Article | Updated 5 years ago

Ngaji Mingan [Yawuru]

Nyirroogoord Minkal [Bardi Jawi]

Wayi Wanadin [Karajarri]

Image of an engraved pearlshell

Detail view of ‘Lacepede Patches’ riji (engraved pearlshell) by Galiwa Aubrey Tigan, depicting the pearlshell beds or ‘patches’ of the Lacepede Islands
Courtesy Aubrey Tigan Galiwa, Mayala elder  


For Kimberley Aboriginal people, their lands and waters, including the shell beds and reefs, are a glimpse of the power and creative energy of Ancestral Beings in the Dreaming.

Aubrey Tigan Galiwa, a renowned Mayala shell carver, tells of how Aalingoong, the serpent-like being responsible for water and rain, created the pearlshell in Strickland Bay, King Sound.

Image of a full moon rising over a bay

Full moon rising over the entrance to Daymango (The Graveyard), Strickland Bay, King Sound — a traditional area for collecting pearlshell and a place where many hard-hat divers lost their lives.
Courtesy Sarah Yu 

I am Yawuru and also of Jabirrjabirr descent, and grew up in Broome. Our old people along the northwest coast used guwan (pearlshell) long before the arrival of European settlers and have continued their traditions to this day. Since the pearlers came there has always been someone from my family working in the industry, including myself. We discovered that my great, great, great grandfather William Bryan was a blackbirder who took a Jabirrjabirr woman and had a child, who is my ancestor in the Dampier Peninsula. He was eventually charged in Roebourne for the abuse of native crewmen by tying them to the mast of the schooner 'Annie Taylor' in 1889. This is my heritage and part of Australia's pearling story. It is etched in the land and we should know and respect these stories, the people and where they came from.

Bart Pigram, curator, Nyamba Buru Yawuru