Broome

Broome is an isolated old pearling town that in recent years has blossomed as a must-visit destination, not only because it is the gateway to the Kimberley region in the far north of Western Australia, but also because of its many unique features.

Modern Broome is a strange, isolated township which has lost a lot of its frontier charm when it was an isolated pealing centre. The new Broome, located on Roebuck Bay 2200 km north of Perth, is a kind of larger, more prosperous, and more complex, version of Port Douglas. Fortunately it has not been as commercialised as its Queensland equivalent.

Broome is situated at the southern end of the Kimberley Region of Western Australia, one of the world's true last frontiers. From a dramatic coastline of islands, cliffs and sandy beaches facing the Indian Ocean on which Broome is situated, this vast region stretches to north to the Timor Sea and west to the Australian outback, across gorges, escarpments, vast open plains, river valleys and cave systems to the arid Great Sandy Desert in the south and the Northern Territory in the east.


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Where Is It?

Kimberley. Broome is situated 2,100 km north of Perth via Great Northern Highway

Climate

Being in the tropics, Broome has two seasons. The dry season is from May to November with nearly every day clear; wind and humidity increase in October and November. The wet season extends from December to March and has hot and humid weather with tropical downpours. The early pearl masters used to send their families to Perth to escape the wet season and beached their luggers to avoid the tropical cyclones that occasionally visit during the wet.

Things To See And Do

Gantheaume Point

At Gantheaume Point and 30 metres out to sea are dinosaur footprints believed to be from the Cretaceous Age approximately 130 million years ago. The tracks can be seen during very low tide. Gantheaume Point was named by the French explorer Nicolas Baudin who passed the area in 1801. His investigation of the area was so cursory that he saw the pindan through his telescope, thought it was separated from the mainland, and named it Gantheaume Island. It wasn't until Phillip Parker King passed along the coastline in August 1821 that Baudin's error was corrected. It was King who named the bay Roebuck after Dampier's ship.


Japanese Cemetery

The Japanese Cemetery at Broome (which is the largest Japanese cemetery in Australia) dates back to the very early pearling days and bears witness to the close ties Japan established with Broome in the early twentieth century. The first recorded interment in this cemetery is 1896. Literally hundreds of young Japanese divers died either from the bends (divers paralysis) or from drowning. A large stone obelisk in the cemetery recalls those who were drowned at sea in the 1908 cyclone. The cyclones of 1887 and 1935 each caused the deaths of at least 140 men.

To give some idea of the scale of deaths resulting from the bends it is worth noting that the cemetery has the graves of 33 men who died of divers paralysis in 1914. There are 707 graves (919 people) with most of them having unusual headstones of coloured beach rocks. The cemetery which has been immaculately restored is on Port Drive on the way out to Cable Beach.


Broome Crocodile Park and Pearl Coast Zoo

There are a number of sites of particular interest to the visitor to Broome. Among the more significant are the Broome Crocodile Park on Cable Beach Road near the Cable Beach Resort. The brainchild of well known adventurer and wildlife documentary maker, Malcolm Douglas, it has been established as a research station as well as a place where the public can be educated about the dangers of crocodiles. The crocodiles in the park are predominantly 'problem' animals which have been transported from all over northern Western Australia.

It is located just around the corner from the Pearl Coast Zoo (a private zoo owned by Lord McAlpine) which, like all good modern zoos, is an environment where the human visitor doesn't feel as though they are gawping at animals behind steel bars or penned into tiny cages. The zoo's emphasis is on animals of the Kimberley area.


Roebuck Bay

Roebuck Bay, adjacent to Broome, is of international importance for the millions of migratory waders or shorebirds that use it seasonally on migration through the East Asian - Australasian 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.

On 3 March 1942 Broome was attacked by nine Japanese Zero fighters which destroyed 16 flying boats (which had brought Dutch refugees from Timor and Java) and 7 aircraft on Broome airstrip. It has been estimated that 70 people were killed in the raid. Three of the flying boats can still be seen in Roebuck Bay at very low tide. A further raid occurred on 20 March 1942.


Cable Beach

Cable Beach (7¬İkm): its name recalls the Java-to-Australia undersea telegraph cable which reaches shore here. The water is crystal clear turquoise, and the gentle swells hardly manage to topple over as they roll up onto the almost perfectly flat beach. Daily sunset camel rides along the beach are a popular attraction.


Broome Bird Observatory

Sited in pindan woodland close to the northern shore of Roebuck Bay, it was established by Birds Australia in 1988, and formally opened in 1990. The purpose of the observatory is to study the birds, learn how to protect them, and educate the public about them.


Broome Historical Museum

Visitors interested in exploring the remnants of the history of the town should start and the Broome Historical Museum in Saville Street at the southern end of Dampier Terrace which has an excellent range of memorabilia relating the town's pearling past. The Broome Heritage Trail brochure is an excellent guide to some of the town's more unusual historical attractions.


Sun Pictures

One of the most interesting is the Sun Pictures building in Carnarvon Street which was built in 1916. Thought to be the oldest open air cinema in the world it is now owned by Lord McAlpine. It showed silent movies until 1933. It still operates and is a pleasant and unusual way to spend an evening in Broome.


