Slippers (pair), shell / velvet, made by Olive Elizabeth Simms, La Perouse, New South Wales, Australia, c. 1962
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.
These 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.
Purchased at La Perouse by Mr 'Digger' Davis and given to Miss Anita Trvicillo of Matraville when she was a child. Mr Davis was an Aboriginal WWI veteran who lived in the Matraville area.
In the 1880s La Perouse became a regular camp site for displaced South Coast Aborigines. Some of these people had been expelled from the city of Sydney to the north; others had travelled north from traditional lands alienated by farming and grazing. Initially their occupation of this northern headland of Botany Bay was deemed illegal, however their camp was officially recognised as an Aboriginal Reserve in 1895. The establishment of a nearby Methodist Mission - soon to become the headquarters for the United Aborigines Mission - may well have influenced this decision.
Although La Perouse at this time was still beyond the southern perimeter of suburban development, it was already a popular seaside resort for the white inhabitants of Sydney. The Joseph Banks Hotel, with its renowned pleasure gardens and menagerie, was built there in the 1830s. By the 1880s the establishment was reaching its peak of popularity.
With very few other means of income and provision, the Aboriginal community of La Perouse were quick to engage with this new developing tourism market. They sold shell artefacts, shields, boomerangs and other items, and demonstrated boomerang throwing to the day trippers. What developed was a 'transitional culture' of production with traditional skills being employed to create 'non-traditional' artefacts for the new market. The production of souvenirs, such as decorated boomerangs, nulla nullas and shields, intricately designed shellwork patterns on cardboard baby slippers, jewellery boxes and other items grew in the 20th century with the establishment of a tram line to La Perouse in 1902, making the La Perouse Indigenous community one of the first to be involved with the tourism industry at the time.
This pair of slippers was made by Olive Elizabeth Simms.