Overcoming tragedy to build diamond empire
Outback woman survives grief to forge new business selling iconic pink diamonds synonymous with remote and rugged Kimberley landscape
THERE is an old saying “pressure creates diamonds”, and it’s a phrase that, quite literally, sums up the tragic and triumphant life of outback woman Frauke Bolten-Boshammer.
Within three years of uprooting her young family in Germany to shift to Kununurra in Western Australia, her husband Friedrich died by suicide.
In strength she drew from her “stubborn German blood”, Frauke stayed on farming in the Kimberley and bravely pursued an entrepreneurial career selling rare pink diamonds.
Her first sale, a necklace, was sold on her back porch. She then secured a display cabinet in a gift shop and later opened her own store.
Today, she runs Kimberley Fine Diamonds from a 400-square-metre shop.
From deep despair, she built herself a diamond empire.
Her goods fetch thousands and have been sold to the likes of actress Nicole Kidman, who browsed in-store during the filming of Australia, and Hugh Jackman.
It’s a tale worthy of a book, and now it is.
Working with writer Sue Smethurst, Frauke put memories in motion and her life story A Diamond in the Dust is now on sale.
This week the Rural Weekly chatted to 71-year-old Frauke, just before her lunch break at the Kununurra business.
She has held on to her German accent and over the phone she had a warmth matched by a strength.
In one breathe she could gush about her celebrity sales, then within an instant be just as quick to mention these stars are tough negotiators and didn’t get any “special treatment” in her shop.
Even now, after the lengthy process of writing her book, the mother-of-five became emotional when speaking about why telling her story was vital.
“I also lost my son (Peter),” she said.
“He died by suicide 15 years after Friedrich.
“The main reason I wanted to get the book out there is because there was a chance I could save one family from going through the pain we had… My son was 20, he was young – hopefully, hopefully people get the message to talk more.”
Frauke moved to Kununurra in 1981 after much persuasion from her husband.
“He was always interested in good land and good farming and he had wanted to do something on his own,” she said.
The family had a harsh start to the Australian agriculture industry.
They bought three farms off the mark and began the hard slog preparing the properties for crops.
“The first year we had to do so much work. The farms hadn’t been in use for a few years after the cotton failed so there was a lot of weeds,” she said.
“The first crop was mungbeans and after that we grew soybeans. We tried some peanuts and then, in the end, before he died, we had melons: watermelons and rockmelons.”
The family moved to Western Australia with their children, Fritz (then aged 11), Margret (then aged 10) and Peter, who was just a baby.
Soon enough their fourth child, Maria, was born. She was just 20 months old when Friedrich died.
Frauke found it hard to put in words how she overcame the tragedy of suicide.
“It was so very difficult,” she said.
“I didn’t know what my future was and money was sparse.
“The grief was there and the shock was there – I didn’t know he would do that, that he had thought about it.
“But I had to get on. I had four kids, they needed to move on in life and I needed to be the strong one.”
Moving home to Germany was an option, but her children were settled and doing well in school.
“They enjoyed it here, and that’s why I didn’t go back,” she said.
In hindsight, she says that was the right decision to make.
In her book she shared family photos, including snaps of her kids catching massive barramundi and posing with caught crocodiles.
Frauke had the idea of selling diamonds many years before she started her business.
When she moved to Kununurra, the Argyle Diamond Mine had not long
❝ I had four kids, they needed to move on in life and I needed to be the strong one. — Frauke Bolten-Boshammer
opened in the Kimberley.
She can remember the buzz the mine caused, as new people moved to town and more houses were built.
She had a friend in Perth who owned a jewellery store and there was a chance to buy into that business, which she did.
After securing a cabinet in the gift shop, her venture was
an “instant hit”.
“Of course there is a risk when you start something,” she said.
“But I told myself if it is not running well I would close.
“I would swallow my pride and find something else.”
A book-keeping course, completed before marriage in Germany, taught Frauke not to “spend more money than you have”.
It’s advice she stuck to. “I learnt that you need to be able to pay the bills before spending more money. It’s hard when you start as you often spend more than you budget for,” she said.
Argyle Diamond Mine was once the biggest in the world and it is Australia’s only diamond mine – at the moment, it’s scheduled to shut in 2020.
Not surprisingly, Frauke didn’t foresee this as being a challenge for her business.
“The (mine’s closure) will have an impact on the pink diamonds.
“That’s why, when I can find good stock, I buy it. So I have stock for a few years.
“But for the whites and champagnes, it will not have much of influence for Australia.”
She joked her biggest hurdle starting out was learning to deal with people.
“Jewellers have their own ego. They are like chefs or hairdressers, you know, they are not always the easiest,” she laughed.
Her sales to Oscar winner Nicole Kidman and much-loved actor Hugh Jackman were a highlight for the town, and shop.
“The first time Nicole came in she was with her bodyguard,” Frauke said.
“She must have felt quite safe in Kununurra after that because she came on her own the next few times.”
The celebrities were good customers, who stood in line when they were waiting for their coffee, she said.
During promotion for the movie Australia, Nicole and Hugh mentioned Kununurra diamonds during an interview with Oprah Winfrey, a move that put the jewels and small town on the map.
“The sales caused a boost, but I can assure you they wanted better prices too. Like a lot of people do, they didn’t pay the price we had on the article.”
Now in her 70s, Frauke gets back to Germany about once a year.
She said the long flight was worth it to catch up with friends and family and enjoy some of the things she had missed out on in living in outback Australia, like going to the opera and visiting art galleries.
However, she still loves business.
“The most rewarding thing is that people still say thank you,” she said.
“They spend thousands of dollars, and that can be a lot of money for some people, and they still say thank you, isn’t that wonderful? That gives me a kick.”
Frauke found love again and remarried in 1986 to Robert Boshammer, a farmer.
When she was 42 they had a child, Katrina, who now lives in Kununurra working as an art teacher.
In her book’s acknowledgement, she said Robert had “weathered every storm with her” and “made her smile when she least expected it”.
The family still have three properties that span over about 2000 hectares in the Ord River Valley.
“Until recently, we grew chia – that’s why people in Australia could get Australian chia, my husband and his two partners started it.
“Now we grow maize, chickpeas, mungbeans and have hay on rotation.”
Frauke recalls her first flight coming in to Kununurra and looking out the plane window thinking “not an intelligent soul could live in that place”.
Clearly, her views have changed.
“There are people from the city that think if you live out here you are dumb, but we are not,” she said.
“I have met so many wonderful and bright people, it’s just unbelievable.
“When we had the funerals for my husband and son, I didn’t have to do anything. The food was donated, everything was donated and done – you wouldn’t find that in the city.”
NEW START: Frauke said it was a culture shock to move to the remote Kimberley region in Western Australia from Germany.
RIGHT: Fishing trip for Peter's 10th birthday.FAR RIGHT: The farm in Kununurra when the family arrived.
ABOVE: Friedrich worked tirelessly ploughing the concrete earth getting it ready to sow.
Kimberley Fine Diamonds owner Frauke Bolten-Boshammer has told her life story in a book.
ABOVE: Friedrich surveying the vast expanse of the Kimberley. RIGHT: Fritz and Peter on the farm, six months before Peter died.