Let’s start today’s lesson with a brief but tumultuous review of Broome’s short history.
The town was originally founded in 1883 as a port for the pearling industry and was named after the then Governor of Western Australia, Sir Frederick Broome. The 1880s saw the commencement of Broome’s pearling industry, which initially involved slavery and indentured labour, pearl diving being an occupation reserved for specific ethnic groups. The Broome community came to “reflect the hierarchy of the pearling industry, which was based on occupation and ethnicity”. White collar occupations and positions of power were exclusively held by Europeans. As a consequence, racial segregation was common in Broome until the 1970s.
The town has a deep history based around the exploits of the men and women who developed the pearling industry, starting with the harvesting of oysters for mother of pearl in the 1880s to the large present-day cultured pearl farming enterprises.
At first, aborigines were enslaved and forced to dive for pearls, especially women and girls. In 2010 the Shire of Broome and Kimberley commissioned a Memorial to the Indigenous Female Pearl Divers. Later Asians and Pacific Islanders were given the job instead, especially Japanese. The riches from the pearl beds did not come cheaply, however, and the town’s Japanese cemetery is the resting place of 919 Japanese divers who lost their lives working in the industry. Each year Broome celebrates the fusion of different cultures brought about by the pearling industry in an annual cultural festival called Shinju Matsuri (Japanese for “festival of the pearl”).
At first, aborigines were blackbirded (enslaved) and forced to dive naked, with little or no equipment. Pregnant girls were preferentially used as they were believed to have a superior lung capacity. After slavery was abolished in the British Empire (in 1883) and diving suits were needed for deeper diving, Asians and islanders were given the dangerous job instead. The Japanese were especially valued for their experience. The Japanese were only one of the major ethnic groups who flocked to Broome to work on the luggers or the shore-based activities supporting the harvesting of oysters from the waters around Broome. They were specialist divers and, despite being considered enemies, became an indispensable part of the industry until World War II. Many lost their lives working in the Broome pearl industry, and the exact number of deaths is unknown.
So off to a pealing farm we did go to see how it is done nowadays. They took us to a place called Willie Creek which we both remember fishing at 34 years ago. Out this way is where the high tides are are very noticeable and as young stupid 20 something year olds, we would race the tides in after crabbing in the mangroves. We would be wearing gumboots that would get sucked into the mangrove mud and our feet would pop out and we thought at the time it was all a lot of fun. It does make you wonder how you ever make it into adulthood sometimes. Oh, by the way, there are salties at Willie Creek!!!
Check this out. The turquoise water is very clear and inviting but many nasties populate it.
At the pearl farm they gave us a much greater understanding of how the pearls are cultured and how to classify them. Fraser was indeed lucky as Di said she already had pearl earrings, necklace and a ring so she was fine. Instead he decided to go all metrosexual.
You can get white, gold and black pearls which we thought was rather interesting. They let us hold some seriously expensive pearls, but as they said there was only one road out of the place and the other way out you had to tackle the salties.
We went out on a boat to some of the very young oysters just in the Willie Creek estuary.
Most of the pearl farm is out along the coast and depends very much on these huge tides which stirs up all the plankton and other nutrients which the pearls thrive on. Off these shores is also where around 30,000 humpback whales migrate to from Antarctica each southern hemisphere winter. This is where they also have their calves.
From the time they put the irritant into the gonad (ouch) of the oyster is takes two years to produce a pearl. They will reseed an oyster four times during its life and each time they reseed it they put in an irritant the size of the pearl they pulled out the previous time. This is how they get the bigger pearls. The rate of return lessens considerably each time you reseed the oyster and by the fourth time it is less than 10%.
It is a very labour intensive industry but results can be enormous. They are up against many environmental issues such as cyclones, yucky looking sea sponges and creepy worms that can burrow through their shells. The divers who harvest the natural oysters also have some huge challenges such as the whales who destroy their oxygen lines when they are diving as well as sharks, crocs, the bends, box jellyfish, stone fish and the list goes on and on. They must get paid big money to do this kind of work!!!
We couldn’t resist this photo – in Canada it would say “Caution, falling ice.”
Had a wander around town for about an hour after the pearl excursion to try to recall lost file space from 34 years ago and the only thing we found was the old Streeters Jetty where the pearl loggers use to tie up to. Obviously they do not tie up there any more as the mangroves have grown right up to the jetty.
They have done a lot of regeneration of the center of town and one of the features they have kept is the style of the building. Everything use to be made of corrugated iron – the walls and roofs. We are told that all new builds must be made of this design. It gives the place its own unique character and underneath the corrugated iron (colourbond they call it now) are steel frames to add extra strength for cyclones. Wood is no longer used as the termites just chomp their way through it. They are also known to have a go at concrete.
Made it back to the hotel for yet another swim in the pool which must be about 26c, so not that refreshing. Our plan was to have a little RnR before heading out to the see the move “Crazy Rich Asian’s” that seems to have had a lot of positive reviews.
Broome’s picture theatre is the worlds oldest outdoor cinema. According to the official history (which glosses over the period it was probably used as a brothel) the building was opened in 1903 and turned into an outdoor cinema in 1916. In that time nothing has changed except the trees around the complex have got a lot better.
We saw lots of people walking out of the previous movie with cushions and after sitting in these deck chairs for ten minutes we understood why but the ambience of the place got us through it.
Everything about the place was original (except the chairs) and there was a good little museum of some of the projection gear they had used since it’s opening.
As to the movie, hmmmm – predictable and sloppy mush.