| BNE July/August 2016
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
The writer was a guest of Tourism Western Australia