Pearls and pearling in Broome
Broome’s story is forever entwined with the pearling industry, and it’s said that the town was founded on buttons.
For many years the town’s rhythms were marked by the departure and return of the pearling luggers on the ebb and flow of the 10m tides. Their cargo was the prized Pinctada Maxima mother of pearl, used to make buttons and fine cutlery.
Today, Broome is still known for its pearling industry, which produces some of the finest pearls in the world.
Founded as a pearling port in 1880s, by the turn of the century over 300 luggers were plying the rich waters of Broome’s Roebuck Bay. Thus began the boom times, but 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 the majority of the world’s finest quality cultured South Sea Pearls.
Explore Broome’s pearling heritage on a guided tour, by following the self-guided Jetty to Jetty Walk, and visiting the Broome Historical Society Museum. See how cultured pearls are farmed on a pearl farm tour, with departures from Broome and on the Dampier Peninsula.
Visit the glittering pearl and diamond jewellery showrooms of Chinatown in Broome, where local and internationally known brands showcase beautiful designs, many featuring locally grown pearls.
September traditionally marks the end of the pearl harvest season, when the fortunes of the pearl farmer are told. What better time to celebrate? Shinju Matsuri, or the Festival of the Pearl, is a true Broome institution! It takes place annually in September with events such as the Sunset Long Table Dinner, beachside sculptures, art awards, music events and more.
Discover Broome's pearling heritage and how this small coastal town still produces some of the world's finest pearls.