Lola Greeno (b.1946) is a senior Palawa woman born on Cape Barren Island. She later moved to Flinders Island and then in 1972 she moved to Launceston, Lutruwita (Tasmania), where she currently lives and works. Her highly respected works have been exhibited widely and she is represented in state, national and private collections throughout Australia and overseas.
Greeno’s practice includes installation, natural fibre basketry and sculpture, but her best known works are her shell necklaces, an art form that draws on knowledge passed to Greeno from her Elders, who have collected more than 21 shell varieties in a cultural practice extending back thousands of years. This customary knowledge has been passed down from mother to daughter, and Lola is one of a small number of women shell stringers who have been responsible for ensuring their practices are continued to the present day. The maireener shells, for example, are painstakingly collected live from the waters off the Furneaux Islands between Spring and Autumn when the waters are warmer. Once collected, cleaned and rinsed with an acid solution to retain their lustre, they are sorted and pierced for stringing. Creating a long ceremonial necklace is a painstaking process that can take several days. Greeno’s works represent her unbroken commitment to this art form, and have drawn attention to the environmental changes that threaten the fragile natural ecosystem of the region. In the process of collecting shells Greeno has observed and collected data that demonstrate the changes to the ecosystem of the Furneaux Islands.
The green maireener are the rarest of the maireener species and are only found in two or three places around the Furneaux group of islands. In Greeno’s collection of these shells over decades she has observed that they are diminishing in number and are at risk of pollution, global warming and over-fishing. While scientists at the Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS) are researching whether the reduction of the maireener species, which are also known as the Phasianotrochus irisodontes, is connected to the shrinking of kelp forests on the east coast of Tasmania, Greeno’s son Dean Greeno is leading the preservation of cultural knowledge about Tasmanian aquatic ecology from elders before it is too late.