How many wonderful things can you fit in a day.

Cape Leveque

Our one day 4 wheel drive tour from Broome to Cape Leveque was full of interesting information and amazing and different scenery.  We set out at 7.00 with Roger Chomley of Chomley Tours.  Despite the 200km trip with 100 km of that being over very corrugated unsealed roads we enjoyed every minute of the nearly 14 hours.

Our vehicle for the trip over some very corrugated roads

Beagle Bay, our first stop, was one of three different missions we visited. It is home to the beautiful Sacred Heart Church, famous for its pearl shell altar. The church, built during WWI, is an elegant stark white set against the dark red soil. Not what you expect in such a tiny community. It was featured in the church scenes in the movie “Bran Nui Dae” and can be seen in many a travel brochure.

The interior of the Catholic Church in Beagle Bay is decorated largely with Mother of Pearl

Hand made bricks and lime created by burning sea shells the at Beagle Bay church build by German priests during WWI

Further down the road at Lombadina Aboriginal Community we viewed the ‘bush-style’ Church. What a contrast. This seems much more in keeping with the setting.  This is a prosperous community where everything is orderly, clean and very green.  It has some of the largest gum trees we have seen. Rare in this hot, dry land but as with other places water makes such a difference.

The exterior of the church at Lombadina is much simpler and in keeping with the beautiful local environment of this well-managed community

The interior shows use of native timbers.


Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm was next.  This is Australia’s oldest operating pearl farm. We learnt about the labour intense processes needed to produce cultured pearls and resisted the temptation to buy, despite their beauty. We also had a very nice lunch.

Two views of the water and shoreline of Cygnette Bay, the site of the first European known to set foot in what was to be known as Australia

At One Arm Point, the start of the Buccaneer Archipelago, we had a brief visit through the local Aboriginal Community then to a fish hatchery to be entertained and educated by its owner.  In a number of large tanks he had every thing imaginable from the sea, including huge 35 lb barramundi. His little Nemos” (Clown fish) supply the aquarium trade. From this Point the strong tidal flows of King Sound could be seen rushing out to sea.

Whether it was hand feeding huge barramundi or considering the pencil urchin, our guide had his audience in the palm of his hand

Next was over the sand to Cape Leveque beach for a swim.  Perfect – fine white sand, crystal clear blue water and a swell of about six inches.  On the other side of this narrow cape were tall red rocky cliffs.  Here we waited to see these highlighted by the setting sun.

The amazing different blue and sky of the Buccaneer archipelago

With our backs to the sunset, the amazing colours of the cliffs at West Beach reflect every hue of the end of the day – except for three hours to drive home


After two hours of driving we had a quick stop on the side of the road for afternoon tea under the stars.  The last hours of the trip, despite the corrugations, was filled with reflections on the day.


Broome and the Japanese

An Archway of bamboo and Eucalyptus frames the main path through more than seven hundred graves of Japanese who have died in Broome

I was standing in the main street of Camooweal, waiting for my wife and struck up a conversation with an elderly man, with the look of a stock man about him. When he heard I was travelling to Broome, he said wistfully “I bin to Broome – you gotta see that Japanese cemetery”. So I did.

Broome is the most multicultural country town I have ever visited – they proudly claim to have invented the way of life for others to follow. The early aboriginal influence was just like Derby, with young Aboriginals of both sexes captured and “blackbirded” into the pearling industry. There they were used as bare skinned divers, harvesting the shell from shallow waters. There was a very strong local contingent travelled from Broome to Canberra for Kevin Rudd’s famous  Sorry Speech and some local people are still putting about thank you posters to express their appreciation for this step in mending relationships.

An early example of a grave which shows a combination of western influence (the iron railing)  with the Japanese and English script

However the group in Broome with the most interesting relationship with the town are the Japanese. When the pearl shells were exhausted in shallow waters the Pearling Masters bought in Japanese Hard Hat divers. First they dived with hand-operated pumps, but later developments allowed engine operated compressors, with two divers operating at once on each lugger. This enabled a massive increase in the amount of pearl harvested, but in a very dangerous way.

The divers were indentured labourers, from peasant stock in little Japanese villages. They had to work for years to repay their fare to Australia before they started making more than their keep. Since the Japanese refused to train anyone but other Japanese to dive, their control over the industry increased, as did their social standing in Broome, where the most successful divers where the sporting heroes of the time. A thriving Japanese community built up in Broome in the Sheba Lane area, with their own shops and pubs. Some of the divers and their tenders (assistants) were able to bring over girlfriends and wives from Japan, but many married local Aboriginal or Malay girls. Broome has many part Japanese families who are very prominent part of the community today.

