Saturday, March 22, 2014

Day 6 -- Broome, Day 2

We resolve to give it another go. 5.30am we're out of bed (oh, the fan made for a gloriously sound sleep!), bag packed and down to the beach, off for a four kilometre walk to Guantheaume Point and another search for the mysterious dinosaur tracks. A smattering of early morning joggers and their dogs are enjoying the not-quite-cool morning air. Low tide on this extremely flat beach means it's a hundred metre walk to the water's edge. The sun shoots up above the dunes around 6.30 and already the heat intensifies. But the not-quite-cool water on our feet and ankles keeps us feeling fresh and energised.

It takes an hour to get to the point. Johan's faster walking pace gets him there ten minutes before me and he's already searching among the flat rocks and tide pools. By the time I reach him he's given up, sure it's a conspiracy of the tourist industry to add larger-than-life appeal to Broome. Instead we find a foot deep tide pool and slither into it, enjoying a relaxing bath safe from the threat of the deadly creatures that inhabit the sea in these parts. A small octopus slithers around my toes, curious but cautious about this invading mammal in her roost. Johan spots crustaceans glued to the rock and settles for the pleasure of spotting these ancient creatures from a prehistoric past.

The hour walk back in the mid-morning sun feels relentless. Our throats are parched, our skin growing a deeper shade of red. Back at the caravan park we collapse into the pool and soak for an hour, chatting with a lady who's lived in Broome for six years but originally is from Alaska. She has friends who just retired to Port Townsend a couple years ago -- small world. She and her husband retired a while back, sold up everything and have lived as grey nomads in Australia since, travelling back to the States to visit a daughter and her mother every year or two. Everything they own fits in their Rav 4 and she boasts how wonderfully liberating it is. They settled in Broome when they were offered a caretaking job because they liked the climate. This is the best time to be here, she reassures us, despite the wet heat. Everything's green and lush and the town is quiet and liveable. Come June the town grows from its 14,000 residents to over 45,000 for the four month tourist season. The roads are packed, long queues at the supermarket, thousands packed onto the beach and foreshores of Cable Beach. No, this is the right time to be here if you don't like crowds. We don't, we assure her.

After a late breakfast we head out of town in search of the Broome Bird Obsevatory. Located on the shores of Roebuck Bay, the sanctuary is a temporary home for hundreds of thousands of migratory birds, with over 300 species roosting on the shores and the vast delta that spreads east of the bay. March is a good month for viewing as many species boast beautiful breeding plumage and others are starting their migration north to Asia, filling the skies with their huge numbers. Sadly, the 15km dirt road that leads to the sanctuary is deeply rutted and parts are flooded from recent rain. We could manage it in our AWD Subaru, but it's too risky with the 2WD campervan. Britz isn't too keen on their customers taking their vehicles off road anyway. So we regretfully turn around and head back to town.

Back in town we take in two gems of Broome history in the local museums: the role of the missions on Aboriginal populations and the once thriving pearl industry, which put the town on the world map (it's the largest producer of pearls in the world and also produces some of the largest). The Sisters of St John of God arrived in their hot and heavy habits in the mid 19th century, determined to 'look after' the indigenous tribes of the far north. What commenced was a hundred year history of both humanitarian spirit and dreadful imperialism on the part of the 'invading' Europeans. The story told through the eyes of the SSJG at their now defunct convent biases the story in favor of the humanitarian perspective. Only a glib one-liner references the fate of the 'Stolen Generation', the many Aboriginal children who were forcibly taken from their families and placed in the missions and schools run by the Sisters. To be fair, the policy was enforced not by the Catholic Church but by the government of the day. And though there are many horrific stories now told about that experience, there are also Aboriginal families who feel they benefited from the education, health, and humanitarian care of the church in those days.

The pearl industry spans the same century, a boom and bust story which at its peak saw hundreds of pearl luggers berthed in the muddy shores of Roebuck Bay. It was a hot and dangerous business, donning 100kg metal diving suits to plunge the depths in search of pearls. In the early years, Aboriginals were forcibly recruited to do the dives; later Japanese came down to run the show. The lady in the Cygnet Bay Pearl shop gladly answers our questions and offers additional explanations about the pearl industry today. The $5K - $25K price tag on most of the necklaces are a bit beyond our reach, but we settle for a $29 pair of pearl earrings and the day's special: 5x beer stubbies for $1 - can't beat that!

After dinner we head to the beach for another round of Cable Beach sunset. Having seen many similar ones over the years at our beach property in Myalup, the fabled sunsets aren't anything to write home about. But we enjoy seeing the lines of empty camels heading back up to the road after depositing their passengers on the beach once the sun goes down. The resorts on the beach are full of dining and cocktail-sipping tourists and the whole park has a holiday flair, despite the off season. We spend a couple of hours computing under a park lamp while young boys kick a soccer ball around us.

At 8.30pm we head back into town, keen to take in the renowned outdoor Sun Pictures. They're playing "Tracks", a 1970s true story of a young woman who trekked with her dog and three camels across the Australian desert. The facade of the movie theatre opens up to a lovely gardens under the stars, where palm trees bend over the canvas chairs and birds cluck and rattle in them during the show. The movie inspires our love of the outback and my own solo treks over the years, particularly the Bibbulmun track, which took me three months to walk in 2008. It's a lovely experience and the ride back to the caravan park at 11pm, windows wide open to let in the balmy air, caps a delightful day.

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