Destination of the Day: Broome and Kimberley

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Kimberley Aerial Highway_MUST CREDIT JAMES D MORGAN (3)With that name and the reputatation you would expect Broome to sweep a visitor off their feet. The top westernmost corner town of Australia, nearer to Singapore than to Sydney, has a strong sense of its own identity, a small town always aware of its precious place in a big world.

Precious is exactly how they like to think of it. Broome is a town built on pearls. The most expensive pearls in the world still come from here. Pearl shops line Dampier Terrace, selling their wares, Linney’s, Kaili’s, Paspalay.

The pearling masters who lived here were amongst the richest people in Australia in their time, utilising migrant Japanese and virtually enslaved aborigines for diving duties – pregnant women were preferred because they had extra oxygen in their blood stream.

They included Patrick Percy, who committed a murder in Cork as Patrick O’Sullivan before fleeing to the new world and becoming, of all things, a policeman.

Drive a couple of hours in either direction, and you will find more beautiful and even more remote coastland.

 

Camels on Broome's Cable Beach as seen from the Kimberley Aerial Highway_photo by James Morgan“You can smell the silkiness of the ocean” says Edwina Kelsch as we approach Eco beach resort.

Eco is an aboriginal word although it might have been dreamed up as part of a modern marketing campaign.

The name may have been the inspiration for entrepreneur Karl Plunkett who set up his high-end resort here, twice, after it was blown down by a 300kph cyclone in April 2000.

Horizontal Waterfalls Talbot Bay Kimberley regionThey pride themselves on being eco-friendly down to the shampoo and soap. “You can tell from the smell from the sewerage system when people have brought their own soap in for a big event like a wedding,” Simon Murray, our host tells us.

An owl comes to sit on the balcony with a doomed mouse dangling from his beak, the sounds of the waves beyond.

Later I float on my back for a long time in the dark bay looking up at the Southern Cross and the milkspill of unfamiliar stars.

 

Camping in the KimberleyTo see the best bits, take to the sky. Our Cesna is waiting for us on a red dirt airfield. Our pilot Yohan Chandiramani completes a runway inspection for animals before we take off for a flight over Cape Leveque and the vast Buccaneer Archipelago. The star attractions are the horizontal falls, water flushing through two narrow inlets as the tide rises and falls with a ferocity that has created headaches for three centuries of sailing vessels.

As we fly over the nude section of Cable Beach the pilot jokes: “we’ll get lower next time to get those sweet back packers.”

From up here you are reminded that Western Australia is a vast state on a vast sub-continent. At 976,790 sq miles, if it were independent it would be tenth largest country in the world just after Kazakistan.

 

The flight to a sheep station turned camel trek centre in Mount Augustus unveils another big landscape. The land is low and surprisingly green. When the Fitzroy river floods it becomes the second largest in the world, 14km wide.

There I met an aborigine who was refused a passport because he was not Australian enough.

Gudibul Butt and Bugily Bangu told me how it happened. They planned a big adventure from their Mount Andersen camel tour operation to Pushkar camel fair in Rajasthan.

They all trundled into Broome post office to apply for their passports, where a stern woman told them that needed birth certs from both their parents. This was a problem, for many of the group had parents whose births had not had never been registered. “How do I know you are Australian?” she asked the disbelieving group.

The matter was revolved just two hours before the flight was about to take off.

Casper my camel responds to the lads shouting “husta” in their native language, Nyikina-Mangala, as we weave through bush tomato plants, waddle, eucalyptus and boab trees. Gudibul (“that’s my blackfellah name, the tourists call me TJ”) feeds him grass along the way.

Rob Bamkin runs indigenous tours on behalf of the Jarlmadangah Burru community in Mount Augustus.

The place has a dark past. The aboriginal people were worked here in slave like conditions until 1967. They received no money, just their food and clothing. A hundred years after slavery as abolished in America it as still extant in Australia.

Eventually, when the owners were required to close down they thrashed the place before they went.

There is a toilet but when I flush before returning to the airplane I wash down a frog.

 

Paula O’Brien from Leighlinbridge welcomes us to Cygnet bay Oyster farm. She guides tourists through the facilities and brings them on boat rides across the azure bay. It is an astonishing place where the tide can run at 18 knots as a body of water four times the size of Sydney harbour piles in and out of the bay twice a day.

There is just one main road in and out of here, and 2,600 islands to be explored in one of the emptiest places on the planet.

Cable Beach resort lodges have the design and feel of a traditional pearling master quarters with the room in the middle of house to keep cool in summer. From the ocean bar we watch the camels returning from their sunset trek.

How do people get here? Fly from Perth or Sydney. They are campaigning to get direct flights from Singapore. Not a moment too soon.

 

 

 

Eoghan Corry flew to Perth with Emirates, who fly direct Dublin to Dubai daily 7 days a week and offer 70 onward connections a week to five Australian cities: Perth, Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide

www.emirates.com or telephone 01-779 4777, 2 Hume St, Dublin 2

 

See www.australia.com and www.westernaustralia.com for more information

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