OUT­BACK POST BY THE SEA

Broome has come a long way since its days as a pearling town

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - Escape - - DESTINATION WESTERN AUSTRALIA - JANET FIFE-YEOMANS

There is so much more to Broome than its world­fa­mous Ca­ble Beach. You won’t hear any ar­gu­ment that its white sand and turquoise wa­ters are stun­ning but the town it­self is my favourite. It man­ages to re­main ex­otic and shim­mer­ing but as laid-back as an old thong and an Esky at the same time.

It is a tourist mag­net with homely cafes and de­sir­able out­door restau­rants, and a frontier town where lo­cals boast about the num­ber of snakes they have killed and how they turned their old Toy­ota into a camper and do you want a beer while they show you how they did it?

Broome and the sur­round­ing Kim­ber­ley re­gion of Western Aus­tralia are on so many bucket lists, and a visit has never been eas­ier with di­rect flights to Broome from every main­land cap­i­tal city apart from Ade­laide. About 400,000 pas­sen­gers a year fly into Broome In­ter­na­tional Air­port. The ti­tle might sound a tad am­bi­tious but the air­port is lob­by­ing to wel­come di­rect flights from Sin­ga­pore. One third of vis­i­tors are from the eastern states and most of the rest fly in from Dar­win and Perth.

But you wouldn’t fly all that way just to lie on Ca­ble Beach, and any­one who doesn’t stray far from the up­mar­ket re­sorts be­hind the beach will never know what they are miss­ing.

HIS­TORY

To get the most out of Broome you have to ap­pre­ci­ate its his­tory. A must read is John Bai­ley’s The White Divers

of Broome, the amaz­ing tale of the failed and fa­tal ex­per­i­ment over 100 years ago to re­place cheap but su­perb Asian divers on the fleet of pearling lug­gers with white men in cop­per hel­mets and div­ing suits.

It is a win­dow into a time when Broome was, as the au­thor de­scribes it, “an Asian wild west”. Its in­dige­nous his­tory clashed with a place of enor­mous wealth built on the price of mother-of-pearl with the town’s stores sell­ing French cham­pagne and or­anges shipped from Italy.

A must visit is the mu­seum on dusty Robin­son St, op­po­site tapas res­tau­rant, 18 De­grees, where the out­door ta­bles share views of Roe­buck Bay. The mu­seum based in the Old Cus­toms House doesn’t look much from the out­side but inside is a trea­sure trove of div­ing equip­ment, sepia pho­to­graphs, black and white news­reels, pi­o­neer­ing his­tory and relics of World War II when Broome was at­tacked by the Ja­panese.

On Dampier Tce, where a cen­tury ago about 400 pearl lug­gers would come ashore, is the pearling mu­seum along­side two re­stored lug­gers where you can imag­ine the hard­ship of life on board.

Tucked away in Barker St, the Old Con­vent cam­pus tells the story of the nine Sis­ters of St John of God who ar­rived from Ire­land in 1907 to min­is­ter to the Abo­rig­i­nal women and chil­dren. The cam­pus’s ar­chives trace the 110 years of his­tory.

On very low tides you can see the wrecks of the fly­ing boats that were strafed by the Ja­panese in the sec­ond worst air raid in Aus­tralia’s his­tory. Some of the wrecks are vis­i­ble just a 1km walk over the mud flats from Town Beach but re­mem­ber this coast has the big­gest tides in the south­ern hemi­sphere and you don’t want to be caught out. It is eas­ier to book a trip with Broome Hover­craft, which picks you up from your ho­tel.

The Broome Hover­craft also takes vis­i­tors to a time even fur­ther back in the past – to di­nosaur foot­prints left 120 mil­lion years ago, said to be some of the best pre­served in the world.

SHOP­PING

In the cen­tre of town the court­house looks like it comes from another era with its wide ve­ran­das but it is still dis­pens­ing jus­tice to­day af­ter be­ing con­verted from the orig­i­nal ca­ble sta­tion in 1921.

