Hello from Broome!
It's great to be back again in this delightfully warm place and miles away from wintery Melbourne. I just love that moment the plane flies over Cable Beach and you see the beautiful contrast of the blue sea and the white sand dotted with little specks of humans. The airport is tiny, the sun is shining and it's a beautiful balmy winter's day - a delicious 28 degrees.
There's something different about this remote town on the west coast of Australia, something that has really captured my imagination and bestows me with a sense of freedom I rarely experience. It's unlike any other place in Australia I've been to - in fact, it doesn't even feel like Australia to me, and perhaps that's what I love about it so much.
Broome feels like an island. It's somehow cosy in its warmth, mostly sunny, super relaxed and one of the least pretentious places you can imagine. It's so easy to get around too, and you'll see many locals or working foreigners commuting on bicycles or scooters. It's also a town overrun by 4X4 vehicles, and rightly so. This is a remote part of Australia with many dirt roads and a wet season - which is not a great time to visit by the way. It's synonymous with extreme humidity, frogs everywhere, even in toilets, mosquitoes and pythons, and the locals go 'tropo,' it's a term used to describe heat and humidity related depression and lethargy. And sometimes there are devastating cyclones too; and floods, as well as impressive storms. So in Broome 4x4's aren't just for show like in Melbourne, they are a necessity.
The town is flat and there isn't a single high rise in sight - which I love - but rather a quaint mix of new-builds and older timber-framed buildings, in what's been described as an oriental style; there are historic captain's cottages with pressed metal, many of which have been relocated or restored and are now art galleries, cafes and even a brewery. Remnants of rustic old corrugated iron pearling sheds can be spotted as well, and then there’s the charming Anglican church with it’s unique ‘island look,' it's just gorgeous! I adore the corrugated iron exterior covered in the famous red pindan soil. It also has a simple timber porch and pretty stained-glass windows.
Palm trees and boabs line the main street that’s dotted with shops and cafes and a really cool Chinese general store, plus clothing boutiques and pearl shops galore where you could spend an exorbitant amount on pearl jewelry. And then there's the Sun Pictures - the world's oldest and coolest open-air cinema.
It's got to be one of a few places in the world whose airport is just a few minutes from the town centre. In fact, one of the unique things about Broome is that you could be sitting at the Dragonfly Cafe drinking a coffee or one of their extremely popular mango smoothies and suddenly an incoming plane virtually skims the top of the palm trees in the main street and flies right over the cafe as it comes in to land - it's an oddly thrilling experience!
Broome is famous for its sunsets, wide open spaces, intense red-orange soil and of course its cultured pearl industry. But interestingly, this town wasn’t actually founded on pearls, but rather on the pearl shell, all the way back in the 1870's - pearl shells were used to make items like mother of pearl buttons and cutlery handles. And it wasn't until the 1950's when plastic buttons were invented that the pearl shell industry came to an end.
Broome's multicultural past is still very much evident in its multicultural present. And I believe it's the rich history and diversity of cultures that have shaped and injected Broome with its unique and very special personality that we all get to immerse ourselves into today. At the time of European discovery the local aboriginal people, the Yawuru peoples, were swiftly pushed off to the fringes of their land while new social and cultural tiers were formed. These were made up of the Chinese, Japanese, Malays, Javanese and of course Europeans, who sat at the peak of the hierarchy.
In typical colonial fashion; exploitation, extreme brutality and slave labour was rife during Broome's settlement years as were countless deaths, many of which were the result of diving for pearl shells. There is a separate Chinese and Japanese cemetery in town that is a testament to this. Initially, it was mostly the aboriginal people who were forced to dive for the shells, shockingly, many of them were women and girls, they were known as skin divers. Later it was the Japanese who were made to dive because they were thought to be more experienced.
Broome was also a very lively and colourful place with opium dens, brothels and gambling houses used as entertainment venues. And although these establishments are no longer around, there is still ample opportunity to party but not in a club-pumping and people-queueing kind of way, it's much more laid back and subtle than that, even discreet.
There are a few pubs and bars around, some fantastic restaurants and excellent fish&chips; the night and day markets are vibrant and delicious and of course, there's the beach which is usually the main attraction; it's totally flat and 22.5 km long. It really attracts all sorts and is a brilliant spot for people watching! Tanned young men in tight short shorts with slicked back hair throwing the frisbee and shouting out in Spanish. Then there’s the German, Italian and French backpackers completing their working visas. Retired couples holding hands and walking along the beach and children spending hours on end playing in the shallows, plus Melburnians, desperate for a bit of warmth. And as for the vibe, well, it’s uniquely Broome.
Broome is also a mecca for bird lovers, bat lovers, camel lovers, history lovers and fishermen, and women, and even dinosaur lovers - thanks to the 130 million-year-old dinosaur footprints that were discovered at Gantheaume Point that can only be seen at low tide. It's also a great destination for photographers, this is where Mr Fritz took several of his awesome shots of mangroves, sunsets and of course the sea. And this is where I slow down, zoom in and take shots of beautiful details and fleeting moments.
But it's time for me to sign off now as I continue to bask in my Broome memories and dream of a return trip.