ebb and flow


G’day from Broome,

The Japanese pearlers discovered the big pearls here in 1861 and established a town to exploit the resource in the 1880s. Cable Beach (22 kms of pristine sand just a bit further north on the same peninsula) is so-named because the communications cable to Java went into the sea there in 1889.

During the second world war, the Japanese were interned (the blurb in the truck today said ‘interred’) compulsorily after Japan entered the war. That meant the economy of Broome collapsed overnight and the town was also bombed quite a few times  – ironically by the Japanese –  and was rebuilt after the war. Today it is a thriving town of 17 000, a number which at least doubles at this time of the year.

The town has a tropical feel but of course there’s only snatches of jungle as the lack of rain for 6 months renders it impossible to grow naturally ie without irrigation. There are many boab trees planted in avenues (not quite as spectacular as those in Roma, but magnificent in a grotesque way) in the centre of the town. The main commercial centre is known as Chinatown but not for the same reason as it is in, say, Sydney. There are, in fact, very few Chinese restaurants here. The Chinese influence was strong but has waned somewhat in recent years.

The proposed development of a gas plant at James Price Point has fallen through. Woodside decided to withdraw even though they’d already sunk a reputed $30 million into the proposal. The site is not far from Broome and the plant would have affected the town and area quite profoundly. There were strong arguments for and against and after Woodside’s announcement of withdrawal there are some serious undercurrents of discontent amongst the locals but also some very happy opponents. If I get a chance before returning to Sydney, I might be able to quote from a church newsletter about the issue. As you can imagine, the church line was straight down the middle. They would never want to risk upsetting any of their dwindling congregation. 

     The Horizontal Falls are superb. They are inaccessible except by seaplane or boat. And the seaplane trip was worthwhile by itself. The beautiful turquoise water of the bay is a sight all by itself. There are innumerable sharks there so no swimming except in the cage. (I had a dip in the cage whilst the shark feeding was on.)

feeding the sharks
me feeding the sharks

The Horizontal Falls were apparently described by David Attenborough as one of the natural wonders of the world. (He must be considered something of an authority on the subject, I’d say.) They were certainly worth the effort and cost of getting there. It’s a bit hard to explain their action on paper but they are caused by the change of the tides between two large bodies of water. Our speed boat went through in both directions and we were able to see the falls operating at both ebb and flow tides. The tour operator is to be commended on their foresight and the manner in which they’ve taken the risk and run their business.

     Today, we had Barramundi for lunch (part of the tour) at an Aboriginal settlement on Dampier Peninsula (name something like Wooljaman, an alternative to the name Cape Leveque). That was very nice, followed by a short dip in the Indian Ocean which was a perfect temperature. On our way southwards, we stopped into Beagle Bay which is an Aboriginal community with a striking church. There’s a lot to ponder in such a place, built by missionaries (co-incidentally, Germans during World War 1) to convert the heathens amongst the Aborigines. Sadly, there is plenty of evidence that they were successful with many of them. (I used to wonder – at my first teaching appointment in Walgett – how indigenous kids could be Catholic. “How did that happen?” I recall asking incredulously.)

     Guess what’s on at the outdoor cinema here tomorrow evening: “The Great Gatsby”. That should be a pleasant evening (as long as we have some mosquito repellent on). After a very early start today, we are both looking forward to sleeping on the morrow. I think Daniel has already retired (and it’s only 9 pm here). The Beef Vindaloo was excellent (capital ‘V’ for very hot on the waitress’s notepad certainly was noticed by the chefs). An old bloke greeted us when we returned to the hostel with, “This is the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen.” Nobody’s arguing.

Bye from Broome


Other photos from hereabouts

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