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Born on Hill 60 in Port Kembla in 1931, Esme is an artist and Bidjigal woman. She has been collecting shells since the age of five at La Perouse where she lives. For decades she has continued the family tradition of Indigenous shellwork glued on to cardboard, wood and fabric. This specific art style can be traced back through Esme’s family to her great-grandmother in 1910, and has descended from many generations of local Aboriginal women using seashells to make jewellery and fish hooks. The history around the production of objects by the local Aboriginal community has also become deeply entangled with the development of La Perouse as a tourist destination.
Later in life, Esme began to exhibit her works in various galleries. In 2005, she won the inaugural NSW Parliament Indigenous Art Prize for her shellwork depicting the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Esme remains working from her home at La Perouse, creating shellworked booties, baskets and bridges. Her daughter Marilyn Russell is also a shellworker.