Then World War 2. With the advent of war, the bombing of Darwin and then Broome, as each ship docked the men were taken into internment camps and locked up for the rest of the war – more than three years. It seemed the end of the Pearling Industry, with no divers and the boats destroyed to prevent them being used by Japanese invaders.

After the war finished, the divers were released and returned to life as normal in this town. Where in the rest of Australia there was hatred between Australian and Japanese because of the cruelty of the war, in Broome there seemed to have been sympathy from the locals who knew the Japanese personally and understanding by the Japanese of why they had been imprisoned for the duration of the War.

In Broome, the Japanese established their own cemetery – it is still in use today. Diving was a cruel, dangerous industry with drownings, shark attacks and death from the “bends” when divers were bought up too rapidly from the bottom for the nitrogen to get out of their blood. Many other Japanese stayed on in their new land rather than return to their village life. There are  707 graves, with more than 900 burials in the Japanese cemetery, restored with the support of a Japanese shipbuilding company, standing as monuments, not only to the individuals but to a proud culture transplanted and integrated successfully into such an alien landscape so far from their japanese home villages.

Broome – a Holiday kind of Town

A Tour is not a Holiday

Touring Australia by caravan is an amazing experience but it is not a relaxing holiday. The first place we have visited in more than 6000 km travelling where we feel on holiday is Broome, so we have stayed 10 days here. We have spoken to some travellers who have been here months, disinclined to leave again, not missing the chaotic experience of packing up driving and setting up again.


The famous “Staircase to the Moon” effect, only seen on west-facing beaches, at low tide and full moon rising

It’s also the entire ambience of the place. First there is the ocean with clean white sandy beaches and amazing warm azure sea (no surf to speak of) with hot (mid thirties) days but pleasant breezes in the evening. These are the kind of conditions which mean that I swim every day and Julie gets wet sometimes.

Then there are the activities – holiday places attract certain kinds of activities that serious places don’t entertain. Like the camels, the four-wheel drives and the Opera on cable beach. The camels and wheel drive opportunities on the endless stretch of beach past the rocks on the North end of cable beach are well-known. On our first trip to the beach as we walked past the hundreds of four-wheel drives parked on the beach, some with picnic and drinks and stereos blaring as they waited for the sun to set, we were passed by a wedding party on four camels being led down the beach towards the wedding ceremony to be held at the high tide mark. It was a pity my camera was in the car, but I saw the photographer, after the ceremony with the wedding party posed on the racks with the water just behind them as the sun dipped below the Indian Ocean in the West.

Julie exits the Malcolm Douglas Wildlife Refuge, not impressed with crocodiles table manners

Gary checks out an 18 month old baby croc only kept safe from the teeth by the rubber band around the jaws

Crocodiles can’t chew their food. Once it’s dead, like this barramundi carcass, they smash it up and manoeuvre it around until they can swallow it whole


We passed on the camels despite, or because of the fact that “everybody has to”. After all, my camel ride in the shadows of the Great Pyramid in Egypt trumps Cable Beach! In our week her we have visited Cape Levique, the Malcolm Douglas Wildlife refuge (to watch the crocs fed), the Historical Museum, the beach nearly every day, and watched an Opera and had a meal right at the waterside. The sorts of things you do on holiday.


Cygnette Bay was very close to the place where the first European, the English pirate Dampier landed in Australia and was named after his ship.

It is the location of Australia’s largest locally owned cultured pearl producers


A Family connection with Broome

My Grandfather, Alfred Bromfield

The recent Movie “Australia” has made more people aware that Darwin suffered as much from a surprise bombing attack as Pearl Harbour. Less well know is that two weeks later nine Japanese Zeros came out of nowhere to strafe with machine guns and canon fire the airfield and harbour in Broome.  The town had no defenses – most of the aircraft were slow flying boats, sitting ducks in the harbour, filled with women and children, refugees from the Japanese invasion of Java. They were fleeing for safety in Australia. The attack only lasted about ten minutes but left 24 aircraft destroyed, 70 dead and the town in chaos.

Realizing that the Japanese could have taken the town with a company of soldiers, the pearling luggers on the beach were destroyed to deny their to invaders to use as raiders of all the isolated tiny settlements along the Western Australian coast. The four best were sailed to Perth for use by the Navy.

