Rowena Marynissen, aka Rowy, lives in Sydney, Australia. She loves beachcombing on the local beaches, where she finds sea glass, sea pottery, seashells, and more. “I was always picking up a memento or few from the beaches I would visit at home and on holidays,” she says. “More serious sea glass hunting started about four years ago, and gradually it became an obsession. Who can beat the beautiful serene scenery coupled with treasures?” And she has collected a lot of treasures on her Australian beaches.
“My favorite things to collect are sea glass marbles (especially German handmade ones!), stoppers, beads and opercula (sea snail doors), sea urchins, sea biscuits (a type of sea urchin), sea potato (heart urchins), cowries, and blue and white sea pottery,” she says. “I also just love finding other frosty nuggets of sea glass or anything old and historic like some of the thick chunks of sea glass, which used to be part of a bottle bottom or black sea glass.” She uses the black sea glass bottle bottoms as display holders for other sea glass and beachcombed items. And she has quite a collection of all types of things.
“Once you find a few things, you realize you are collecting those as well, such as sea pottery, fishing floats and fishing lures, some beach toys, gemstones such as amethyst, shells such as cowries, cones shells, semicassis (a type of sea snail), and the list goes on,” Rowy laughs. “I also find bullet casings in the water and other metal objects and coins with a verdigris patina, that green patina which is so pleasing to the eye. I love finding vintage coins and imagine how someone may have lost it all those decades ago.”
Though she’s not exactly sure where the items she finds on her favorite beach come from, she suspects that there may have once been a dump nearby. “This would be a source of all the sea glass, pottery pieces, antique ceramic ginger beer bottle pieces, partial Codd bottles, Codd marbles, old bottle necks, and stoppers,” she explains. Other sources could be local shipwrecks in the area, flotsam and jetsam from coastal boat traffic, and discarded items from early colonists in the area who likely disposed of their household rubbish into the ocean.
Rowy finds some beautiful sea-tumbled marbles on her beach and gets questions about where they may have come from. “I have done some research and there was a game played on the beach that involved digging shallow, long trenches in the sand and conducting marble races,” she says. A nearby shooting range is likely the source of the bullet casings that Rowy finds, as carrying and using guns is uncommon in Australia due to strict laws.
Beachcombing isn’t as common a hobby as it is in the UK or USA, but there are a number of beachcombers in the area, and Rowy knows many of them. “Most of our beaches are populated by swimmers, surfers, snorkelers, and divers,” Rowy says. “However, even if they are not looking for sea glass, children often explore the rocks, looking for shells and sea life such as crabs and sea urchins.”
Rowy goes beachcombing as often as possible, heading to the beach after work when the summer days are longer, and on weekends. “In summer I have been known to be on the beach for up to eight hours and enjoy a swim as well on our beautiful beaches,” she says. She often beachcombs alone, but her wife, Danielle, joins her if the weather is good. “Sometimes I meet up with local and interstate Sea Sisters for a beachcomb or to explore an area and other beaches. I have even met up with Instagram sea sisters visiting from Hawaii and Chicago.”
When Rowy took a trip to Bali, she thought she might find some different types of things on the beaches there. However, she wasn’t prepared for her most unusual beachcombing find. “It was a lovely sunrise beachcomb,” Rowy says. “I saw something in the sand and to my horror it looked like a real severed finger! I gingerly poked it and it felt hard, and upon closer inspection was a very real looking replica. It’s very creepy, but I love it.” Another unusual and less disturbing find was a giant Teddy bear that washed up on a Sydney beach, though she didn’t take him home as he was too huge.
In summer and autumn, you’ll find Rowy on the beach, when the weather is great and the days are longer. “The tides usually deliver more goodies, too, however the tides can change and it is often unpredictable how the beach topography and access to the ‘good stuff’ will change,” she explains. “The only downside of summer is finding a parking spot!”
All this beachcombing means that Rowy has a beautiful, growing collection of beach finds. “Over the few years I have been collecting I have amassed quite a bit,” she says. She doesn’t like to keep so much that she can’t display, so she returns some from time to time. If the piece no longer sparks joy, she returns it to the water. “Having said that, I don’t think there is a room in the house without some sea glass in it,” she laughs.
Rowy has most of her beach finds plus gifts she’s received stored in jars, covered glass dishes, glass domes, vintage bottles, and glass bowls. “It has really taken over the house. I don’t think there is one room in our home which does not have sea glass or a beach treasure in it,” she says. “My friends and family think my collection is very cool due to all the variety, but I think those living with me would like to see more free space around the house!”
