Design Tasmania
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11 - 19 March, 2020

Design Tasmania and the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (TMAG) is proud to present a national touring exhibition focused on shell-stringing, one of the Tasmanian Aboriginal community’s most culturally significant and closely-guarded traditions.

kanalaritja: An Unbroken String features a variety of beautiful, delicate and rare shell necklaces, created by Tasmanian Aboriginal Ancestors in the 1800s, and acclaimed makers of today, as well as a new wave of stringers who had the opportunity to learn the tradition through the luna tunapri (women’s knowledge) cultural revitalisation project.

View the Exhibition

Presented in Partnership with:

Image credit: Ashlee Murray, King Marina Shells, Wynyard 2016 courtesy TMAG, photography by Lucia Rossi, Emily Dimozantos, 2020.

Closely Guarded Traditions

Maintained through the 20th Century by a small group of families on the Bass Strait Islands, particularly Cape Barren, shell stringing remains one of the Tasmanian Aboriginal Community’s most precious and closely guarded traditions

In 2010, concerns by some senior stringers about the future of shelling sparked a collaborative Community-driven, cultural renewal project: luna tunapri (women’s knowledge).

Since 2010, the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (TMAG) has been working with the Community to facilitate a number of workshops in which women in the Community who had not had shell stringing passed down through their families were guided through the intricate processes of collecting, cleaning and stringing. Up to 20 women participated in these workshops. They were encouraged to look in their local areas for shell collecting beaches and to use the knowledge shared with them to develop their own distinctive shell stringing styles and new traditions.

Building on the overwhelming success of the luna tunapri project, the women aspired to share this journey with the wider Australian public, and for the first time through a national touring exhibition offer an insight into this most significant cultural practice.

For the first time shell necklaces made by Pakana Ancestors in the 1800s, the innovative necklaces of the women on Cape Barren Island during the 1970s and 1980s, acclaimed makers of today and the new wave of stringers who learnt through luna tunapri will be displayed together – celebrating Tasmanian Aboriginal shell stringing practices past, present and future.

kanalaritja: An Unbroken String is a culmination of the survival and transfer of knowledge across generations, a tribute to their Ancestral women who against all odds continued shell stringing as an act of resistance and cultural defiance and most of all a homage to the women from Cape Barren Island, as it is because of them, this tradition has survived until the present day.

Image Credit: Emily Dimozantos 2020.


Exhibition Catalogue: Accompanying the exhibition is a major publication featuring essays, poetry and family oral histories written by leading Aboriginal historians, artists, curators and shell stringers. Purchase online.

kanalaritja: An Unbroken String documentary film kanalaritja: An Unbroken String tells the story of Tasmanian Aboriginal shell stringing; a story of survival and resilience. Guided by the words of the stringers themselves, the film takes us on a journey through generations of tradition bringing together necklaces old and new, rare archival imagery and sublime landscape in a celebration of this ancient cultural practice.
A DVD of the film is available to purchase from TMAG’s Museum Shop. You can also watch the film via Vimeo On Demand (fees apply).


Karoline Traill, Denise Jones, Betty Grace, Audrey Frost, Yvonne Kopper, Roseanne Mansell-Viney, Rachell Quillerat, Vanessa Skillton, Vicki-Laine Green, June Brown, Nanette Shaw, Liz Tew, Leonie Dickson, Verna Nichols, Tanya Harper, Eve Plank, Tahana Rimmer, Ashlee Murray, Patsy Cameron, Bronwyn McAnally, Corrie Fullard, Dulcie Greeno, Jeanette James, Lola Greeno.

A Celebration of Culture and a Symbol of Identity

Shell stringing is a celebration of culture and a symbol of identity – an unbroken string that connects the Tasmanian Aboriginal Community, to Ancestors, culture and Country.

For Pakana (Tasmanian Aborigines) an intimate understanding of Sea Country and the skill of collecting and stringing shells extends far beyond living memory. Pierced shells from Tasmania’s west coast have dated the tradition to at least 1800 years ago.

Shell stringing is the Community’s longest continued cultural practice, a practice which not only withstood invasion but continued throughout the Black War and during the time Pakana Ancestors were incarcerated in government missions at Wybalenna on Flinders Island and Oyster Cove, south of Hobart. Today, connection to Country, cultural knowledge of shell resources, the weather patterns and the tides remains within the Pakana Community, particularly the shell stringers. Pakana proudly continue this unique tradition and honour the fortitude of their Ancestors who ensured its survival.

Image Credit: Emily Dimozantos 2020.

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We would like to thank our community in advance for your patience as we take a break from retail operations. Updates on our relaunch will be broadcast on our socials and website.

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