"Slip into Broometime" is a well-worn local aphorism that still captures the tropical charm of BROOME, which clings to a peninsula overhanging Roebuck Bay. The accommodation market in Broome has expanded a great deal over the last few years, particularly at the pricey end, and to some extent the town is struggling to catch up, with a bit of a "wild west" air still pervading – this is not the west-coast Byron Bay many expect, with fancy restaurants and bars aplenty. Nonetheless, it's the classiest town in the northwest by quite a stretch.
Easily collected pearl shell heaped along Eighty Mile Beach led to the northwestern "pearl rush" of the 1880s, initially enabled by the now enslaved Aborigines. Later, indentured workers from Asia sought the shell in ever-greater depths below the waves, boosted by the invention of hard-hat diving apparatus. Broome originated as a camp on sheltered Roebuck Bay where the pearl luggers laid up during the cyclone season.
It was actually the nacre-lined oyster shells, or mother-of-pearl, rather than extremely rare pearls themselves, which brought fortune to the town. By 1910, eighty percent of the world's pearl shell – used in the manufacture of buttons and cutlery handles amongst other things – came from Broome, by which time a rich ethnic mix and a rigidly racially stratified society had developed. Chinatown teemed with riotous Koepangers, Filipinos and Malays crewing for the predominantly Japanese divers – a boiling pot collectively termed "Saltwater Cowboys" in a well-known album by local musicians, the Pigram Brothers.
This rich history is enhanced by the sweeping expanse of Cable Beach, the paprika-red outcrops at Gantheaume Point and the Indian Ocean's breathtaking shade of turquoise.