Rowy works in student administration at a university, a job she enjoys, especially when she gets to help students. “I also enjoy creating many forms of art, from drawing, painting, crafting. I love cooking—mainly in the cooler months if I am in the mood,” she laughs. She loves catching up with friends and taking the local walking track, which leads along a river to the international airport, where she sometimes does a little plane spotting.
Items that don’t end up in Rowy’s collection of glass containers sometimes get turned into art and jewelry. She makes pendants and brooches using the sea pottery she finds, drawing coastal images such as seahorses, lighthouses, and more on them. “I also enjoy making sea glass pendants, shell pendants, and bracelets and necklaces from shells, beads, and sea glass. At the moment I gift them but may consider an online shop in the future.”
Rowy loves the beaches around Sydney with sand and pebbles where she finds her best treasures. “I never thought I’d be climbing around on rocks at this point of in my life, but the energy you get from it makes you feel so alive,” Rowy says. “I recently had some time off work, and while I was not able to travel overseas, I had the chance to discover some new beaches. There are so many within an hour’s drive from where I live. Sydney is a beautiful place to live.”
Ask her for some coastal walks, and Rowy’s got plenty of recommendations. “Sydney is a very busy city and other than its gorgeous beaches, there are beach walks which take you around the coastline,” she says. “For example the Coogee to Bondi walk is a good one, which will take a good hour or so, longer to catch all the views. There is the Spit to Manly walk, which will take you through beautiful bushlands as you meander past beautiful waterways.” In October, Rowy recommends Sydney’s “Sculptures by the Sea,” which brings millions of people to visit the beautiful coastline from Tamarama beach to Bondi Beach to view sculptures, which are only there for a number of weeks.
Rowy’s favorite parts of Sydney (besides the beaches!) include Circular Quay, Sydney Opera House, and the Historic Rocks area. “It’s one of my favorite parts of the city, meandering through cobblestone lanes you feel like you’ve stepped back in time.”
Sydney has many great restaurants and is a host to many craft breweries. “My favorites are Akasha, Rocks brewery, Willie the Boatman, and Young Henry’s,” says Rowy.
Taking a walk back to Sydney across the Sydney Harbour Bridge is also on Rowy’s list of recommenations. “If you catch the train from the city to Milson’s Point, you can walk back towards the city and Rocks area or the Royal Botanic Garden by walking over the bridge,” she explains. “At street level, there is a walking path and you can give the Sydney Opera House a wave as you pass by. For around AUD$20 (USD $13), you can go up inside one of the stone pylons (the Pylon Lookout) for some information about the bridge and also some great views from the lookout at the top.”
When the day is over, Rowy recommends hitting a historic pub in Sydney. “The Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel has one of the oldest pubs in Sydney. They brew their own beer and have been doing so before craft beer even became popular. The pub is a beautiful old building in the historic Rocks area of Sydney, which is also worth a visit as it is right near Sydney Harbour,” according to Rowy. “There are other historic Pubs in the area so a ‘pub crawl’ (a drink at each pub as you stroll the area) is fun. Each pub serves their own food and is usually great quality.”
Being part of the worldwide community of beachcombers on Instagram has exposed Rowy to beach finds around the world that she never knew about. “I would like to find a die, a doll part, an Enos stopper, a stopper with writing on it, a German toe-breaker swirl marble (a BIG one), a full Codd bottle, a full torpedo bottle, a nugget of frosty red, and a Czech glass charm. One can dream!”
Rowy has beachcombed in Australia and in Bali, which has sea glass and beautiful shells. She advises checking the local laws before removing shells and corals from beaches, as well as the laws about bringing them back to your own country. “It would be a waste to have anything thrown away which didn’t need to be removed in the first place.” Rowy hopes to beachcomb in Tasmania, Spain, Italy, Scotland, England, Hong Kong, and the USA some day, though she tries to beachcomb wherever her travels take her.
Rowy loves meeting up with people she knows from her Instagram community. “It’s always a fun surprise meeting sea sisters on the beach I don’t know, but who already know me from Instagram,” she says. “One sunny day I was randomly approached by a friendly lady who turned out to be from Guam who knew who I was when she saw me on the beach. And, I realized I knew her, too, from Instagram. It’s a small world.”
Connect with Rowy and follow her beachcombing adventures on her Instagram page at @rowy_finds_sea_treasures.
Read about Rowy's close encounter with a mermaid.
This article appeared in the Beachcombing Magazine September/October 2020 issue.