I first visited Broome in 1996. I played a small part in an Australian Wader Studies Group expedition that caught and banded birds like these …
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It’s a place that has a great magnetic pull. A couple of the guys on the expedition stayed on and made it their home. I have been back many times and usually stay with one of them.
Most of the waders nest in Siberia and come to Oz to escape the winter snow of their breeding grounds. Roebuck Bay is a key resource for enormous numbers of them. It is the premier site for shore birds in Australia.
William Dampier explored the northern coasts of Western Australia back in the 17th century. The bay is named for his ship. By the 1880’s the surrounding waters were being exploited for pearl shell. In 1883 John Forrest chose the site for a port town that would serve the pearlers as a base. He named the place after Sir Frederick Broome who was the Governor of WA at the time. Sir Fred was not much impressed to have his name associated with such a humble outpost.
Quite an assortment of humanity worked in the pearling industry. The Japanese were especially prominent and there is a cemetery that provides a last resting place for many of their dead.
They also exerted their influence in the Second World War when they bombed the place four times killing 88 on one occasion.
The pearl industry is still important but has changed considerably. In past times it was all about pearl shell which was used extensively for buttons. Nowadays buttons are made of plastic and the industry makes its money out of pearls, mainly cultured.
Broome is the administrative centre for the Kimberley and is a base for the mining and gas extraction industries.
Above all, though, it’s a tourist destination. It boasts an international airport, an open air cinema, dinosaur footprints, camel rides, spectacular sunsets and a nude beach that extends some 17km from Cable Beach to, believe it or not, the mouth of Willie Creek.
This visit was part of a package with Zegrahm Expeditions so I got to stay at the Cable Beach Resort, such luxury. Nonetheless I played hookey the first day and went birding with my good friend Chris Hassell who is a professional ornithologist with Birdlife International and the Global Flyway Network.
A splendid day was had and at the end of it I was deposited at the port and embarked on the Oceanic Discoverer for a voyage to Darwin via the Kimberley coast.
And a splendid vessel she is.
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