The origins of the shell collection. Or /NaBloPoMo

It’s another hot, humid day in Sydney and it’s the end of NaBloPoMo. This is pleasing (the end of NaBloPoMo, not the heat for there is no end to that yet). This blog was always intended as a public place, a place where I could present my adventures and a more positive, thoughtful version of myself, a counterbalance to the inner party pooper. A more relaxed posting policy allows me time to have adventures to document, to edit and time to rethink. In summary, more tropical islands, more travels, fewer personal anecdotes of crab-icide and irresponsible pet ownership.

What I have enjoyed most about NaBloPoMo has been rediscovering my shell collection. My grandmother used to live by Balmoral Beach and when we were children she would take us to the beach to explore. It was my grandmother who introduced me to the idea of beach-combing. As way of encouragement, my grandmother gave me Alan Hinton’s Shells of Australia. I never used the book (until now!) and my collection never was never as impressive as hers but I would almost always come home from the beach with something interesting. Something interesting to an eight year old me was colourful and plentiful like limpets and pippi.

Before my grandmother passed away, she helpfully tagged all her belongings with the name of its future owner. My father inherited a number of books which I voraciously began to read. I opened up Dicken’s Great Expectations and a card fell out. It read “Dear Clare, no-one can consider themselves well-read until they have read at least one Dickens. Great Expectations is a good one to begin with” At first my grandmother’s shell collection went to another home but then a little white card fell out of the baler shell. “For Clare.”

Now our shell collections are one. The stories of my grandmother’s shells are lost but every now and then I pick up a shell and am reminded of a moment from my childhood.

Time for a daily dose of shell

Only one more day to go on NaBloPoMo. It will be great to not finish work at the end of the day saying “Crap, what am I going to write/photograph? Crap, the light is gone. Crap, I’ll have to use the phone because the camera batteries are dead. Crap, this would be so much easier if I was in the field or travelling. Crappity crap crap.”

Without further ado, today’s offering from the collection are some examples of Cassidae Casmaria.

One of these shells was the home of a pet hermit crab, purchased from a pet store when I was in primary school. My friends and I held hermit crab olympics, with mazes and cargo nets (inspired by the tv show Gladiators). With hindsight this was cruel and confusing. The hermit crab in particular vacated the Casmaria shell for a more spacious home. It was such poor real estate that no other hermit crab took it up. Indeed the other crabs preferred to rip each others limbs off and forcibly remove one another from a desired property. By forcibly remove I mean mortally injure, pull the victim from its shell and drag it to the water bowl. Since I had availed the hermit crabs of a large portion of the shell collection I decided hermit crabs were not for me.



Shell of the Day

This is the largest shell in my collection by far. It was inherited so I have no provenance and as yet no family narrative. It’s making classification difficult. Gastropoda, yes. My guess is a baler/bailer volute, genus melo from the family Volutidae. Definitely not from NSW.



Port Jackson Shark

Today’s offering from the shell collection is a shark’s egg. I think my grandmother said it was from a Port Jackson shark.



There are ubiquitous limpets in the sea and in my collection. Initially when I started writing this post, I had a negligible level of interest in limpets. I liked their stripes and sometimes their shape but otherwise they were just one of those shells I collected hundreds of as an eight-year old. But then I saw this dude and I thought, hey, he’s kinda neat.

Patelloida from Des Beechey’s Seashells of New South Wales (Beechey 2012)

Unsurprisingly limpets were exploited by Aboriginal people all along the eastern coastline of Australia and are often found in shell middens. A summary of common shellfish found in the middens of coastal Sydney can be read on the Australian Museum Website. For a more specific example, limpets were excavated from shell middens in the Royal National Park (Attenbrow 2010).

I think most of the limpets in my collection belong to the following classification:

Species: tramoserica
Genus: Cellana
Family: Nacellidae
Order: Patellogastropoda
Phylum: Mollusca

For all the gastropod glory, I don’t think I’ll bother too much with cleaning the limpets unless I am inspired to undertake shell craft.  Not so long ago I was in the Powerhouse museum and saw some of the delightfully kitsch shell craft harbour bridges made by Lola Ryan. Here’s the accompanying paper discussing shell craft by Aboriginal women at La Perouse and the shell craft economy.

Shell of the Day – Scutus Antipode

CLARE: I can’t believe how excited I am about this project. I’ve been itching for 5pm since 9am.

GENERAL (imaginary) AUDIENCE: But Clare, everybody wishes work was over on a Friday.

CLARE: But most people on Friday wish work was over for parties and friends and alcoholic beverages.

GENERAL (imaginary) AUDIENCE: And sleep, you forgot sleep.

CLARE: … and for sleep. But I wanted work to be over for this….

Have you seen anything so damn bloody adorable?? Look at his little eye! (Source: Barwon Bluff Marine Sanctuary, click for link). I haven’t been this overwhelmed by cuteness since fighting Diablo in Act IV of Diablo II. And I’ve spent a lot of unnecessary hours looking at little bunnies at Cute Overload.

The elephant slug is actually a marine snail that grazes on algae and belongs to the same family (Fissurellidae) as key-hole limpets.  They often turn up in Aboriginal shell middens in Victoria. The black flesh was cut away to eat the muscular foot (Museum of Victoria). I believe all of my specimens of elephant slug/snail come from NSW.


Scutus Antipode in my collection


For Katie…

An Agenda, Alan Hinton and Abalone

Things I’d like to do with my shell collection:

  • Clean off the dust and bring out the shell patinas. Task Name: Increase Pretty.
  • Identify the best way to clean them by identifying the shell type and checking against the shell-cleaning repository (the internet). Task Name: Classification
  • Find a new acid-free, dust-free storage place that uses space effeciently. Task Name: Increase Pretty Through Storage

Agenda complete! Onward to Task Classification.


This book has been on my bookshelf for as long as I can remember. It was a gift from my grandmother

Task Classification will be assisted by Hinton’s Guide to Australian Shells. Thanks Hinton! I trust you and your pipe.

Today’s shell is Haliotidae. Common name Abalone. My grandmother used to call them Maiden’s ears. Sometimes also referred to as Muttonfish. Here’s a book about Aboriginal consumption of muttonfish on the South Coast of NSW.  Most of the specimens in my collection appear to be Haliotis ruber and Haliotis crebrisculpta.

Now for a sample of cleaning methods used by people on the internet to clean abalone shells:

I live in a block of flats so sanders, spraying acid and 100% bleach about the place isn’t going to work. I think I’ll take the gently gently approach and try a mixture of lemon juice or diluted bleach in the bath-tub. A few of the shells have holes in them so they will be the hapless test subjects.