This is where Lawrence family history meets the bigger picture. Later in the war, when the threat of invasion had disappeared after the defeat of the Japanese Army in New Guinea, the Navy asked for volunteers to sail the boats back to Broome. Our Grandfather, Alfred Bromfield and two others, all keen fishermen and amateur sailors volunteered to sail one, were caught in a huge storm and all lost at sea. Our Grandfather who had survived Gallipoli, although severely wounded drowned at sea leaving a wife and three children. I wonder what convinced him to offer to ferry this boat more that 2000 km north?

There is a memorial to him on the gravestone of his wife, our Nana, Alice, who lived a widow for 30 years more, shared with their great grand daughter, Meredith Lawrence in Rookwood cemetery in Sydney.

I had hoped to find more information about the particular boat at the excellent historical museum in Broome, but the circumstances during the war mean that they have no records of which boats were burned and which ones saved. At home I have a yellowed newspaper cutting, recording the loss of the boat and sailors and it will have to wait for my return to do some research as I am told the government probably paid compensation for the boar, leaving a paper trail to be followed.

Derby – first sight of the West Coast

Derby, a very different kind of town

Derby was the first town established in the West Kimberley and is an important hub because of it’s port and the notorious Gibb River Road, which gives access to all the enormous cattle stations across the top – allowing them to get their cattle to abattoirs and markets. It has a permanent population of 4000 but in the dry tourist season add a couple of thousand to that.  There are many businesses in town up for sale, including the historic Spinifex Hotel (The Spini).

The Spinifex is the oldest Hotel in Derby and at the Port end of town.

It has seen better days and was up for auction when we were there.

I suspect that it might be replaced by units – there are a lot of units being build in this section of town.

The mineral riches of the area provide a lot of employment at times but also some instability. When BHP shut their large iron ore mining operation nearby the town went into decline for a decade.

First Sight of the West Coast

All lit up for the night shift, the shifts at the export facility at the end of a wharf more than a km. long depend on the high tides

The usefulness of Derby as a Port is affected by its having the largest tidal surge in Australia. The Jetty, rebuilt recently travels over more than a kilometer of mudflats to a new export facility for Zinc concentrate. The shallow King Sound means that ore carriers anchor 20 km. off the coast and are serviced by barges that can only be filled during a five-hour window of high tide. Even the barges have to be moored 6 km offshore at high tide.

At high tide the Barge heads to the ramp to be filled from containers,

bought in by road trains then go the 20 km. off shore to be loaded onto Asia bound ore carriers.

The strength of the tidal surges meeting the sediment-laden Fitzroy River means that the ocean is permanently the colour of Milk chocolate. That, and the presence of very large and hungry Estuarine crocodiles (salties) means that there is no swimming all year round in the Derby ocean, despite the heat and humidity.

The sun sets over the ocean behind the export facility at Derby.

More than a km. off shore and the mud is still solid enough to driver over. It only gets to be wet mud in heavy rain and during kind tide events

On Boabs and the Prison Tree

About Boabs

Boab’s are amazing trees – the only one species from this group of large, bottle-shaped trees found in Australia – the others are all located in Africa and Madagascar.

Lined up like sentinels in the main street through Kurrunurra

The rounded, swollen trunks, devoid of leaves during the winter dry season, leaf bare branches thrusting arm like into the sky and give these trees a human, even if ogre-like silhouette against the bright northern skyline. They are found across the top end of the north of Western Australia from Derby to Victoria River Crossing.

Silhouetted against the dawn sky at Lake Argyll

Boabs will put on leaf when they are grown in well watered conditions like in town parks

There are two famous “Prison Trees” – one outside Wyndham on the north coast and the other one outside Derby on the West. Boabs can get a girth of 20 metres,meaning they are wider than they are tall, and are often hollowed out by termites. These two trees have narrow slashed entrances into the trunk and a large room like areas inside.

I, probably along with a lot of others, thought that this was the local lockup for some drunken stockmen after a big night out. The truth is a lot more sinister. A common practice to control the “unruly” elements amongst the aboriginal tribes was “black birding”. The local stockholders would complain about stock being raided or other lawless activities amongst the blacks and a police party would be sent out – usually an armed police office and a couple of aboriginal trackers on horseback to round-up the trouble makers, walk them shackled 100’s of km to the coast, where they would be sold as labourers, often to the pearlers who used them as divers. Those rounded up included women as well as men (women were often preferred as divers for many reasons). The two prison trees were the last stops before the ports where the group of maybe twenty aboriginals had their finaL night before enslavement, chained together at the base of that tree.

