Forward from those going round and round.

To: Birding-Aus <>
Subject: Forward from those going round and round.
From: John Gamblin <>
Date: Tue, 26 Sep 2000 01:32:38 -0700 (PDT)
The pearl of the north
Date: Sat, 23 Sep 2000 05:19:45 GMT

Hi everyone,
We are in Karratha in Western Australia. We spent a
week in Broome and really liked it. It is an
interesting city.

Broome was the center of the pearling industry in
Australia before the second world war and is still a
big cultured pearl center.  We tend to think of the
pearl industry as being based on finding pearls but
the fact is that most of the money used to be made
from the
shells of the pearl oysters. Before plastic was
invented, most buttons were made of mother of pearl
stamped out of the pearl shells. Broome had large
numbers of pearl oysters in the offshore waters. To
begin with, local aboriginals were the pearl divers. 
They dove without equipment into shallow water close
to shore. Some of the aboriginals were kidnapped and
forced to work for the white owners of the pearl
luggers; some worked voluntarily for food and clothing
for themselves and their families. Even at shallow
depths, it was dangerous work--many of the divers
drowned because they overestimated the length of time
they could stay down. Eventually, just before the
beginning of the 1900s, the diving helmet was
Since the divers could go down deeper, it opened up
more oyster beds to be harvested. Many Japanese men
came to Australia to work as divers. The divers wore
suits with heavy shoes and belt weights to hold them
down while they worked. Air was pumped through hoses
to their helmets by hand pumps on the ships called
pearl luggers above them. The divers could go deeper
and stay down longer but at a price. If the diver
stayed down too long or went too deep, he was risking
death or paralysis from the bends. Most of the divers
had at least mild cases of the bends and many suffered
horrible pain and even died. In one year, early in the
1900s, 33 Japanese divers died from the bends. Many
more were crippled or completely paralyzed. But the
money paid the divers was a great lure for them and
when a diver was lost, there was usually someone to
replace him. Finally, the decompression chamber was
invented and one was brought to Broome around 1912. 
Once it was available, the death rate dropped from
around 30 in a year to 1 and the injuries were reduced
proportionately. It seems quite horrible that so many
men suffered so much to make buttons!  

Of course, there were pearls found sometimes. Some of
the largest and most perfect pearls in the world were
found in the waters off Broome. When the process of
producing cultured pearls was perfected, the pearl
beds in Broome became active again. The making of
pearls is an exacting and complicated business. First,
"wild" oysters are taken from the sea and brought to
the pearl sheds. There, several "seeds" of plastic are
carefully inserted into the oyster. Then the oyster is
put back into a bed in the sea. The seed is an
irritant and the oyster produces layers of nacre to
coat it and make it smooth. As the layers of nacre are
the pearl grows. Eventually the oyster is removed
from the ocean again and the pearls are removed from
the shell. The layers of nacre are painstakingly
removed one at a time, like peeling an onion, until
they are peeled down to the perfectly round shape
required. Then the pearls are sorted by size and grade
to be sold for jewelry. It is a labor and time
intensive process. That is why cultured pearls, while
less expensive than "natural" pearls are still quite
expensive. Because of it's history, Broome is a
multicultural city. There were aboriginal, Japanese,
and Indonesian divers, Chinese merchants, and European
overseers and pearl traders. That diversity is still
alive in Broome. That makes the shops and especially
the restaurants very interesting. Broome is also a
major tourist destination during the Australian
winter. People from Adelaide and Perth travel to
Broome like the Victorians and New South Wales folk
winter in
Queensland on the east coast.

