His­toric strings at­tached to Delo­raine Bro­hier’s pearls

Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) - - ADVERTORIA­L -

The pearl set that Delo­raine Bro­hier wore be­cause she val­ued its his­tory of the pearls be­ing hunted by the Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple of Aus­tralia (“The knight with the pearl ear­ring”, Shamalee de Silva Parizeau, The Sun­day Times Plus, March 5) in olden times might, in fact, have been the work of Sri Lanka pearl fish­er­men, who knows?

These “Cing­halese” divers came to Aus­tralia in large num­bers from the late 1800s to join the Abo­rig­i­nal divers who tra­di­tion­ally val­ued the mother-of­pearl shells rather than the pearls, es­pe­cially from the foot-wide Pinc­tada max­ima oys­ter.

Ini­tially, the fish­er­men dived naked; then div­ing suits were in­tro­duced and there are sto­ries of the slightly-built Sri Lankan and Ja­panese divers bent for­ward al­most hor­i­zon­tal in the heavy suits and hel­mets, search­ing the seabed.

Galle mas­ter crafts­man jew­eller Thomas Bas­tian El­lies left Sri Lanka in 1897 to join the pearling boom in Broome, north­ern Aus­tralia, where he be­came known as the Pearl Doc­tor for his un­ri­valled skill in clean­ing pearls. A Lankan touch: he is said to have calmed ner­vous mer­chants with a drink while he del­i­cately shaved off im­per­fec­tions from pearls of ex­tra­or­di­nary value with­out ru­in­ing them.

The Carnar­von Times of 17 July 1937 re­ports El­lies’ death in June 1937, stat­ing he had been a de­vout Bud­dhist and that Ja­panese women had chanted a dirge as his cof­fin was low­ered into the grave. He was world-renowned, a great phi­lan­thropist and “sup­porter of ev­ery sporting body in town” and his fu­neral had been the most im­pres­sive seen in Broome for years.

The Sri Lankan pearl fish­er­men and other Sri Lankans who came to work on Aus­tralian sug­ar­cane es­tates and Aus­tralian-owned co­conut es­tates in the South Sea is­lands came, in the main, with­out their fam­i­lies and in­ter­mar­ried with the Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple.

Names such as Fer­nando, Silva and Peiris are still ex­tant. In 1994, Abo­rig­i­nal cousins Bren­dan and Vester Fer­nando raped and mur­dered a nurse. The Abo­rig­i­nal Olympic and Com­mon­wealth Games gold medal win­ner and later se­na­tor bears the in­trigu­ing name of Nova Peris. A tear­ful man once wrote to The Aus­tralian when I was Let­ters Ed­i­tor there around 1995 that some Abo­rig­i­nals used to take on Sri Lankan names in ear­lier days to lessen the racism they faced and he had just found out that an ap­par­ent Sri Lankan trace in his oth­er­wise white an­ces­try was Abo­rig­i­nal, to the hor­ror of his fam­ily.

So ei­ther way, Delo­raine Bro­hier’s pearls have a rich his­tory.

From the sub­lime to the ridicu­lous, I re­mem­ber that Aunty Delo­raine gave me a wed­ding gift of The Daily News Cook­ery Book that served me well un­til our bull­mas­tiff munched a third of it. I strug­gled by on two-thirds (thank­fully mi­nus the al­bu­men pud­dings of cook­ing for in­valids), un­til a new one ap­peared. Vale a grande dame. Di­noo Kel­leghan


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