Monthly Archives: July 2019

Under the microscope the oysters sing

During NAIDOC Week I observed oysters under a microscope for the first time. Like little time capsules with so much possibility, the oyster can be male or female but never both at the same time. Once the spawning has occurred, eggs and sperm are released into the water to be fertilized. Adult females can release as many as 5 to 8 million eggs at one time.  Once the eggs are fertilized in the water, the developing larvae float around until they are ready to attach to a resting spot. At first the oysters move freely and have an eye and a foot. At this point, the oyster searches for a surface and can attach to any hard substrate, including rocks, driftwood and  piers. In time, the young oysters (spat) will develop their hard shells for protection and grow in size. In time they will shape and form and filter.


The scale of the oyster spawning plays on my mind.

I think often of the moon.

I eat their milky flesh in the sun.

The shells protect me.

They provide safe harbour for my imaginative self.




I wait for the oysters to grow.

I wait.

I wait for the reef to form

My shells of understanding emerge.

I am melancholy.

The loss weighs on my mind.

Loss of spawnings.

Loss of wild.

Loss of blue.

The ghostly shapes haunt me and visit my sleep.

Fluttering and seeking, searching with their feet, their eyes.

They seek me out.

Prod me to move.

Prod me to move on and flutter and find my own drift wood, my rock.

I wait.

I heard them, their clicks and they called me.

Called me from the shore.

Lapped at my consciousness and pricked and clicked my ears, my mind.

For it was under the microscope they came alive.




For it is sitting within the crosshatch

that the oysters lie

They lie

They lie.

There lies my learning.

I wait.

I look.

I listen.



Posted by on July 17, 2019 in Uncategorized

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Play Based Thinking through Oysters

Last week I visited Worimi Country and worked with my research partner and a group of twenty five pre-school aged children and their educators. As an intergenerational, diverse learning community we committed time to explore our knowing and worlding of the oyster. Together, we developed understandings of the importance of the Baludarri. We played with the shells and storied them as valued and valuable. We sang songs about them and observed them in tanks. We questioned. We pondered. We were curious. We entered an imaginative space of fire and midden.

Laura Parker set up a small tank with some precious oysters within. She introduced them. She described their role as filter feeders and explained to the children that we may see a change occur in the water soon if we took the time to look and listen and learn. She asked children to feed the oysters with algae and to observe them in the water. The children listened and learned deeply. They discussed, questioned and shared.

I gifted each child a shell and a piece of clay and each child created their own unique oyster art work. The children shared their own stories of how they had come to know the Baludarri, They explored the shells with their hands and their play was slow and structured. The oysters were sacred.

We worked outside in the wintery sun and the children worked with clay and shells to build, create and form. Cooperatively we curated an oyster reef on the rocks of their sand pit. Embedded in their nature based play area, on the large rocks we built our reef.  Children gathered. They fossicked, pushed, patterned and placed the shells in different configurations. The unfamiliar became familiar as the oysters joined their play.

The oysters are now part of the ongoing play story of the children of the Bay. Hands will scoop, shells will fill with water. Shells will scoop the sand and be worn. They will tell stories of gathering. They will re-story and create opportunity for nature based ocean dialogues and conversations about Sea Country.

I like to think of the oyster reef that we built that day. How will it respond to rain? How will it change? How will it iterate and re-iterate as children flow through the space? What stories will be told?  The oysters provide the tools for thinking, for imagining and reimagining.Deep in the sand will shells be lost? Hidden? Taken?

I know where oysters lie.


Posted by on July 17, 2019 in Uncategorized

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Tales from an Environmental Scientist and Sydney Oyster Girl

UNSW Environmental Scientist and science student Jieyu Liu visited Sarah Jane’s studio for the first time in July. Sarah Jane wanted to interview Jieyu in order to gain an understanding of her interface with the Sydney Rock Oyster. Together they wrote this blog ‘Tales from an Environmental Scientist and Sydney Oyster Girl’.

Jieyu brought her first paper back full of carefully cleaned oyster shells in a brown paper bag. It was May and the sun was shining and the shells were handed over like an offering. I was excited. The first donated shells of the project! I was thrilled. I peered in the crumpled bag and carried them to my studio. I laid them out on the bench. I played with them, I made patterns with them and imagined them as carriers fo stories. The oysters had made a journey to me across Sydney. They were a remnant of a celebration, a get together. I imagined the folk that had had eaten them, the hands that had touched them and tracked back, back to the hands that had grown and harvested them. There were many hands. I wanted to harvest the stories of these shells, to mine the connections, to drill down into the reefs, the communities the peoples who consumed them, who cherished them, whose slithery and slippery slide journeyed to me. To my hands. Like a modern midden, the shells are mounting. I like the complexities and the stories associated with their journey to me.

The second time that Jieyu offers up her shells to the project there are hundreds! I am overwhelmed. They make a wonderful sound when Jieyu pours them in and through my open hands. I scurry to my studio. I wash. Sort. Clean. File.

I take a few  home in my hand bag. On the way home, I reach down and into my bag to hold one. I make it warm. I give it new life. I carry it with me like a scar.

