The history of Broome dates back to the Yawuru people, the local Aborigines that inhabited these lands before European settlement came. The indigenous people of the Kimberley region and Broome called these lands home for around 27 thousand years until the year 1688 when William Dampier first came to Broome to visit and chartered his way along the west coast of Australia and then returned in 1699. Many attractions and sites are named after William Dampier! But it wasn’t until around the year 1879 when Charles Harper suggested that Broome would serve as a great location for pearling grounds as many were discovered in Roebuck Bay.
A site for the town of Broome was then declared in 1883 by John Forrest and was named after Sir Fredrick Broome who was then the Governor of Western Australia. Settlers came from all around to harvest the mother of pearl and from this point on the landscape, traditions, and culture of Broome and the Kimberley were never the same again. By the late 1880’s Broome was a hive of activity and also say the construction of the new telegraph cable linking the colony to England which gave the still-existing name of Cable Beach. Pearling became a world-known luxury with the Japanese taking hold of many of the pearling luggers. Aborigines were taken in as slave labour and made to stand the harsh cruelty of the ocean waters such as the bends, shark attacks, and drowning. Many died of starvation if malaria hadn’t already taken its toll on them and they were made to work long days diving for the precious mother-of-pearl shells, and if an actual pearl was discovered it was an added bonus as the shell was what produced the many luxuries that people back then wanted such as pearl buttons and cutlery handles.
Broome then quickly became the biggest pearling centre in the world and by 1910 there were more than 400 pearl luggers working the waters just off Broome. When Roebuck Bay pearl numbers decreased it was decided to move to deeper waters for the pearl shells which saw the release of the local Aborigines because they were no longer needed as new equipment was donned with professional divers from mainly Asia as they controlled the market at this time, and to this day you can see many of their headstones in the Japanese Cemetery in Broome. The pearling industry saw many difficulties such as WWI, cyclones, and storms that brought the pearl luggers to a grinding halt. During the first world war, the Japanese divers were interned and the pearl numbers dropped then came to the new development of the plastic button which saw the pearl industry drop to around a quarter of its size. Then came the second world war which took the remaining Japanese divers home many of the pearl luggers were bombed and destroyed. But then in the 1950’s the pearling industry came alive again and now produces around 70% of the world’s naturally cultured pearls.
Broome then grew over the years to become the bustling coastal town that it is today, with its International Airport that began its construction back in 1991 which is a far cry from the landing strip that used to be anywhere along Cable Beach that was smooth enough for a landing back in 1922. Over the years the Airport has undergone many expansions so it grows with the population and increasing tourist numbers to the town that come in from all across Australia and the world. Broome is a very popular tourist destination and the history and culture that makes up a great part of this seaside destination can be seen in the museums, written on stone walls, and experienced in the historic Chinatown or with its many attractions.