The Prison Tree outside Derby is now fenced off, because it’s association with the imprisonment of so many,

makes it a sorry site for local indigenous people

The old cemetery in Derby contains more than 500 graves, about 400 of them unmarked. From the memorial plaque place by the local Aboriginal Council

“There are only 73 headstones but over 500 burials recorded in the existing burial register. There are many other graves of people whose names were not recorded. Most belong to aboriginal people. Many were from the stations and communities around Derby and as far away as Sunday Island. Buried in a strange custom and in a strange country, their relatives were unable to fulfill their traditional mortuary rites

— When people were buried in the ground in a strange place it caused much more upset than the death itself. Sometimes people bin crying for two years, mourning. …. It was a strange thing. It was a white persons way. Old people used to be buried in a cave. It was strange .. new culture. Strange to the old people.. Our people …. Today we commemorate the lives of all those buried here.”

“Who was killed by blacks at Lillmalloora Station 31st October 1894 while in the execution of his duty –

Erected by the members of the West Kimberley Police

The cemetery also contains another sad side to the same story. The Police were, of course, only carrying out the policy of the governments of the day, which reflected the views of the time. Anti slavery campaigners were considered “do-gooders” who would impede the development of the North where labour was badly needed.

Bathing Boabs enjoy the sprinklers in the evening light

Police Constable William Richardson was such a man who had worked for many years with a highly experience tracker called Pigeon. Trackers were not usually asked to bring in their own people but there was an urgent job, Pigeon argued with the constable and later shot him dead rather than imprison his own clans people. He then became an outlaw, was wounded and bought in, but later returned to duty as a tracker for many years. While there are almost no graves for the hundreds of aborigines buried in Derby, there is a prominent memorial for the unfortunate Constable Williamson.

Fitzroy Crossing & Geikie Gorge

Fitzroy Crossing

We are continually amazed at the difference water makes to this dry land.  The Fitzroy River at the crossing is big and deep and so, even in the dry season, green abounds around its shores. Away from the river the harshness of the land is very evident.

A natural sandbar acts as a dam to keep this section of the Fitzroy River full even during the dry season


Standing on the banks during the dry gives no idea of the enormous volume of water that travels West down this river towards Derby,

in the wet when water level could be 10 metres higher that this boat ramp and flowing over the banks, cutting off Fitzroy Crossing.

Geikie Gorge

The pleasant and easy Geikie Gorge walk follows the river along its flood path with the water on one side and a rough and fragile rocky outcrop on the other. The flood path is wide, 100 meters or more from outcrop to water in most places, and generally consists of coarse river sand. As you walk along there is a constant reminder of the river’s potential strength and power.  The water levels of the wet season, marked in white, can be seen high up on the rocky banks of the gorge that trap the water in its current course.

The River has carved its path through a fault in a massive limestone reef, formed from a historic coral deposit at least as big at the Barrier Reef

A cruise on the river itself opens up a totally different world.  The young indigenous guide shares her knowledge and enthusiasm for this environment.

Fresh water crocodiles sunned themselves on the rocky banks.  Bats, whose noise made their presence known, hung from the trees in large numbers. The bats glide over the water to wet their chest feathers. When safely back in the trees they lick these feathers to satisfy their thirst.  Safely indeed, as they are a favourite meal for the crocs waiting to catch them as they touch the water.

The previous image was the Western bank. This one of the eastern bank clearly shows on the rock face the height of recent flood levels

Beneath the overhanging rock thousands of tiny birds make their nests from the river mud.  These birds will return to the southern states as the river rises and covers their nests.

The Gorge is also a popular fishing spot but swimming is “at your own risk”.


This fresh water crocodile seems to hesitate swimming at the mouth of a stream which is sacred to women’s initiation rites.

The gorge is a very important site for local aboriginal groups.

A large rock outcrop in the middle of the river marks a sacred place for indigenous men whilst further down the river is an area sacred to the local indigenous women. Both these areas are respected and avoided by the cruise.

The wet season sees the river generally rise around nine meters. 2002 was a record wet where the river rose more than 22 meters.  The guide and rangers gazebo, built high up from the river and with a roof structure that is five meters high at the top, was completely covered with water.

Towering limestone cliffs overhang the river at various points, proving shelter for many birds and other wildlife


For now the Gorge is a peaceful oasis for all to enjoy