Ahh….Broome, beautiful Broome. If there’s one place in Western Australia where you can spend time doing as much or as little as you choose, then Broome is the place to do it. We’ve now visited so many times in the past that we’ve lost count. Not that we think that’s a bad thing! And while our knowledge of the town has increased over the years from our numerous visits, we think there’s nothing better to fast track knowledge than learning from a local.
Bart Pigram from Narlijia Cultural Tours is a local Yawuru man and operates a range of cultural tours around Broome. We hopped on his two hour Life of Guwan tour (which means walking town tour in the local language). Having a little prior knowledge of Broome’s pearling history already, we were interested in understanding how Bart’s indigenous and pearling connections came about, and anything else he was able to share about Broome’s colourful past.
After meeting Bart close to the iconic Mangrove Hotel, we soon reached one of the culturally significant places in town. We’ve seen some big shell middens in the past, but nothing we’d ever seen elsewhere during our travels compares to what Bart showed us here. It was absolutely huge. There must be millions of cockle shells covering an area of around two Olympic sized swimming pools, so we soon grasped there’s been some serious gatherings here over many years. The funny thing about this location is we’ve driven past it so many times when we’ve visited Broome without even giving it a second glance. Ok, maybe a sort of glance since the vista overlooks the spectacular Roebuck Bay. But we never had any idea this site was heritage listed nor its importance to the local people.
This spot was also a good opportunity for Bart to share stories about this landmark and happily answered our questions as they arose. But we found there was lots more to learn about Broome when he pulled out a folder with copies of old newspaper extracts, some government records and notes he’d taken from speaking with some of Broome’s older generation. Eager to learn more, we soon found out Bart’s been able to piece together some very interesting findings about Broome’s origins and where Europeans first landed, and simply trying to make sense of what is now modern-day Broome.
When it comes to family, we knew many around Broome have a multicultural background and Bart’s large family is no different. He’s interestingly managed to trace his ancestral heritage back to Broome’s early pearling industry with an indigenous, European and Filipino influence.
When leaving this site, Bart took us down towards the mangroves and showed us some very unique artefacts. Some were easily visible, like the thick glass spearheads made for trading some decades ago, whereas others were tucked away behind mangroves keeping their location a secret until revealed by someone with knowledge of their whereabouts.
From what he had already taught us, Bart could see we too shared his inquisitive nature and an enthusiasm to help put together what is sort of a Broome history jigsaw piece. We felt like we’d joined his crusade as to why Broome began and why it was established in its current location by Roebuck Bay, but also how the big Broome melting pot of different nationalities have come together to produce the Broome town as we now know it.
Chatting as we walked further, he led us towards the shopping precinct which is the perfect place to visit if you’re in the market for some pearl retail therapy. Our tour concluded in the Cygnet Bay pearl shop which in itself has an extremely interesting history. We found one of the walls inside the store has a fantastic timeline of events with details and photos which depict the region’s pearling history. It was fascinating to learn about this timeline and Bart talked us through it to help us connect some key bits of historical information together.
Bart’s a natural storyteller and his relaxed style makes touring with him very enjoyable. We’ve come away with a far greater knowledge of Broome’s colourful past, its multicultural community and heritage, and learnt specifically how his own family has had an influence on the town. Whether you’re a first-time visitor to Broome or seasoned visitors like us and would like to know more about this gateway to the Kimberley’s west, take it from us when we say this tour is one not to be missed.
More information about our tour with Bart is available here.
Catch you next time!
Grant & Linda