Heaven at the Edge of Nowhere
Vignettes of Broome
.avi format (1.5mg) or .mov (1.5mg)
Video courtesy Kimberley Tourist Assoc.
Tales and songs of Broome
Settlement in the Kimberleys and song "Further Out"
.wav (1.1mg) | RealAudio (50K)
Ballad called "Bringing the Beer to Broome"
Your questions answered
'I knew little about the place itself. I had gleaned that it was almost sinfully uninhabited, and the locals were the type of Aussies they base Foster's ads on.'
'Broome is a tiny town of about 11,000 inhabitants. Aborigines lived in this archetypal paradise for thousands of years before it was "discovered" in 1699.'
'It's the type of tropical scene you visualize when you're doing the desperation shop on Christmas Eve in driving sleet: powdery sand, froth-tipped cerulean waves, fireball sunset, long shadows, no one around but you and your lover...'
'I was curious about contemporary Aboriginal life, having read so much about their tumultuous past. It is not easy to get access to Aborigine communities in Australia. They are understandably guarded about letting "whitefellas" on their land.'
'I was on the verge of physical and spiritual collapse when, at last, we left the desolate ridge and descended into a flawlessly verdant valley. A brook burbled below, ripe mangoes dripped off the trees, and piles of rubble lay where once stood the huts of the clan.'
'Where else in the word can you take in a movie under the Southern Cross, learn all you ever wanted to know about the hermaphroditic sex lives of oysters, ride a camel on the longest nudist beach in the world, and drink champagne as if there's no tomorrow?'
A native of New Zealand, Amanda Jones has lived in the United States for more than a decade. She now resides in the San Francisco Bay Area where she is a freelance writer specializing in adventure travel.
Amanda's other stories on travel Down Under:
It sounded improbable--a tiny pearl-diving station in the remote Kimberley region of Western Australia. Yet little-known Broome proves rich in local history, perfect beaches, and tropical snorkeling.
Story and photography by Amanda Jones
"Remote Area. Seek local advice before traveling," exhorted the map in bold, as we continued to fly over unimaginable emptiness. The plane was supposedly heading toward Broome in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. I am convinced it took Apollo 11 less time to get to the moon.
Western Australia is at least twice the size of any of that country's five other states. Looking down, I could imagine the scientific process that went into partitioning this half of the continent. One exhausted government employee turns to the other, "S'truth mate, it's a lot of bloody nuthin' out 'ere. Just draw a line, call it 'outback of everythin' else' and let's hop it back to the boozer. The bastards will never know."
Not only had I failed to ask how long it would take to get there, but I knew little about the place itself. The guide books gave it a cursory visitation, and even the most obsessive traveler I knew hadn't been there. I gleaned that it was almost sinfully uninhabited, and the locals were the type of Aussies they base Foster's ads on (although I heard it said that outbackers would rather die of dehydration than put a "poncy" beer like Foster's down their gullets). Lastly, the Kimberley was considered a long way away--even by Eastern Australians. Such places lure me like the proverbial moth. It's a risky strategy, blind travel, but once in a while you hit pay dirt.
Getting there took five flights on aircraft of diminishing size. It was a perfect metaphor for the attitude of the locals: the smaller the plane, the more laid-back it got. In fact, if you announced you were "stressed out" in Western Australia, you would probably be publicly flogged.
As we finally came in for landing in Broome, I looked out the window and saw we were mere feet above a crowd of people sitting in reclining chairs watching an outdoor movie. We were so close I could see the mortification on Stockard Channing's face as she discovered she'd been duped in Six Degrees of Separation. I later learned that this is a nightly event at Sun Pictures, the oldest outdoor movie house in the world (no cars allowed), and getting buzzed by a turbo-prop is just part of the experience.
Broome is a tiny town of about 11,000 inhabitants. Aborigines lived in this archetypal paradise for thousands of years before it was "discovered" (in the Christopher Columbus sense of the word) by William Dampier in 1699. In 1856, maverick Europeans braved a particularly homicidal clan of Aborigines to seek gold on these shining shores. By 1880, gold was a non-event, but, at the prodding of the Japanese, Broome was producing 80 percent of the world's mother-of-pearl. The finest quality pearls in the world still come from this area. Gigantic, creamy, lustrous baubles are sold for equally huge prices in slick stores downtown.
I spent the first couple of nights darting between pools at the elegant Cable Beach Club, a beautiful Asian-style retreat. The hotel overlooks the type of tropical scene you visualize when you're doing the desperation shop on Christmas Eve in driving sleet: powdery sand, froth-tipped cerulean waves, fireball sunset, long shadows, no one around but you and your lover...
