Morning is at our leisure, so, with deep gratitude to the surgeon who fixed my painful and unsightly bunion, I took the self-portrait featured left 🙂
Perhaps though, my dear readers are better served with the naked view – on the right.
Both taken while lazing poolside at the Mangrove Resort Hotel in Broome.
Before long though, it is time to get back to our touring “job”. Our tour guide, Brett, is due at midday, and he turns out to be such a font of information that I ended up with many hundred words of notes. I will do my best to give you the short version 🙂 Most of the factual detail below is based on his talk.
So . . . it starts with learning the local lingo (language). Around here, people greet each other with, “Hey! What now?“, accompanied by a flick of the wrist. We get to see it in action at our first stop – Cygnet Bay Pearls showroom in Chinatown, where pearl farmer Marty shares with us his wealth of knowledge of the industry and what to look for in a pearl.
Broome’s pearling history is built on the Pinctada Maxima, the largest of the pearl oysters and source of the South Sea pearl. Back in the 1860s however, the world was after the strong inner shell layer – the nacre. Broome supplied around 75% of the Mother of Pearl (MOP) used for buttons, cutlery handles, inlay and other decorative uses. How the oysters were originally harvested is a sorry tale of abduction and exploitation of Aboriginal skin divers, which over time transitioned into the use of pearling luggers, Japanese divers using suits and breathing apparatus, and other workers from South-East Asia, China, Indonesian Timor (keopangers) and so on. Conditions were still harsh, and death or disability from the “bends” a constant threat. I’ll spare you the details.
The demand for MOP declined after WWII with the rise of plastics, and around this time, Mikimoto Kokichi pioneered the cultured pearl in Japan. This became a second industry for Broome, with the Cygnet Bay family establishing their farm from 1959/60. All credit to their entrepreneurship, as it is a nature dependent industry, with high risk of failure from cyclones and other weather events. We were fascinated as Marty explained the technique of growing and harvesting the pearl, and then went on to explain how to differentiate the quality by lustre, size, shape, colour, and surface. Now the challenge is on to recall all that information if I ever go pearl shopping. If you are in the market yourself, Broome is the place to buy them!
It is not hard to imagine what Chinatown must have looked like in the 1900s. Around 400 pearl luggers were based there. Of the hundreds employed in the industry, those at the top of the tree, the pearling masters, were living in comfortable homes away from the low-lying mangrove swampland of Chinatown. Most of the buildings are still one or two storey corrugated iron structures in varying condition. It must have been a chaotic place, especially when the divers were cashed up and looking for a good time, and opium dens were popular as well as drinking, gambling and “other” activities. The area would have gained its name from those days.
In 1901 the Australian Government introduced an Immigration Act which is commonly referred to as the White Australia Policy, which led to the restriction of non-European migration. This meant that pearling masters could no longer rely on their traditional labour base. However, due to the failure of alternatives, Broome was able to get an exemption, using an indenture system. It made the place almost unique in Australia for its predominant population. The Asian men allowed entry were not allowed to bring wives or family, so some intermarried with Aboriginal girls coming off the mission for domestic work. Add to the mix the Japanese who were favoured as pearl divers, the Malay labourers who were favoured by the Chinese as deck hands, or the Afghan camel drivers who wandered through and made Broome home, and you end up with a multicultural town and a very mixed heritage population. Broome food is the original fusion cooking!
Not all men were created equal, though. For example, a Chinese carpenter could work within the lugging industry, but could not make kitchen cupboards, as that work was reserved for the “white fellas”.
One of the places that many people came together was at Sun Pictures. It is a double-fronted, three-sided tin shed, originally an “Asian Emporium” and converted to a picture theatre in 1916, screening black and white silent films. It is now the longest continuously operating outdoor theatre in the world. Everyone attending got to watch the same picture, but seating was segregated. The cane chairs with cushions were for worthy whites. Lugger crews and Aboriginals could only enter through a side door, and for the latter, this persisted until 1967. In between these extremes was a complicated pecking order, and you can read more of that and further history here. Another “feature” of Sun Pictures, is that it sits on mudflats. Twice a year the spring tide could inundate the town, and many a young lady ruined her stiletto heels at the pictures, until a levee was built in 1974.
