In 1883 the town of Broome was officially established, mainly to serve as a base for the growing pearl shell industry. Since this time, Broome has been a uniquely multicultural Australian town.
The Pearl shell industry required many workers – divers, tenders, captains, crew, shell openers and sorters.
From the 1880s, Aborginal people and a small number of European pearlers were joined by workers from across the globe, particularly Japanese, Malay, Chinese, Filipino, and Koepanger (Timorese) people.
This crew of Asian workers is posing with their master on a pearl lugger in the 1920s.
With so many languages being spoken, this street sign was displayed on Broome’s main thoroughfare. The five languages used on the sign are English, Malay, Chinese, Japanese, and Arabic.
It comes as a surprise and a mild shock to the visitor from the south to find ‘a little bit of Asia’ in the midst of Australia. . . it would not be exaggeration to say that the whites are outnumbered by probably more than four to one. . . Half-castes and quarter-castes, descendants of, a mixture of black and yellow and white—such children may be seen playing in the streets of the coastal towns of the Kimberleys.
Rev. A. Muriel, Secretary of the British and Foreign Bible Society, The West Australian, 22 Aug 1931
Broome’s population has changed over time, but its beginnings as a pearling town have ensured great diversity amongst the residents.
The rich cultural heritage has always shaped the community, as captured in this image of a Broome party in the 1960s.
Shinju Matsuri, or ‘Festival of the Pearl’, is an annual Broome event which acknowledges the pearling industry and celebrates the cultural diversity of the town.
Beginning in 1970, the festival reflects Japanese, Malay and Chinese cultural traditions, and involves Broome’s traditional owners, the Yawuru people.
This Chinese dragon’s head lead a dance through the streets at one of the early festivals.