Seeding Pearls - Aquilina, Bernie

Collection Highlights | Updated 4 years ago

A lady posing for a portrait photograph
Bernie Aquilina with her first harvest of seeded pearls in 1992
Image copyright of WA Museum

Bernie Aquilina was born in January 1960 in New Zealand but has lived most of her life in Australia. She started her pearling career in 1984 at Broome working as a cook, deckhand and diver collecting live shell for ranching on pearl farms.

Due to the physical demands of deck work, she set her mind to becoming a pearl technician. She spent some years studying marine sciences at Murdoch University before working on a joint Australian-Japanese pearl farm off Cossack in the Pilbara.

Soon after, she found an on-the-job pearl seeding technician position with Paspaley Pearls. Experimenting with seeding pearls yields low returns and profits, and she found herself virtually teaching herself via trial and error.

Bruce and Trish Faley from Paspaley Pearls called in a favour of one of the Japanese technicians at Coassack farm to assist in her training. He accepted and bough Aquilina some seeding tools, and gave her several hours of tuition.

In her first year of practice only 46 percent of the seed pearls were successful when the pearlers expect an 80 percent success rate. Then one of the older Japanese technicians took her under his wing and she began to understand the finer points of seeding and her success rate improved.

At the time there were only five Australian pearl technicians and Aquilina the only female technician.

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