On Saturday and Sun­day morn­ings, you’ll find a busy mar­ket. There are enough stalls with food and de­cent goods to stop the Court­house Mar­kets de­gen­er­at­ing into cheap tourist tat. Night mar­kets are held at Town Beach from June to September.

Chi­na­town is the orig­i­nal shop­ping cen­tre of Broome and along the open air mall called Johnny Chi Lane are sto­ry­boards de­pict­ing what the area used to be like. To­day, it hosts the town’s big­gest sou­venir shop as well as clothes stores and an out­door cafe.

If you are go­ing to buy pearls, Broome is the place to do it. You don’t have to be an ex­pert to get what you want. There is cheaper im­ported pearl jew­ellery but if the price is too good to be true then you know it’s not the real deal. Pearl gi­ants such as Pas­pa­ley, Al­lure, Cygnet Bay and Wil­lie Creek have shops in town.

BEACHES

With a back­drop of red rock that glows in the sun­set and pow­dery sand with clear turquoise wa­ter, the best beaches by far are on Cape Leveque at the re­mote wilder­ness camp owned and run by the in­dige­nous Bardi Jawi com­mu­ni­ties, the Kool­ja­man. Th­ese beaches are crocodile-free but the lo­cals tell you to be crocodile-aware.

Kool­ja­man is said to be one of the re­motest re­sorts in the world and you can camp or glamp it here.

BEST NIGHT OUT

Start with a beer or wine at the Roe­buck Bay Ho­tel, known as the Roey, then pop next door for a movie at Sun Pic­tures, the world’s old­est

THIS IS A FRONTIER TOWN WHERE LO­CALS BOAST ABOUT THE NUM­BER OF SNAKES THEY HAVE KILLED

picture gar­dens still in op­er­a­tion. Then stroll around the cor­ner to The Aarli for Asian-in­spired food.

BEST PLACES TO STAY

This is a tough one be­cause there are places for all prices. The Man­grove Ho­tel is good value and close to the cen­tre of town while the Court­house Bed and Break­fast is a hid­den gem. It looks like an old sea cap­tain’s home but it was pur­pose-built only a few years ago. The rooms are vast and the prop­erty has its own pool, and they’ll even do an air­port pick up.

OUT OF TOWN AD­VEN­TURE

Hav­ing trav­elled this far it would be a crime not to go that bit fur­ther and join a cruise. Kim­ber­ley Quest II is a per­fect size at 18 guests, you can take your own wine and other drinks (which most other boats do not al­low), the food is sen­sa­tional, cab­ins are small but the bathrooms are full size. The crew know the area so well that you meet all kinds of lo­cals like Old Don who lives up the man­grove creeks in a for­mer fish­ing lodge and is the most northerly res­i­dent of WA.

Or you can hitch a lift with the postie to the com­mu­ni­ties up on Cape Leveque. If hir­ing a car and bat­tling the cor­ru­gated red road is not for you, join the mail-run tourist bus which can be a round trip or one way. It will take you to the fa­mous Beagle Bay Church with its pearl-shell in­te­rior, Kool­ja­man, Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm and all the other com­mu­ni­ties along the Dampier Penin­sula.

Most hire car com­pa­nies will let you take their four-wheel drives up those bush roads, but you have to check. Broome Broome car ren­tal is one of the best. Sadly, we wrote off a hired Prado when we hit a wild don­key on the road to Cape Leveque. More than 50 cars stopped to help, the lo­cal am­bu­lance came from Beagle Bay (we weren’t hurt) but, most im­por­tantly, Broome Broome sent a re­place­ment car on the tow truck and took our car back.

Luck­ily, we had paid the ex­tra $50 a day for top insurance cover so it cost us no ex­cess. You would have rocks in your head if you didn’t take out top cover when driv­ing on dirt roads.

GANTHEAUME POINT

BEAGLE BAY CHURCH

BROOME MAR­KETS

PIC­TURES: ISTOCK, TOURISM WA, TOURISM AUS­TRALIA

Gantheaume Point Di­nosaur foot­prints set in con­crete to show you what to look for. A red rock cliff face over­look­ing the turquoise wa­ters of the In­dian Ocean, Near the town of Broome Western Aus­tralia. Picture: iStock

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