Australia’s North West has a rich mining history. Gold was first discovered in the 1880s followed by asbestos in 1940, natural gas and iron ore in the late 1960s and diamonds in 1970.
The First Gold Prospectors
In 1881, Philip Saunders and Adam Johns found gold in the Kimberley region. Charles Hall (whom Halls Creek is named after) and John Slattery prospected the area in 1885 and found the alluvial and reef gold that led to the 1886 gold rush on the Kimberley Goldfield.
Cossack, on the Pilbara region's Point Samson Peninsula, was the first pearling port in the North West. By the 1870s over 80 boats were operating out of the port and divers from Japan, the Philippines, Malaysia and China were regularly stopping in the town.
By the turn of the century the pearling fleets had moved north to the rich grounds of Broome’s Roebuck Bay. This began the boom times in Broome, with over 300 pearl luggers plying the waters for the huge Pinctada Maxima oyster, whose mother of pearl shell was used to make buttons and fine cutlery for the world market.
A massive decline in production occurred during World War II when Broome’s foreign labour was sent to indentured camps and much of the pearling fleet was torched to save it falling into enemy hands. In another blow, the world discovered plastic in the 1950s, marking the end of demand for mother of pearl shell.
Cultured pearling techniques were introduced by the Japanese soon after and quickly took off in Broome, which continues to produce 80% of the world’s finest quality cultured South Sea Pearls.
For more information about mining and pearling tours and historic sites, see Pearling and mining and Historic sites and buildings.