Broome History

The local indigenous people, the Yawuru, have lived in the area for many hundreds (some say thousands) of years. There is also evidence that people sailed all the way from Malaya and Indonesia in search of turtles, dugongand pearls.and pearls.
dugong feeding near Broome
Photo of Dugong feeding near Broome

William Dampier was the first European to visit the Broome area in 1688 and Roebuck Baywas named after his ship the HMS Roebuck. But it wasn't until almost 200 years later that the town was officially recognised and named after the then Governor of the State, Sir Frederick Napier Broome..

It was the discovery of the world's largest pearl oyster (Pinctada maxima - producer of the White South Sea and Golden South Sea Pearls) that saw the beginings of the industry that has, over the years, made Broome famous - pearling!It was the discovery of the world's largest pearl oyster (Pinctada maxima - producer of the White South Sea and Golden South Sea Pearls) that saw the beginings of the industry that has, over the years, made Broome famous - pearling!

In the 1910's Broome producted over 80% of the world's Mother of Pearl shell used in the production of a wide array of decorative items from buttons, furniture and jewellry. It was in 1913 that  the local pearling fleet (examples of which can still be seen in Broome) reached it's peak of over 400 vessels.

Historical photos, pearling luggers, Broome.

The industry was very profitable for the ships Captains but the divers faced real dangers from sharks, sea snakes (the most venemous in the world), cyclones (submerged divers were cut adrift if one appeared over the horizon to allow the vessel to run for safety), drowning when equipment broke or was faulty and the 'bends' (an agonising death).

The invention of the plastic button in the 1950's saw the rapid decline of the Mother of Pearl industry. However, in the late 50's the industry started a recovery as the cultured pearling industry took off. By the 70's Broome could again boast that it was the centre of the world's pearling industry meeting over 70% of the world's demand.

In the 80's another industry started to impact upon Broome and this time it was people - tourists in fact. These days Broome hosts over 100,000 tourists a year and the numbers continue to rise as new resorts are built and older hotels refurbished. The real changes started when the road between Port Hedland and Broome was finally sealed allowing people to drive all the way in relative safety and comfort.

Broome's Cable Beach is one of the most famous beaches in the world and the pindan cliffs (soils this time rather than the vegetation. See above), stark white sands and clear bblue waters of the Indian Ocean are part of this exotic towns appeal. Chinatown boasts an unusual style all of it's own which is a blend of Australian Colonial/Asian developed in the early days of the settlement and still surviving today.

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