The tour then continues through “old” Broome, past the Japanese Cemetery, and on to Town Beach which faces out on to the beautiful turquoise waters of Roebuck Bay, which is also the location of our hotel. It is here, on 3rd March 1942, that a Japanese aircraft raid destroyed 15 large flying boats – Catalinas, Empires and Dorniers – belonging to Dutch, US, RAF, and RAAF forces, as well as Qantas. The tragedy is that many were carrying women and children en route to safety further south after escaping the fighting in Java. At extremely low tide, the wrecks are still visible, preserved in the mud of the bay. (Again, I spare you the details of this raid, even though many of my readers know I am a military history buff.)
On around to Gantheaume Point, named during the 1801 Baudin expedition – a promontory on the Indian Ocean known for its red sandstone and “soil”, also called Pindan. We head down a well-worn track to find the replica dinosaur footprints. The real ones, dated at 130 million years, can be seen at very low tide. I have a note about a one legged hopping dinosaur – but I am not sure if that was a joke – and that there are thousands of footprints all around the coastline, with sauropods – 70 tonnes in weight and 5 metres tall being the most common.
It is here also that we hear the touching story of the lighthouse keeper, who created “Anastasia’s Pool” for his arthritic wife to take relief from the warm Indian Ocean salt water. He formed it as a natural rock pool, but it was destroyed in recent years in a storm. The story has a not so romantic tinge, apparently Anastasia needed to be to taken to the pool in a wheelbarrow, and was not so good-humoured about it. Not sure about the truthfulness of that, but I have it in my notes 🙂
Time for some refreshment, and what better place than Matsos Brewery? It has an interesting history – details can be found on the link – but the here and now is that it is a microbrewery using natural ingredients to make such things as Ginger and Mango Beers, Lychee Beer, and Chilli Beer. We get to have a sampling of several types. And I was ready for it. It’s hot!
By late afternoon we are headed to view the sunset at Cable Beach which will happen around 5.30pm at this time of the year. Cable Beach is 22km (13 mi) long. One end is very popular for camel rides – an animal designed by a committee, our guide tells us – and we drop off a number of our group who are taking part. The rest of us head to the other end of the beach, where we join lots of independent travellers who have brought their vehicles right down onto the sands.
I wander off to poke my nose around. A little crab scuttles for cover. An interesting shell is stuck in a rock. The retreating tide leaves intriguing patterns in the sand. And I take a self portrait as the sun dips behind me – I have always wanted long legs.
But we are really here for the sunset. My best photos are created from angling the sun into the iPad lens so that it throws the subject into silhouette.
It is some days later before we notice that Bill has knocked his automatic setting on to overexposure. But his photos directly into the setting sun create some spectacular results. A bit like those Rorschach psychological tests if you ask me. Or maybe I am confusing that with my LSD psychedelic days (that’s a joke, by the way.)
He also captured some truly beautiful moments, particularly poignant since we met in the shipping industry:
And I also found this good shot of last night’s Staircase to the Moon, on his camera:
If you would like to know a little more of Broome before it became a tourist destination, you might be interested to watch this 1962 ABC Four Corners report. Billed as “4 Corners reporter, Michael Charlton, came to Broome in 1962 to capture the town at a time of transition from one chapter in history to another” it runs for around 20 minutes in black and white. I offer it with a few warnings (a) on my computer, the sound and video are slightly out of sync (b) it reflects views which would be considered “non-pc” today, and (c) back in 1962, all Australian reporters working for the national broadcaster were required to learn and present the English accent.
Distance log, excluding Broome touring = 6680 klm (rounded) or 4150 miles.
For Reference: We booked our tour through the Australian Holiday Centre.