The small town of Broome, on the northwest coast of Western Australia, facing the Indian Ocean, has one of those magical names that conjure up visions of a romantic past. Located on the traditional lands of the Yawuru people, it was established in 1883 as a port, named after Sir Frederick Broome, the Governor of Western Australia and was the site where an undersea telegraph cable was laid from Broome to Singapore, and on to England from there, in 1889.
Broome's past is firmly rooted in the pearling trade; the first pearling camps were established on Roebuck Bay in the 1860s and Broome soon became a rugged, mosquito-ridden boomtown, in the middle of nowhere. By 1900 more than 400 "luggers", pearling boats, worked the pearl beds off Broome. Mother-of-pearl was the mainstay although, of course, finding real pearls was a bonus. By the 1920s, the Japanese controlled the diving here; it was dangerous work, with risks from sharks, malaria, lung infections and the bends. Around this time too, the pearl beds were almost depleted and collecting pearl shell to make buttons became the main activity. Pearling came to a halt when World War II broke out and the Japanese divers were interned. Broome was bombed and all but abandoned. With the advent of plastics demand for mother-of-pearl declined for buttons, but a few boats were still working in the fifties with some Japanese divers returning. In 1956 a cultured pearl in
Nowadays, however, tourism has become the mainstay of Broome's economy; there are beautiful beaches, like Cable Beach, the site where the telegraph cable left Australia's shores for Singapore in 1889. It has a wonderful tropical climate and reminders of its colourful history are everywhere; Chinatown with its multilingual street signs, the Japanese cemetery and pearling luggers at the wharf. The town's population of around 15,000 trebles during the tourist season.