local importance; but the developing scarcity of the oysters, and the
present low value of this grade of shell in Europe, due to the
competition with Mississippi shell, have resulted in a great reduction.
In 1905, the industry gave employment to 17 small boats and 42 men, of
whom 18 were Europeans, 13 Asiatics, and 11 aboriginal natives. The
yield of pearls, according to official report of the government of
Western Australia, approximated £2000 in value, and of pearl shell
there was 88 tons, with a declared value of £607. In 1896 the
government of Western Australia surveyed the Sharks Bay reefs, and
opened them to preemption in small areas for cultivating this species
of pearl-oyster. At present they are mostly held under exclusive
licenses for a period of fourteen years. The business is under an
elaborate system of regulations ; but as appears from the above figures
the results have not been important.
are more numerous in this pearl-oyster than in the two other Australian
species. In removing them from the flesh, a modification of the Ceylon
process is adopted. The mollusks are opened by means of a knife, and
the contents of the shells are placed in vats or tubs— known locally as
"poogie tubs"; and, exposed to the hot sun, are allowed to putrefy.
Sea-water is added, and the putrid mass stirred; after several days the
water and the thoroughly disintegrated flesh tissues are decanted,
leaving the pearls at the bottom. The odor from a number of these
"poogie tubs" is said to almost rival that of the "washing toddies" at
Sharks Bay pearls are commonly yellowish or straw colored, and
sometimes have a beautiful golden tinge. Although obtained from small
shells, they are sometimes of considerable size—twenty grains or more
in weight, and fine specimens sell for several hundred dollars each.
China and India furnish better markets for them than Europe or America.