Since it was founded, Broome has been synonymous with pearling. Fortunes were made and lost in the oyster shell trade and, at one point, the remote WA port provided 80 per cent of the world’s pearls. Today, many of the town’s residents are descended from workers who came from Japan, Malaysia and the Philippines to service the industry.
Nowadays, Broome is a surprisingly cosmopolitan place that still retains its small-town charm. Vacant blocks of land in the middle of town preserve shell middens created over thousands of years by the traditional Yawuru owners, and there’s not an apartment block in sight – in fact, there’s no structure taller than two stories.[related_articles]49992[/related_articles]
Squat boab trees line the roads and the red dust of the outback meets the Indian Ocean at one of the most-photographed beaches in Australia and, if you linger in Broome for a few days, you’ll discover a whole lot more.
Something old, something new
A Yawuru man with Filipino and European heritage, Bart Pigram embodies Broome’s multicultural nature. He’s passionate about the town’s history from the prehistoric to the present, and his tours are one of the best ways to get a feel for the town.
One tour takes visitors out to Ridell Bay, where the rocks behind the sand glow red as the suns sets over the ocean. Walking along the shoreline, he points out dinosaur footprints embedded in the 130-million-year-old rock and explains how the bipedal three-toed tracks are connected to Dreaming stories of a giant emu man who travelled through this region.
If you’re lucky, he might bust out the guitar and show you his musical heritage as well – his father and uncles are The Pigram Brothers, Broome’s most famous musical export.
A taste of the outback
While many of the main streets in Broome are named for prominent local characters, Gubinge Road recognises the local name for the Kakadu plum that grows everywhere in the region. It’s one of the richest sources of vitamin C in the world, and several enterprises around town are farming and foraging the native superfood.[related_articles]63822,63184[/related_articles]
The best way to try it is at one of the juice bars around town that add the powder to their juices.
For something a little stronger, visit Matso’s. Most famous for it’s mango beer, which is now available across the country, this microbrewery produces a range of interesting brews. Lychee, ginger and chilli beers are all regularly available – the last one packs a serious punch – while there are always a few more conventional drops available on tap.
The brewery is housed in a former bank and general store that’s been relocated several times, but don’t expect it to move again any time soon. Nowadays, the verandah overlooks Roebuck Bay and is the perfect spot to escape the midday sun with a cold beverage.
Built on buttons
While Broome today is famous for cultivated pearls, it was originally the shells that were harvested — natural pearls occur only once in every 20,000 oysters, so they were kind of an added bonus. Among other things, mother-of-pearl was used for millions of buttons before the invention of plastics sent the industry into steep decline.[related_articles]45882,63779[/related_articles]
Today, showrooms around Broome display beautiful jewellery and some extraordinarily large pearls, but for something a little easier on the wallet, head out on a pearl farm tour at Willie Creek.
Spectacularly situated by the turquoise water of a mangrove-lined estuary, their tour provides some insights into the techniques used and history of the industry, as well as a chance to go on the water and see a pearl extracted.
The Instagram moment
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With endless skies streaked by clouds that turn gold and pink as if on cue, Broome doesn’t seem capable of producing a bad sunset, and there’s no better spot to witness it than Cable Beach. Reflected on the wet sand and coupled with the camel trains that ply the beach every evening, the result is one of Australia’s most iconic images.
Get out of town
As the gateway to the Kimberley, one of the best things to do when visiting Broome is to leave town. Exploring this vast region takes time, but if you’ve only got one day, fly to the horizontal waterfalls.
This incredible spectacle is the result of the region’s enormous tides, which rush through two small gaps at the entrance to Talbot Bay with incredible force.
The fast-moving rapids reverse direction twice a day, and there’s no other place in the world where you can see anything like it; David Attenborough even called them “one of the greatest natural wonders of the world”.[qantas_widget code=BME]Check out Qantas flights to Broome.[/qantas_widget]
(Lead image: Tourism Western Australia)
After spending years as a music journalist and beer-taster, Alexis Buxton-Collins now travels the world searching for new adventures to write about, from navigating the Alps with Austria's last nomadic shepherd to hiking through the Central American rainforest in search of ancient Mayan pyramids.