In the US, we would call them "snowbirds" here they
are the "grey nomads". They come for the beautiful
weather and the fantastic fishing. One of the
interesting incidents in Broome's history occured
during WWII.  Broome was attacked by the Japanese six
times. On one occastion, 9 Japanes Zeros bombed Broome
just as some planes were coming in from the Dutch East
Indies with refugees. Fifteen Catalina flying boats
were in the
harbour at Broome as the Japanese arrived. They sank
all fifteen. Many of the crews and passangers were
killed or injured--including a lot of women and
children. You can still see the remains of the flying
boats when there is a very low tide. The Zeros also
shot down another airplane in the air coming from
Djarkata. It was piloted by a White Russian who had
settled in the East Indies. Just before he took off
from Djarkata, he had been given a small box tied up
and sealed with sealing wax to take to Broome. He was
not told what was in the box. The plane was shot down
by the Zeros just off the coast of Australia. Although
the pilot was wounded, he managed to put the plane
down in shallow water just off the beach. The crew and
passengers got ashore but the pilot left the box.

It was many days before the survivors were found. Some
of the injured died before then. One of the dead was a
young Dutch woman who had an 18 month old child. The
child also died just before the rescue. After the
rescue a local man went back to check out the wreckage
of the plane. He found the little box and opened it. 
It contained diamonds! 

The Australian government was looking for them, but
Palmer, the local man, didn't report he had found
them. He gave some of them to some aboriginal friends
of his and kept the rest. Eventually, he got drunk and
about his find. The government got the diamonds he
had left and went looking for the rest. Some of the
aboriginals had traded off the diamonds and some of
them were so frightened by the idea of the government
coming after them that they threw the diamonds away.  
Many diamonds have still never been recovered. Some
were found in the 1960s in a hollow tree in Broome. 
The thought of the missing diamonds has fascinated a
lot of people and some are still looking for them.

Broome has another treasure although not everyone
realizes its value. Broome is a major stop on the
Asian Pacific flyway for the shorebirds which migrate
south from Siberia each year. We spent 4 days at the
Broome Bird Observatory to see this magnificent
spectacle.  Tens of thousands of godwits, knots,
sandpipers, plovers, and other migrants descend on the
mudflats and beaches to feed after their long journey.
At high tide, when the birds are concentrated along
the shore, there is a brown feathered carpet along the
edge of the water. It is an incredible sight. When a
group of them takes off, you can hear the whisper of
thousands of wings beating. Curlews and turnstones,
plovers and
tattlers, all the teeming life from the Asian
continent is gathered in one spot to recuperate from
their incredible odyssey before they disperse
throughout Australia for a few months before they
travel back to the Artic tundra to breed again. The
folks at the Broome Bird Observatory band and study
the birds while they are here. Their efforts will help
preserve this
area for future generations of both birds and humans
to enjoy. After we left Broome, we spent two nights at
caravan park at Pardoo Station. It is a working cattle
station and we enjoyed the glimpse of outback life. 
Sharon tried (not very succesfully) to draw the
cattle. We watched birds, fish, and crabs among the
at the mouth of a tidal creek. We petted the station
dogs and were visited by a tame emu who stuck his head
into the camper to peer curiously at us. It was a
lovely, relaxing couple of days. The area near the
caravan park and rental cabins was home to flocks of
Zebra Finches. They are charming, beautifully marked,
little birds. The toilet block had some interesting
inhabitants too. There were close to a hundred little
frogs about an inch long that lived there. Whole
groups of them would peer up at you from their hiding
place behind the toilet tanks. They are really cute.

Well, it is time to go. We will find a television set
and watch some more of the Olympics. It has been great
fun to share the Olympics with the Australians. Most
of them would dearly love to beat the Yanks in the
count. So far, the US is ahead but both countries are
doing well.

Thanks to those of you who have sent us e-mails. We
appreciate it even if we don't respond directly to all
your messages. We have not been able to find free
internet access even in libraries since we left
Queensland so we are trying to keep our time online
to a reasonable limit, so we don't always answer each
e-mail individually. That doesn't mean we don't read
and enjoy each one.

Hugs to all,
Sid and Sharon.

Where Western Port waders regularly meet.

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