Streeter Jetty

The jetty was named after Edwin William Streeter, the owner of the adjacent land and operator of the business that used the jetty. It was built in the late 1890s and was used to moor pearling luggers. The jetty was thought to have been rebuilt in 1946 and reconstructed in 1966, but deteriorated due to lack of maintenance. Following extensive lobbying in 1998 from the community and vested interest groups, the Shire of Broome convinced Paspaley Pearls Pty Ltd to relinquish ownership and allow control of the jetty to pass to the shire.


Events

Broome Courthouse Markets, every Sunday April to October

Staircase of the Moon viewing (see calendar)

August: Broome Cup

August: Opera Under The Stars

September: Shinju Matsuri Festival

November: Mango Festival

Surrounding Area


For anyone planning to explore the Kimberley region, Broome is the obvious starting point. For those will less time or money who would still like a taste of what The Kimberley has to offer, Broome is also the place to go. The natural features found around Broome are nothing short of spectacular.

Beyond Broome, to the north, is Dampier Archipelago and Cape Leveque. The unique unspoilt coastline is painted in colours so stark and vivid, one could be excused for believing that photo taken here have been touched up.


The ancient Kimberley landscape is punctuated with astonishing gorges and waterfalls, spectacular cave systems, lush rainforest patches and abundant wildlife. It is like nowhere else on Earth.


Cape Leveque

A beautiful hidden pocket of the Kimberley, Cape Leveque is quite unlike anything see elsewhere in Australia, bordering on desolate yet with an undeniable rugged charm. It is one of the only places in Australia where the desert meets the sea. You have to endure the 200 odd kilometres along an unsealed, corrugated, bumpy old track to get there, but it is worth every bump and jolt. Red-brick coloured, jagged rock formations dot the coastline, orange sand dunes, pure white beaches and more shades of blue water than you ever imagined possible. Cape Leveque is a true visual feast.


Derby

To the east of Broome is the town of Derby, and inland, such well known natural features as Tunnel Creek, Geike Gorge and Windjana Gorge.


Eighty Mile Beach

Eighty Mile Beach, the site of the 1887 cyclone, one of the most famous disasters to the Broome pearling fleet, lies some 50 km south of the Sandfire Roadhouse. In 1887 the length of the beach was littered with bodies (140 men were killed by the cyclone) and debris washed up from the battered fleet. Today it is one of the area's tropical delights. Its blindingly white sands and intense blue seas are quite breathtaking. The beach stretches off to the horizon in both directions and there is an excellent caravan park nestled in behind the sand dunes.

History of Broome

The names Roebuck Hotel, Roebuck Bay and Dampier Terrace all honour the fact that the first European to pass through the area was William Dampier who, in September 1700, as master of the Roebuck, landed somewhere in the area to replenish his water supplies and to capture an Aborigine. He found no water and the Aborigine he captured resisted and was shot. It was a singularly unsuccessful landing and one which hardly deserves to be so fully remembered in the names of places around Broome.

In 1879, Charles Harper suggested that the pearling industry could be served by a port closer to the pearling grounds, and that Roebuck Bay would be suitable. In 1883, John Forrest selected the site for the town, and it was named after the Governor of Western Australia, Sir Frederick Broome. In 1889, a telegraph undersea cable was laid from Broome to Singapore, connecting to England. Hence the name Cable Beach given to the landfall site.

The town has an interesting 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 current major cultured pearl farming enterprises. The riches from the pearl beds did not come cheap, and the town's Japanese cemetery is the resting place of more than 900 Japanese divers who lost their lives working in the industry. Many were lost at sea and 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 harvesting of oysters from the waters around Broome. They were specialist divers and, despite political pressure to expel them in support of the White Australia Policy, became an indispensable part of the industry until World War II. On 3 March 1942 Broome was attacked by nine Japanese Zero fighters which destroyed 16 flying boats (which had brought Dutch refugees from Timor and Java) and 7 aircraft on Broome airstrip. It has been estimated that 70 people were killed in the raid. Three of the flying boats can still be seen in Roebuck Bay at very low tide. A further raid occurred on 20 March 1942.

After the war the pearl industry started up again but this time it was with cultured pearls with the process being learnt from Kokichi Mikimoto. By 1956 a cultured pearl consortium had been established and by the 1980s it was earning over $50 million per annum for Broome. The origins of the cultured pearl industry are celebrated in the unusual 'Sam Male' Memorial on the corner of Napier Terrace and Carnarvon Street. The memorial was erected in 1977 and depicts the three key people involved in the Kuri Bay pearl cultivation project - T Kuribayashi, Keith Dureau and H Iwaki - standing in front of Lugger B4 - the Sam Male named after Arthur Streeter Male a well known Broome pioneer who died in 1976. The company, Broome Pearls, operates just over the road from the Roebuck Hotel.

The West Australian mining boom of the 1960s, as well as the growth of the tourism industry, also helped Broome develop and diversify; Broome is one of the fastest growing parts of Australia.

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