March 23, 2017 – Broome, Western Australia, Australia
Broome is a coastal, pearling and tourist town in the Kimberley region of Western Australia which is 1,390 miles north of Perth. It has a resident population of 14, 776 which swells to over 45,000 during the tourist season. Often people mistakenly think that the 1st European to visit Broome was William Dampier in 1688, but he only visited the north of what was later named the Dampier Peninsula. In 1699, he explored the coast from Shark Bay to La Grange Bay. From there he headed north leaving the Australian coast. Many of the coastal features of the area were later named for him. In 1879, Charles Harper suggested that the pearling industry could be served by a port closer to the pearling grounds and that Roebuck Bay upon which Broome now sits would be suitable. In 1883, John Forrest chose the site for the town, and it was named for Sir Frederick Broome, the Governor of Western Australia from 1883-1889. In 1889, a telegraph undersea cable was laid from Broome to Singapore which then connected to England. Hence the name of Cable Beach given to the landfall site. Today the northern end of it is home to one of Australia’s most popular nudist beaches. Swimming, either in the buff or clothed, is not recommended from November to April as the highly poisonous box jelly fish inhabits the waters surrounding the beach. Sea crocodiles are rarely spotted off-shore and measures are taken to keep them away from the beach.
The town has a rich history based upon the exploits of the men and women who developed the pearling industry which started with the harvesting of oysters for mother of pearl in the 1880s to the current major cultured pearl farming enterprises. At the turn of the 20th Century, Broome was as well-known on the streets of London as any Australian city. Ships from all over the world called at this tropical port to take on cargos of pearl shell. The streets of Chinatown were alive with a cosmopolitan population that lived crowded along the shore.
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. In 2010 the Shire of Broome and Kimberley commissioned a Memorial to the Indigenous Female Pearl Divers.
When slavery was abolished and diving suits were needed for deeper diving, Asians and islanders were given the dangerous job instead. They were specialist divers and, despite being considered enemies, became an indispensable part of the industry until WWII.
The Japanese were especially valued for their experience. The riches from the pearl beds did not come cheaply, however. The town’s Japanese cemetery is the resting place of 919 Japanese divers who lost their lives working in the industry. Many more were lost at sea so that the exact number of deaths is unknown. 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 harvest of oysters from the waters around Broome.
During very low tide at Gantheaume Point, you can see dinosaur footprints left behind 120 million years ago. They are located 98’ out to sea and are dated as Early Cretaceous in age (approximately 130 million years ago). They are possibly the largest known dinosaur footprints, sauropod tracks upwards of 1.7 m (5.5’) long. It is suspected that the sauropod that made these tracks might have been 7–8 m (23’-26’) tall at the hip. In 1996 some of the prints were cut from the ground and stolen, but have since been recovered. Plant fossils are also preserved extensively in the Broome Sandstone at Gantheaume Point and in coastal exposures further north.
Being situated on a north/south peninsula, Broome has water on both sides of the town. On the eastern shore are the waters of Roebuck Bay extending from the main jetty at Port Drive to Sandy Point, west of Thangoo station. Town Beach is part of the shoreline and is popular with visitors on the eastern end of the town. It is also the site of the famous 'Staircase to the Moon', where a receding tide and a rising moon combine to create a stunning natural phenomenon. On 'Staircase to the Moon' nights, a food and craft market is operated on Town Beach.
Roebuck Bay is of international importance for the millions of migrating waders or shorebirds that use it seasonally on migration through the East Asian-Australian Flyway from their breeding grounds in northern Asia. They feed on the extensive intertidal mudflats and roost at high tide on the red sand beaches of the bay. They can be seen in the largest numbers in summer, but many of the younger birds remain throughout the first and second years of their lives. A mixed black flying fox and little red flying fox colony of around 50,000 megabats lives all year in mangroves next to Broome township's small Streeter's Jetty. They chatter and socialize loudly before flying out at dusk each evening. The bats are key pollinators and seed dispersers for native trees and plants
Broome has a semi-arid climate like most parts of the Australian tropics. It has 2 seasons – dry and wet. Dry season is from April to November with nearly every day clear and maximum temperatures around 86 degrees. Wet Season extends from December to March with maximum temperatures of around 95 degrees, and there are erratic tropical downpours with high humidity. The annual rainfall is 24.22” of which 75% falls from January to March.
We know about the erratic rain as we almost got caught in it. We took the shuttle bus into town since our tour was cancelled because of a threatening tropical storm moving into the Broome area. We had walked out on Streeter Jetty and saw some red crabs going about their business on the mud flats beneath the jetty. We also saw what looked like a little minnow which was scooting around on 2 feet between puddles of water. There were so tiny and almost the same color as the sand so we didn’t get a picture of them. We left there and wandered up the street looking in store windows. We went into one shop where the store owner said not to worry that it wasn’t going to rain. We walked on up the street maybe a couple of hundred yards when it began to sprinkle. By the time, we got under the tin roof covering the walk, it began to rain hard. We took refuge in the courtyard of the hotel while the deluge came down. We sat there about 10 minutes when it stopped raining. We ventured out to walk down another street and had just gotten back to the hotel where the shuttle bus stopped when it poured rain again. We caught the next shuttle back to the ship. After a nap, we had lunch on the ship. By the time we finished, it looked like it might rain again.
There wasn’t much in the town except pearl shops. If you were interested in pearls, there were many places where you could spend your money. Both Patsy and I have pearls so there wasn’t much temptation for us. I guess we could have signed up for a camel ride on the beach, but I think they were canceling those tours as well because of the weather. Also, neither of us has much desire to ride a camel.
Trivia Report: 2nd (Do you know the regulation diameter for a golf cup /hole?)