Episode 1: Pearls of Australia, Mooney Mooney NSW - The Alternative Dairy Co.

Episode 1: Pearls of Australia

Celeste Boonaerts is digging around in an oyster, her practised hands feeling for the treasure, hoping it’s there. 

This is three or four years of effort, of toil and care with no guarantee of reward. And now is the moment of truth. Suddenly, her eyes light up. She’s found what she was hoping for. With a little more digging she suddenly pops out the pearl, shiny and perfectly round, the ideal reward for all of that industry.

Welcome to the art of pearl farming. We say art, because there’s so much more to this than meets the eye. You may have worn pearl earrings before, or a beautiful necklace strung with these precious objects, but did you ever wonder where they came from, how they were formed, how they came to be?

Celeste knows. She’s a jeweller and a gemmologist, but she’s also a pearl farmer, one of the only women working in the industry in Australia, plying her trade at the only pearl farm on Australia’s east coast, Broken Bay Pearls.

The process of bringing a pearl into the world – which Celeste calls a “birth” – is a long and complicated one.

It begins with water that’s just the right temperature and the right salinity, which they have on the Hawkesbury just north of Sydney. It continues with the right oysters, in this case Akoya oysters, known for producing pearls.

And then it gets tricky, because once the oysters are grown they need to be “seeded”, they need someone like Celeste to pull them out of the water and gently prize them open, to place a small sphere of Mississippi clam shell in just the right spot, to close them up again and drop them in the water and hope – really, just hope – that the oyster will then begin putting down layers of beautiful mother of pearl onto that small sphere.

If it does, if everything goes the way it should, then in three to four years Celeste can pull that oyster out of the Hawkesbury, she can prize it open once again, she can feel inside and then – you hope, you pray, you wish – a beautiful pearl will lie inside.

Today, she’s in luck. The pearl is exactly where it should be. Another successful birthing, another triumph in this dark art.

Ben Groundwater
Travel & Food Writer