Bush jewellery

Country: Australia
Necklace made from seeds by Anna Ramatha Malibirr. Gapuwiyak. 2014. Photo: Louise Hamby

In Australia there are Aboriginal individuals who use techniques new and old to produce items that are worn on the body. Many of these items of bodywear can be considered jewellery in a western sense of the word. The majority of bodywear is designed to be worn as necklaces and armbands. In Arnhem Land the word girringgirring is a generic word used to describe necklaces and jewellery with specific names given to types of materials and the object itself. For example, nanarr refers to grass stems and the necklace made from them.

In Australia many groups wore objects for both ceremonial and everyday use. Wearing necklaces and other adornment is an ancient tradition as  they are depicted in rock art.

Seeds being threaded on nylon fishing line with a needle. Gapuwiyak. 2006. Photo: Louise Hamby

Materials are often a main indicator of the uniqueness of the object to a specific place, mariner shells from Tasmania, bat-winged coral seeds from the Desert and tiny crotalaria seeds from Arnhem Land. Threading seeds, shells, feathers and animal parts on various types of string spun from, hair, animal fur and plant fibre has always been a traditional practice. Some of the same materials are used today with new additions such as glass beads, plastic tubing and nylon fishing line as threading material. A variety of processes are employed to make the holes in the objects from burning with hot wire to piercing shells with a needle. The threading techniques varies from complex multiple strands to a single thread.

The main function of these items has changed from personal use to being an item made to sell. These items for sale can be found in galleries, craft shops, online, art centres and the Indigenous Art Fairs held in the country and increasingly used as accessories for Indigenous fashion shows.  Both old and new bodywear can be found in museum collections; new pieces sometimes identical to old and others showing adaptation and creativity in changing circumstances. Some of the key Aboriginal makers today include Lola Greeno from Tasmania, Mavis Ganambarr from Elcho Island and Anna Malibirr from Gapuwiyak.

Further reading

Hamby, Louise, and Diana Young, eds. 2001. Art on a String: Aboriginal Threaded Objects from the Central Desert and Arnhem Land. Sydney, N.S.W.: Object-Australian Centre for Craft and Design, and the Centre for Cross-cultural Research.