriginal cultural practice of shell necklace making is continuing, assisted through a number of four-week residencies at Cape Barren and Flinders Island in 2002. The residencies came about as the result of a partnership between Arts Tasmania, the Australia Council, the Flinders Island Aboriginal Association and the Cape Barren Island Aboriginal Association.
The residencies were developed to encourage the passing on of the traditional skills and cultural practices involved in making the shell necklaces. The small number of shell necklace makers remaining in the Tasmanian Aboriginal community make it critical that knowledge and skills held by these Aboriginal Elder makers are handed down to the next generation.
Each residency allowed for an Elder necklace maker to work with another Elder or a younger Tasmanian Aboriginal woman as mentor and student. All aspects of shell necklace making are undertaken during the residencies. The project emphasised that the making of these shell necklaces is a cultural heritage right of Tasmanian Aboriginal women’s heritage.
To support this project and assist the continuation of the significant practice of shell necklace making, work is also underway on investigating the health of the shell beds and their sustainablity. Environmental conditions are depleting the availability of the shell stock, a limited resource at best, and reports from the women undertaking these residences noted pollution effects on the marine environment for collecting of shells. The aim is to seek scientific advice on the impact of the environment on future stocks to inform the Aboriginal Community in the management, preservation and protection of the areas used for collecting the shells. The future of this cultural tradition is dependent on this knowledge.
Programs such as these residencies will help ensure that future generations of Tasmanians and visitors can experience the extensive history of the necklaces and appreciate their unique qualities.