Return to Around Australia Trip 2004—Part 1

Around Australia Trip 2004 – Part 5

Broome (7 days)

Previous installment is here.

A map of the trip is here.

These notes were written by Eric and occasionally amended by Jean. Eric took some of the photos and Jean took others. All photos were selected, cropped, and inserted into this file by Jean. Factual information was taken from various sources including tourist brochures; we do not guarantee its accuracy.

Click on a photo to see a full size version. Not recommended for readers on dialup connections — some of these files are between 1 and 2 MB.

A photo album from this part of the trip (more photos than shown on this page) is here: Days 27-33.

Day 27, Broome, Thursday 1 July 2004 (continued)

Broome (latitude 17.58S, longitude 122.14E, map ref. 25) is 2200 kilometres from Perth. It has a population of around 14,000 residents, a little over 4,000 of whom are indigenous, and many of the others are of very mixed race — Macassans from what’s now Malaysia and Indonesia had been visiting this coast for centuries before Europeans arrived, and many Chinese and Japanese arrived during the heydays of pearling and the gold rush. At this time of year there are usually well over 5,000 tourists in town.

The town was originally a centre for pearling (mostly pearl shell, with some natural pearls showing up) in the 1880s, and pearling is still an important industry, though now the pearls are mainly cultured — started by introduction into the oyster of a plastic bead around which a pearl forms. The shire covers 56,000 square kilometres, extends north as far as Cape Leveque, and includes over 900 kilometres of coastline.

The road into Broome led us right past an extensive Broome visitor’s centre. We stopped to check on maps and accommodation, the latter of which in the tourist season and with school holidays about to start was in rather short supply. We found a room at the Tropicana Inn, where we booked in for a week.

Tropicana Inn, BroomeThe Tropicana Inn turned out to be a splendid location for our interests. Across Robinson Street is a small Coles foodstore. Next to it is Pindar Blue, a nice looking cafe open from around 7 a.m. Across the parking lot is the Broome Historical Museum. Just down the road is Town Beach, where there are markets on full moon weekends. The staircase to the moon (reflection of the moon) appears across the exposed mudflats on nights when the full moon corresponds with a very low tide. We had timed our visit to correspond with this event.

Town Beach and caravan park, BroomeAs we drove through Broome, we totally failed to locate a traffic light (although there were rather a lot of roundabouts). We see this as yet another reason why Airlie Beach should continue to resist traffic lights, if a larger town with heavy traffic doesn’t need them.

After we settled into our room, we walked up to Town Beach, just to survey the location. Jean thinks her tour group stayed in the caravan park there in 1979.

Day 28, Broome, Friday 2 July 2004

Jean needed to work on revising her books, so Eric set off for a walk around the town.

Nearby was spacious and tidy Bedford Park, with memorials to war casualties, William Dampier and other early explorers of the coastline.

Across the road was Matso’s cafe and brewery on Carnarvon Street, previously the Union Bank and then a general store. This is a classic older style building built in 1900. You can watch the brewery at work, and they brew ales as well as lagers.

Despite the hill, Eric walked up past some resort hotels built on sand dunes, and thus had better views of the bay.

Chinatown, BroomeIn the old part of town, the historic and small Old Cell Block building had been converted to an art gallery, and was showing an exhibition. The owner spoke of making access to working artists part of the features of the place, as they worked in the sunlit courtyard. He thought Broome would eventually develop two tourist areas, as Cable Beach became a resort and beach strip, with little connection to the old Chinatown and its pearling history.

Monument to pearlers, BroomeA Cultured Pearling Monument featured statues of cultured pearl pioneers Tokuichi Kuribayashi, Hiroshi Iwaki and Keith Dureau. Just before he reached the statues, Eric noted that the automated, singing toilet salesman had been through. This structure was right at the entrance to the revitalised and now very tourist oriented Chinatown area, where the Chinese influence is really minimal. The two street, two or three block area includes Paspaley Plaza, where there is a large Coles store and many other contemporary shops.

A number of arcades and alleyways, and the tiny Jimmy Chi Lane lined with small shops, make this an interesting area, with many tourist trinket shops, many tour booking places, and a surprising number of internet access places (perhaps a half dozen), just like at home in Airlie Beach. Eric also found three bookshops or partial bookshops.

Old Sun Pictures cinemaInterior of old Sun Pictures cinemaBack to Chinatown later that afternoon with Jean, we spent some time checking out the Paspaley Plaza shopping centre.

We also looked briefly in the classic 1916 open air picture garden, with the old canvas deck chairs, at Sun Pictures. Eric thinks this is the oldest such open air cinema still operating in the world. He hasn’t seen many such places since he was a child, although there is one near us at Bowen. Sun Pictures also runs a modern, indoor cinema in town.

We walked back to the motel past the Courthouse, a distinctive original Broome style building, formerly Cable House. Difficult to photograph within its gardens.

Openair section (including screen) at old Sun Pictures cinemaEarly that evening we again checked Town Beach, although the moon rose too early to give the stairway effect.

