In 1912 Broome was as much Asian as Australian, filled with the smell of unfamiliar spices and a babel of competing languages. The town thrived on the hugely profitable, and extremely dangerous pearl shell industry, where Asian labour was cheap to hire, and easy to replace. It was a frontier town, where racial tensions simmered uneasily between whites, Asians and Aborigines.
In that year, twelve British Royal Navy-trained divers and their tenders were sent to Broome, urged on by a Federal Government deep in the grip of the ‘White Australia’ policy and anxious to rid the country of the last remaining Asian ‘taint’. Their task was to master the perilous art of pearl-shell diving, and overcome the Asian stranglehold on the pearling industry, proving once and for all the supremacy of the white man over the coloured.
The White Divers of Broome tells the extraordinary story of this experiment, and its fatal aftermath. It is a gripping narrative, and a window on a past that echoes with many of the same fears, prejudices and hopes as our society today.