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About Broome - Accommodation - Tours and what to do - Transport and car hire - Photos - Map

Broomecable beach at broome

Famous Cable Beach stretching for miles around Broome
Photo by Katrin Holmsten

Broome has transformed from a small isolated outback frontier town to a more modern resort town and holiday playground. Its location is quite remote, about 2200 km. from Perth and about 1500 km. from Darwin. Main attractions are Cable Beach, the town's colorful history, and nearby attractions like Windjana Gorge and other wilderness areas accessible by four wheel drive.

One of the first Europeans to visit the area was William Dampier in September 1700. He sailed around the WA coast in his ship the Roebuck and came ashore somewhere in the Broome area to look for fresh water, he did not find anything and killed an Aborigine at the same time, a pretty unsuccesful landing alltogether.
The first attempt to settle the Broome area was a sheep grazing venture in the 1860s, followed by the establishment of some temporary pearling facilities in Roebuck Bay in the 1870s and the town later kicked off as a base for the pearl divers. In 1883 the W.A. Surveyor­General named it after Sir Frederick Broome, the Governor of W.A. at the time, but the Governor was not at all amused with the shanty town with a few tents and itinerants bearing his name.
In 1890 the settlement got a boost when the submarine telegraph cable was routed through Broome and the Cable House, which is now the Courthouse, was built for the telegraphists.
The entire building was shipped in from overseas and had to be carted a long way over the mudflats because the town did not yet have a wharf.
A few years later, thanks to the growing pearl industry and the new port facilities utilized by cattle stations further inland, the town now started happening and shops opened and the Roebuck Bay Hotel was built. The population of the town was a wild combination of Europeans, Filipinos, Malaysians, Chinese, Japanese and Aborigines. Over the years they have mixed further and now the local population is an interesting blend and you can see some very interesting looking people here.

Photo by Katrin Holmsten

In the early days of the pearling industry it was a very tough business. Before diving equipment became available in 1887 people had to dive and collect pearls until they ran out of breath and had to resurface. Local Aborigines were kidnapped and forced to work as divers. Japanese divers became the main workforce because of their amazing ability to dive deeper and longer than others.
Many hundreds of young Japanese divers died in the process, either from the bends, from drowning, or from sharks that were common in the area at the time. In the early 1900s the industry was at its peak when at least 400 pearling luggers worked out of Broome.
Thousands of Asian divers lived in the town and a lively booming Chinatown catered for them with bars, restaurants, gambling dens and brothels. This booming industry crashed in 1914 when World War 1 broke out and overseas clients were no longer buying pearls. It took the industry a very long time to recover after the war, and it was mainly the Japanese that now ran the business, but when the pearling had finally recovered to 50 pearl luggers in 1939 yet another war broke out.
This time the war was with Japan and so all of the Japanese population of Broome was locked up in camps, which once again wiped out the pearl industry. Most of Broome was evacuated in 1942 when it was feared the Japanese army might invade the coast.
Broome is one of the very few places in Australia to have been under attack by a foreign force, in March 1942 nine Japanese Zero fighters bombed and destroyed 16 flying boats and 7 aircraft on Broome airstrip, an estimated 70 people were killed in this first raid. A second one happened later that same month, with less damage. The wrecks of some of the flying boats can still be spotted during very low tide in Roebuck Bay.
The pearling industry was revived again after World War 2 but this time a bit more high tech with cultured pearls. Mid 1950s a cultured pearl consortium became established and by the 1980s it was earning Broome over $50 million annually.

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