Two ospreys in a nestOne interesting feature of a couple of foreshore areas were the steel poles, about power pole height, with an open grid platform on top. These have been placed by the power company so that ospreys can build their nests on them, rather than on the more dangerous power poles. These are at the edge of roads and parking lots, so the birds are very used to cars and humans being nearby.

Day 29, Broome, Saturday 3 July 2004

Alas, there were widespread clouds in the morning. First time we have had many clouds since the Queensland coast nearly a month ago. Jean as usual spent the morning typing.

4WD access to Cable BeachWe drove off across town past the crocodile farm to Cable Beach (on the Indian Ocean side of the peninsula) and its surrounds, timing our arrival for high tide. By now the morning clouds were mostly gone. Cable Beach is so named because the undersea telegraph cable from Indonesia came in there, back around the 1870s-1880s.

Northern part of Cable Beach, where cars are allowedCars are allowed on the northern stretches of the beach (beyond the rocks). However, the way north along the beach was blocked by the rocks at high tide (unless you know the secret passage), as some 4WD drivers discovered as they attempted to drive down the access ramp to the beach. We scrambled past the rocks to look at the much longer stretch of beach further north. Cars (mostly of the Toyota Land Cruiser variety) were parked on the beach, presumably stuck along there until the tide went down. It looked very much like a smaller, less crowded version of Florida’s Daytona Beach.

Busy part of Cable BeachCable Beach, even at high tide, is a fine looking beach, very long and with real sand. The tourists tended to cluster at the well-organised, patrolled swimming area, where you could hire beach chairs and umbrellas if you hadn’t brought your own. Further along, surfers were out on their boards, catching waves. Despite the tourist publicity it gets (and the fact that most of the acommodation in town was full), the beach wasn’t crowded, compared to any capital city beach. A short walk would get you well away from the crowd.

Cafe and other facilities at Cable BeachWe drove around the general area for a while, looking at a mixture of caravan parks, older homes on large blocks, motels and accommodation, and the start of construction on what seemed to be new resorts. The land is much flatter than back home at Airlie, and we could see it ending up like a miniature, low rise Gold Coast. (This is not an enthusiastic comment.)

Back at the motel, Eric walked to the nearby shopping centre. Across the dunes he could see something fluttering in a small dead shrub. This proved to be an osprey, trying to keep its balance while clutching a largish fish in the other talon. Eric was able to walk to within ten metres without it seeming to be worried. He rushed off to get Jean and a camera, but by the time we returned, the osprey had finished killing its fish and had flown off.

We again walked down to Town Beach foreshore as it got dark. Moonrise was scheduled for about 6:30. An astonishingly large crowd had gathered awaiting the view. We thought if we went a fair way along the beach we might get a good spot. Eventually we risked sandfly and mosquito bites by walking down on the sand.

The cloud cover was almost complete, with only a tiny clear band of sky on the horizon. You could sort of see the staircase effect for a few minutes, and it looked good to the eye. However it was way too dark for photographs without long exposures. Neither of us had a tripod, which might have given us a chance, but the photographers who did have tripods claimed it didn’t help.

We checked out the Town Beach markets, which are held on full moon weekends. These were much like at home at Airlie Beach, with perhaps a higher proportion of craftspeople, massagers, and fortune tellers, but we didn’t see any of the fresh fruit and vegetable sellers that are our major reason for attending the local markets. However, there were a lot more prepared food stalls, including Thai, Indonesian, bratwurst, and two home made ice cream stalls.

Day 30, Broome, Sunday 4 July 2004

Sunrise over Roebuck Bay, BroomeJust before dawn Eric wandered off to Town Beach so he could see the sunrise over the exposed mudflats at low tide. Several other photographers were there. He was sort of hoping he could get a staircase effect in his photos, but again there was low cloud.

Interior of Roebuck Bay Hotel, ChinatownMostly we caught up on our notes, Jean typed her book corrections, and we read our books. The low cloud made a lot of the tourist sites less attractive, and some places like museums were closed on Sunday. The tides were all wrong for others. We want to see Cable Beach at low tide, for example, but it will be a few days before there is a low tide in decent daylight.

We again return to Town Beach that evening, when moonrise was expected at around 7:30. The crowds were nearly as large, and the markets about the same. We found a place to sit on the sand and waited, and waited. The only excitement was some kids flying a kite that had an LED flasher on it. Eventually it became obvious that cloud along the horizon would keep the moon invisible until it was rather high in the sky. We gave up, bought a bratwurst and some ice creams for dinner, and returned to the motel.

Day 31, Broome, Monday 5 July 2004

Broome Historical Society MuseumJean continued hard at work on her books. Eric visited the fascinating Broome Historical Society Museum, just down the street from the motel. As well as an extensive range of paper records for the serious historian, it also gathers an fine range of items dating from the 19th Century through to items Eric (unfortunately) recalls from his own childhood. For example, he saw a switchboard just like the one at his old school (and doubtless obsolete even then). There is a lot of material from the war years, and even more from the pearling days.

