More than just a town nestled on the coast of Western Australia with warm turquoise waters, Broome has many layers and as Michael Osborne discovered, it’s the history which is most interesting.
Broome is one of those destinations that is more a state of mind than a glittering tourist trap.
If you go there at the speed of city life, you will be disappointed: you will never find its hidden treasures. If you relax and let it in, you will be rewarded with an experience that transcends the modern world with all its stresses and strife.
The working pearl luggers have disappeared from Broome, but you can still find two that have survived and been beautifully restored at the Pearl Luggers Museum in the heart of Chinatown
You see, Broome is really a relaxed outback Australian town that happens to find itself set beside a warm turquoise sea.
We stepped out into a world where the first thing that strikes you is the heat. This is the kingdom of the sun. It rules everything. The locals welcome its coming every morning and revel in its majesty all day. In the evening they bid it “goodnight “ while watching it disappear in an amazing display over that very same still sea.
Now, we have all read about or seen the stunning images of Cable Beach but when you first gaze over it and even after I had been here several times before, you are entranced. The combination of red sand and blue water is a photographer’s dream. If you know where to look on the rocks at the end of the beach, you realise just how old this place is. Here you will find dinosaur tracks embedded in the rock of Gantheaume Point. The tracks are 130 million years old.
Such history abounds in Broome. It first came to prominence in 1889 when the cable from Java finally came ashore on that very beach, connecting northwest Australia with the world. The old cable house still sits in a shady setting in town.
Pearls then drew thousands of people from all over the globe to the burgeoning port town. Amongst them were many Japanese who were experts at extracting the alluring, translucent orbs from the clutches of the seabed. Driving out to the surprising local cemetery I came to realise the price they paid.
The cemetery is a tourist attraction because of its mass of Japanese shrines, commemorating the lives of those who died in search of nature’s living treasure.
The working pearl luggers have disappeared from Broome, but you can still find two that have survived and been beautifully restored at the Pearl Luggers Museum in the heart of Chinatown.
More recently, Broome had its brush with infamy when it was bombed by the Japanese in World War Two and many innocent women and children died while sitting offshore in flying boats in Roebuck Bay.
Those dark days of WWII had their brighter side. Bored America servicemen based in the town came across the abandoned Sun Picture Gardens, a relic of the early days of outdoor theatres where you watched the silent ‘stars’ under the stars. The servicemen fixed the vandalised projector and started showing films to their fellow soldiers and local civilians. The only problem they faced was the tide which occasionally rushed into the grounds, forcing patrons to lift their feet to keep dry.
Today the Sun Picture Gardens is still going strong and is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s oldest surviving outdoor cinema.
Just 15 minutes out of town is the modern version of the late Malcolm Douglas’s crocodile zoo which once was the prize attraction at Cable Beach.
The Wilderness Wildlife Park is a fitting tribute to one outback man’s amazing life. You see, I knew Malcolm Douglas as a friend. He was very kind to us when we were filming a travel show with my travel writing mate Dallas Sherringham some years ago.
His death in 2010 shocked Broome and it seemed his dream of the wildlife park would die with him. But, in the true outback spirit, his family and friends took on the challenge to complete and triumphantly open the park.
However Broome’s greatest attraction awaits you at the going down of the sun. Out to sea, cruise boats and an old lugger lazily drifted across the horizon, adding a third dimension to an already stunning scene.
Broome offers a wide range of accommodation and tours. For more complete information please go to: visitbroome.com.au/