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Georgia Morgan's Pearling History

Whilst spending her school holidays at the Monte Bello Islands, just north of Exmouth Gulf off the coast from Onslow.  Georgia Morgan remembers being fascinated by the iridescent colours reflecting up from the pearl shells she held underwater. This led to her eventual  move to Broome.  It was there she began to prepare for the introduction of a fresh approach to the use of plain Pearl Shell, Mabe and Cultured Pearls by creating beautiful, personalised jewellery – and with her family background, this is hardly surprising!


Since before the 1900’s Broome has been the Pearling Capital of the world, supplying up to 80% of the pearl shell required by button manufacturers in Britain, Europe and the United States.


The Morgan family began its involvement with the Broome Pearling Industry in the early 1920’s.  Then , pearl shell buttons from the world’s largest pearl oyster: the Pinctada Maxima were in great demand, and caused a major sensation when first appearing on the London pearl shell market.


Georgia’s Grandfather Alfred Chambers Morgan moved to Broome after the first World War, where he started off as a Pearl Opener before becoming a Master Pearler.


In 1935, Alf Morgan married Doris Marea Nelson-Nissen (known as Sylvia), who tragically died giving birth to Richard Phillips Nelson Morgan in 1937.


The 1930’s Depression, hurt the viability of the Broome Pearling Industry, but the second World War was to have a far more impact.  Thankfully pearling did resume after the War and with a resurgent price for shell; Alf began to rebuild his fleet.


Unfortunately, the invention of plastic buttons, led to the almost overnight collapse of the Pearling Industry of the old days.  Alf realised he would have to change with the times, and decided to try Pearl Cultivation, which had been so successful in Japan, and was also commencing at Kuri Bay.


Morgan & Co. was the second Pearl Cultured Farm to be established on the West Australian coast, and the first wholly Australian Owned.  In 1961, Alf sent his son Richard Morgan (known as Dick) to sail, with one Aborigine, in a 35 foot Cutter named Marea, for Giralia Bay, in Exmouth Gulf, where they had obtained a Pearling Lease.


The Morgans knew little about the process of culturing pearls so they employed Dennis George (who had done research on pearl growth) and his wife Yulie, a Japanese Marine Biologist. Through painstaking trial and error, the production of Mabes ( these are also known as Half Pearls or Blisters), and round cultured Pearls was achieved. However, Alf and Dick fround Giralia Bay overly exposed to the open sea, and cyclones, so they  sought an alternate site.


The Morgans moved to the Bay of Rest on the western side of Exmouth Gulf, on Exmouth Gulf Station, near Learmonth. Dick Morgan further developed his own technique for cultivating Round Pearls, with the help of a book confiscated from the Japanese after the War.


In 1967, Dick married Dinah Susan Bean, and the couple shared the rough living conditions on the beach, at the Bay of Rest There was no fresh water, and this had to be carted regularly from Learmonth. They lived in caravans and employed a few Malay Boys as Indentured labour.  Dick, dived for wild pearl shell, with a wet suit and hookah gear, a first at the time.  He also taught some of the Malay Boys to dive, and operate Mabes. 


Production of Mabe pearls was far more successful during these early years, as the process was a lot easier and quicker to grow.  However, Dick and Dinah operated several hundred cultured pearls each year, with limited success. The pearls produced had the best colour, as Exmouth Gulf is the Southern most part of the coast that Pictada Maxima is found.  It is also the coldest water and it takes an extra year to produce a good pearl, however the wait is worth it, as the skin is smooth, few pin marks and a beautiful lustre.


A chronic scarcity of local pearl shell, and recurring cyclones causing severe losses, resulted in another move in location.


Andrew Robert Morgan was born in 1970, whilst plans were being put in place to move the Pearl Farm to Port Smith, 50 miles directly south of Broome.  


Sadly, Alf Morgan did not live to see the new venture as he passed away on 19th March, 1971.


That same year,  the pearl crop was destroyed by Cyclone Sally, making a difficult start to the new venture. The early years were hard, the Morgan’s still lived in a caravan. Dick had to put in a road to Port Smith from the main highway, and they had to cart water from three miles away, until they could pipe it in. For some years, the farm was successful, still employing Indentured labour and introducing Australian diver’s to the industry, and improving the round pearl techniques.


In 1977, a mysterious pearl oyster disease was then detected at Kuri Bay, later this spread to other areas including Roebuck Bay in Broome, and to another new Pearl Farm at False Cape Bossut, quite close to Port Smith.  The disease spread infecting the shells at the Morgan’s farm, resulting in an 80% mortality rate. Those shells that survived, resulted in poor quality or spoilt product.


Georgia Marea Morgan was born in 1978, and spent her first 18 months at Port Smith.  At this stage, the Morgan’s decided that in order to survive, and evade the pearl oyster disease, they had to move away from the area.


Alf Morgan had always said ”that the finest pearl shell in the world”, came from the Monte Bello Islands.  Here they found an ideal location for a pearl farm, with ample protection from cyclones.  This was to be the Morgan’s third pearl farm in 20 years.


This was a water-based operation, as the Islands are protected, and all activities are carried out on houseboats, rafts and vessels. Initially, the company vessel Andirina Pearle was used to commute to the Islands from Onslow and to fish the shell for the operations. Later, Dick obtained a sea plane and now all movements between the Islands and the mainland are carried out by air.


Georgia Morgan was educated in Perth, and spent much of her holidays at the Monte Bello Islands, where she learnt the techniques of pearl operating and handling boats. At 16 years old she left school, to work with her Father and Brother Andrew, at the pearl farm at the Monte Bello Islands, there she learnt even more, about the Pearl Culture Industry, before branching out into Jewellery.  



Whilst Georgia Morgan completed a Jewellery apprenticeship in 1996, her Brother Andrew’s part of Morgan  & Co. expanded to include a Pearl Shell  Hatchery at Carnarvon, where Pictada Maxima is grown in tanks, before being sent to the Exmouth Gulf farm, to be grown on.  Then it is sent to the  main farm at the Monte Bello Islands, for use in making the finest  Pearls and Mabes.


On the 30th March, 2004, after spending his whole life in the Pearling Industry, Dick Morgan died, after losing a battle with cancer.  His contribution to the Pearling Industry has been universally acknowledged.


Today, an association with Pearling, that began with Alf Morgan  - Pearl Shell Opener and then Master Pearler, his son Dick the Pearl Cultivator, continues with his Grandson Andrew, and his Grandaughter Georgia.


If the Pearling Industry is to even more directly benefit from the bounty of the Pinctada Maxima pearl shell, then it should look no further than the jewellery that Georgia Morgan is now creating, with the family product, the finest Pearls and Pearl Shell in the world.


Eager to explore new styles and mediums in which traditional Pearl Shell, Mabes and Cultured Pearls can be integrated, Georgia Morgan represents a new generation of young Australian Designers, willing to use techniques and designs that are bold and individual.

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