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20

| BNE July/August 2016

ESCAPE

T

o me, Broome means music. The pearling town is

steeped in a wide variety of sounds from reggae to

calypso to good, ol’ country music. Much of this is to

do with its colourful history. While local Aboriginal men and women

were first used to dive the nearby depths for pinctada maxima oysters,

which produce the famous South Sea Pearl, the pearling masters later

went further afield to recruit divers.

Many of the townspeople today are descendants of those who came

from Malaysia, China, Japan, the Philippines and Indonesia and the

traditional owners. With this mix comes a melting pot of cultures,

food, music and comedy, with its most well-known exponents Stephen

Pigram, Jimmy Chi (of

Bran Nue Dae

fame) and Mary G (the Black

Queen of the Kimberley). However, until recently, tours of probably

the most historically multicultural town in Australia largely overlooked

this fascinating – and often brutal – history.

Bart Pigram is a descendant of the Yawuru people and part of the

large Pigram-Puertollano family, traditionally pearling workers and

musicians. With a passion for telling the complete story of life in

Broome, he started Narlijia Tours (meaning “true for you”) in 2015.

We are at Streeter’s Jetty, overlooking the mangrove forests and

jabalbal (mudflats) of Dampier Creek where, in the distance, several

pearling luggers are bobbing on turquoise water.

This coastline is known for its huge tides and Pigram explains the

mangroves are teeming with life, both feeding grounds and nurseries

for fish, reptiles, frogs, molluscs, burrowing mud worms, various

crustaceans, dugong and the occasional saltwater crocodile – and,

of course, mud crabs. The Yawuru – saltwater people – knew the

seasons, land, plants and food intimately.

It all changed when the whites arrived and by the late 19th

century, chaotic, crazy Broome supplied 80 per cent of the world’s

mother of pearl, until the market was finally undone by the

introduction of plastic buttons.

The sounds, as well as the sights, say a lot about

Broome’s colourful past, as

Diana Plater

discovers

BEST OF

BROOME

The writer was a guest of Tourism Western Australia