Having forgotten to bring the lover along, I was delighted to meet Dana, a local woman (although I suspect she'd much prefer "girl"--there's no such thing as political correctness in Broome). A typical beach-loving Aussie--blond, tanned, and exuberant--she offered to take me "out bush" for a couple of days. We rented a 4WD vehicle and hit the pindan, the luminous crimson dirt so characteristic of this part of the world.
Two hours, several roadside bush fires, many jeep-eating potholes, and one punctured tire later, we pulled into Quandong, home of a staggeringly beautiful beach and not much else. We made a beeline for the ocean, swimming out to the reef for some tropical snorkeling. Not only is this region of Australia blessed with good looks, but it is one of the few places in the north where you can swim in the sea. Crocodiles lurk in the waters elsewhere, as does an especially vindictive kind of jellyfish whose sting is so painful people have been known to chop off an afflicted limb to escape the agony.
The reef was a veritable subaqueous New York City; thick with swarming life. Synchronized gangs of fish banded together according to color and pattern, and then the big ones harassed the little ones. Towering staghorn corals were tenement houses for fainthearted damsel- and angelfish, who occasionally peeked out to see if the coast was clear to make a dash for dinner. The visibility is perfect almost every day, making it easy pickins for the thugish grouper and coral trout who terrorize the 'hood.
One more slow-going hour north of Quandong is Cape Leveque, yet another best-beach-in-the-world. Dana pulled a frosty bottle of champagne out of the "eski" and we sat on the rocks, watching our own private sun slink out of sight. We spent the night in a very basic, but wonderfully romantic bungalow at Kooljaman, with walls open to sea breezes and set against blood-red cliffs and white sand. Too bad these blondes lacked the "blokes" to go along with all this bliss.
The following morning we rose at five to drive to One Arm Point, a local Bardi Aboriginal community that has recently opened its doors to a few tourists. I was curious about contemporary Aboriginal life, having read so much about their tumultuous past. It is not easy to get access to Aborigine communities in Australia. They are understandably guarded about letting "whitefellas" on their land. Most places are either prohibited or require a permit and a tour guide to enter, and often what you see is not reality.
Irene Davies, a Bardi woman, met us at One Arm. She and her family are planning a business to take visitors out to Sunday Island, the original home of the people. In 1899, the Anglican church started a hilltop mission on the island, gathering the people to live in huts below. The settlement was abandoned sometime mid-century, although no one seems to remember exactly when or why the missionaries pulled out. Irene grew up here, some 60-odd years ago, in the clan village where her grandfather was the Head Man.
The tide was out when we arrived, leaving about half a mile of rank mudflat, mined with sharp oyster shells, to negotiate on foot. I stumbled across, knee-deep in glutinous ooze, while Irene's son casually lanced mud crabs on his home-made spear. Once on dry land, we still had another couple miles of bushbashing to go. The unused trails were choked with scratchy underbrush that raked my pitiful, sunburned skin.
It was at least 115 degrees and I was on the verge of physical and spiritual collapse when, at last, we left the desolate ridge and descended into a flawlessly verdant valley. A brook burbled below, ripe mangoes dripped off the trees, and piles of rubble lay where once stood the huts of the clan. Irene told stories about hunting with bow and arrow, men fighting with boomerangs (apparently, this hunting device can deliver a nasty, even fatal, wallop to humans when the need arises), and sacred sites where "men's business" meetings were held (which, being a woman, I was not permitted to hear about).
Late afternoon we headed back to Broome. We had been invited to a sundown beach party, and, by all accounts, a beach party in Broome was not an event to be missed. As one patriotic Aussie bloke put it, "there's no luvlier sound than the sizzle of the rump" (by which I hope he meant the sound of steak on the barbecue), "and the mating call of the native greencan" (by which I assume he meant cans of Victoria Bitter beer being cracked).
Is it worth spending all that time and money to get to Broome? I'd like to say absolutely not. That way none of you will ever go and it will stay one of those pristine, heavenly places for the few of us in the know. Alas, I am paid to write the truth. The answer is yes, without hesitation. Where else in the word can you take in a movie under the Southern Cross, learn all you ever wanted to know about the hermaphroditic sex lives of oysters, ride a camel on the longest nudist beach in the world, and drink champagne as if there's no tomorrow?
You can have as much adventure as you crave, mixed with infinite relaxation. Much of the experience is just being awake and taking in all that otherworldly beauty. Western Australia was my pay dirt. It's about as close to utopia as you can get these days.