Women from La Perouse have made shellwork for sale to Europeans for over a century. The craft, which continues today, was introduced by missionaries. Records show that by the 1880s Aboriginal women were selling shell baskets at Circular Quay and La Perouse. Today, women decorate a variety of contemporary tourist icons, including the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. Although not a traditional Indigenous art form, the skill of shellworking has often been handed down from mother to daughter to granddaughter.
Sisters Mavis Longbottom and Lola Ryan began making and selling shellwork together since they were children. Their family sold shell wares at the Royal Easter Show and Paddy's Markets during the 1920s. Mrs Longbottom described the work as 'a very hard business. We used to have to go to Kurnell in the ferry and walk from there to Cronulla to get the shells. My father used to carry sugar bags full of shells back to Kurnell'.
"I suppose I'd be 16 when I started making shellwork. I got started because there was money in it and in those Depression years every little counted. I reckon that you have to be a bit artistic to do shellwork, if not I don't think you could make it; to match all your shells and get the colour into it you've got to be an artist. Now and again somebody will come along and ask us to make something like a box or a Sydney Harbour Bridge for Mother's Day or birthdays, well then we'll make it. Other than that we don't go out of our way trying to make a sale, it's a bit too hard to sell." (Mavis Longbottom 1987, REF: http://www.nga.gov.au/Retake/retake_art2/00000022.htm)
This model and other related objects were made at the home of Mrs Longbottom and Mrs Ryan from shells gathered locally at Yarra Beach on Botany Bay and other nearby locations on the New South Wales coast. The objects are a significant record of the manner in which members of the La Perouse Aboriginal community have used art and craft activities to generate income since the late 1800s, often adapting traditional motifs or techniques for this new market. The Museum holds a number of items relating to the La Perouse Aboriginal community. This community was the first to be confronted with European invasion and material within this collection assists in documenting the social and cultural history of the region and its people.