Restored pearling luggers at BroomeWe drove to Chinatown for lunch, and then wandered around the Johnny Chi Lane historical walk, reading all the plaques. Jean spotted many typographical errors. We also visited the Broome Telecentre, which had both phone line and Ethernet connections available for laptop users.

That evening we finally got a decent view of the Stairway to the Moon. Although moonrise was after 8:30 this evening, we were among the many people who again visited Town Beach to view the moon reflecting off the mudflats. At least some of our photographs show this event, though not really well.

Day 32, Broome, Tuesday 6 July 2004

Rock formations at Broome port, low tideWe set out early for the tip of the peninsula on which Broome is situated. From the port area we had some good views back towards the old town. There are some fine rock formations at the entry to the beach here.

Rock formations at Gantheaume Point, BroomeWe continued along a dirt road mostly adjoining parkland, from which there were numerous 4WD and walking tracks to the beach. At Gantheaume Point, we walked past the lighthouse, noting that an osprey had a nest on the platform below the lighthouse lens. At the end of the path was a replica of dinosaur footprints exposed at low tide. Nearby is Anastasia’s Pool, a rock pool made by a lighthouse keeper for his arthritic wife. Although the tide was reasonably low, we thought the scramble down for a close look was unwise. We did note a few people had managed to get down the rocks.

Cast of dinosaur footprintsAs well as the dinosaur footprints, there are some very pretty rock formations, some of which show the extent of the tidal variation (over 8 metres) in this area, and excellent views up Cable Beach.

On our return walk, we looked carefully at the osprey nest a level below the light in the open steel frame lighthouse, and spotted a young bird wandering about the nest, but mostly staying hidden. Then a large osprey carrying a large fish landed on a steel girder a level below the nest, and proceeded to kill and eat the fish it had clutched in a talon. We managed some nice photos of all this. (If you look carefully, you can see the fish’s tail below the girder, under the bird.) This is one of the few times we really would have liked better than a three times optical zoom.

We encountered road work as we continued along the dirt road to Cable Beach, near the Turf Club. Looks like the road will soon be bitumen at least as far as the race course. Broome has horse races most weekends during the dry season, so having a better road for access seems a nice addition to their tourist facilities.

Cable Beach, low tideWe continued to Cable Beach, now near low tide, to get some contrasting photos to our high tide photos of a few days ago. An extra 50 to 100 metres of beach was exposed by the eight metre fall. We also noted where the 4WD vehicles went to get through the rocks and to the many other kilometres (22 in total) of mostly unoccupied beach. We debated doing this (just to say we’d done it), but decided we were too lazy to bother.

Camels at Cable BeachThe most unusual sight was a large convoy of camels plodding along the beach, one of several tour groups, and doubtless the least comfortable way to see the beach. Photos of the camels at sunset are another stock bit of tourist promotion for the area.

We eventually had a great breakfast at Cable Beach Sandbar, which also has a fine view.

Japanese cemetery, Cable BeachWe drove back via the Japanese cemetery on Port Drive, where over 900 Japanese pearl divers are buried. The rank after rank of tidy graves of those who died gathering pearl shells is astonishing in its quantity.

Several other cemeteries are here: what appeared to be a general (mostly Christian) one, although there was no overt label; a large area for Muslims, but relatively few graves; and an elaborate Chinese cemetery. We were intrigued to note that the Japanese headstones all faced Port Drive, the Chinese all pointed away, the Muslim ones mainly in another direction, and the Christian somewhat random.

Later we wandered over to Matso’s to try some of their brews. Jean had a lager named Monsoonal Blonde, and Eric tried a darker ale called Pride of Blackwood. Both were quite nice, and the location was pleasant (though a bit of mosquito repellent helps).

Day 33, Broome, Wednesday 7 July 2004

Today we spent on chores like doing laundry, shopping, packing bags, again catching up on computer work, and reading our books. We did have to go out to refuel the car at the Coles Express discount service station, and collect lunch, so we had a last walk around Chinatown.

Continental Hotel, BroomeIn her spare time, Jean had been reading two books by Di Morrisey (Tears of the Moon and Kimberley Sun), which are set in Broome and the nearby area. One of the main characters spends a lot of time in the part of town between Chinatown and Town Beach, and the author mentions the historical significance of various buildings, so Jean had to make sure she’d seen them all. As part of her research, we visited the Continental Hotel across from Bedford Park. The Conti is now a Mercure, and the original bar has been significantly renovated. It seemed a pleasant enough place, but we found it hard to imagine the pearling masters of the early 1900s doing deals in the bar as it looks today.

One different event we didn’t avail ourselves of is Greg Quicke’s Astro Tours, viewing the moon and planets via telescopes in the clear unpolluted outback while learning basic astronomy. Nor did we take the tour to a cultured pearl farm. Indeed, we didn’t do any of the organised tours, though several looked interesting. Jean was particularly tempted by a flight to Cape Leveque in the West Kimberley.

Continued in Part 6…