I wait for Jieyu; for the offerings, the shells. 

I wait for her, my oyster girl.

I wait.


My name is Jieyu Liu, and I am an honours student in the Ferrari Lab from BABS school, UNSW. I am currently working on a bioremediation project at Casey station with Australian Antarctic Division.  I got to know Sarah Jane through Sally Crane, one of Ph.D candidates from the Ferrari lab. Sally is a member of the BEES and BABS Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee at UNSW and a passionate supporter of the arts and Sally let me know that Sarah Jane had gained funding to work with an Indigenous scientist and make art works using the Baludarri or Sydney Rock Oyster as a main theme. She let me know that Sarah Jane was trying to find people in the UNSW committee to co create oyster stories with her.

Outside of the lab, I work as a part-time oyster shucker in a company called Sydney Oyster Girls. In the seafood industry, Sydney rock oysters are the icons of Australia.

After learning that Dr. Moore was collecting Sydney Rock Oyster Shells for her art project, I sent her an email to her. I reached out and offered to help her with her art making through collecting the precious oyster shells and bringing them to her at the university. I emailed her and she immediately replied back with some pictures of her amazing art work. Her art work was made with oyster shells and she shared with me that she was working with an Indigenous scientist whose experiments were assisting knowledges about future proofing the Baludarri. I heard that there were many ancient stories about Sydney oysters and from then, I started collecting leftover oyster shells from my hospitality work.

Today, I was invited by Sarah Jane to her oyster studio, which is located in BEES school. As an environmental science student and an oyster lover, I can’t tell you all how happy I am when I see these food “waste” became a part of art that she has made.

From the perspective of my customers, fresh Sydney Rock Oysters are regarded as a luxury. I shuck them in five seconds. Once I open the shell they are still alive and I can’t see them moving. It looks beautiful. The meat is a creamy colour. If it is alive it will be juicy. After I shuck them I cut off the large muscle that connects it to the shell and I flip the meat around so ti shows the plumpest part of the oyster to the customer. I shuck 100 oysters in an hour. I use an oyster shucking sharp knife with a short blade. I squeeze a halved lemon onto the oyster meat and then I serve them. I serve them direct to the customer on a napkin. Some people don’t take a napkin but take the shells in their cupped hand. I giver them the oyster and they slurp it usually in one swallow.

Th customers say to me ‘It tastes beautiful’. They say ‘It tastes so fresh’.  Some of the customers, particularly the children do not like the taste and they spit in into the napkin.

Before I met Sarah Jane I thought of the shells as rubbish now I know that they are really valuable and truly beautiful.

Before I moved to Sydney in 2015 I had never tasted an oyster. I am from China and I am from a small inland city. We have rivers but no oysters. I tasted my first oyster in 2018 on my first shift at work. I am now totally hooked. I can eat a dozen oysters in one sitting. I love them. Especially Sydney Rock. They are beautiful. I have tried the Pacific Ocean oysters. They are much bigger, They are huge. They can be as big as my hand but they are not as soft in texture as the Baludarri.

I like my job. It connects me to the people of Sydney. I help people celebrate with the people they love. It is connecting.

Jieyu Liu, July, 2019



Posted by on July 3, 2019 in Uncategorized

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Moriah College student experiences studio life – guest blog by Brett

Hi, I’m Brett, a year 10 student at Moriah College.

I’ve been doing work experience here at BEES for a couple days now. Besides all the office and computer work I’ve been doing, I have had the opportunity to work with Dr Sarah Jane Moore on some of her artwork.

She got me started rasping some oyster shells, and I tried to be as careful as possible not to leave any sharp edges because little kids are going to be handling them. Next I washed them using the lab sink, and watched how the light reflected off shiny parts of the shells. I thought it would be very attractive if we could display those beauties in good lighting.

I’m rasping the shells. I’m actually left-handed, so holding the rasp in my right hand was a little awkward. Luckily it wasn’t for a long time.

At the same time, I was learning about nature based art-making practices, and Dr Sarah Jane even showed me how to detail an art piece using an echidna quill, which really gave the piece a more authentic feel. She got the quill from Georgia Badgery, an honours student studying ecology, specifically echidna diets and foraging. Georgia lived out in Fowler’s Gap for two months at the Arid Zone Research centre in Western NSW and tracked 7 echidnas, including one she named Snuffy.

Georgia gave Snuffy’s quill to Dr Sarah Jane to use in her artwork collection, which will displayed in at the entrance to the bioscience building at UNSW during NAIDOC week, right next to the cave bear skeleton.

I need to determine the eight best-looking shells out of 33. Only 24 of those are actually shown in the photo. There wasn’t enough space in the container.


















The collection is titled ‘I know where Oysters Lie’, and it will also be shown at Culture At Work in the Accelerator Gallery at Pyrmont, 6-8 Scott Street. It will be displayed from the 6th until the 16th of November, and the opening night is on a Saturday, from 5-7pm.

Working with Dr Sarah Jane has been a great experience, and I’m looking forward to seeing the complete collection.

I’ll be involved with setting up the artwork tomorrow, which I’m very excited about.

See ya,




Posted by on July 3, 2019 in Uncategorized

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