Day 1 - April 22, 2014 - Broome, Western Australia
By Chris Cutler, Naturalist
Co-ordinates: 17°57′43″S 122°14′10″E
Weather: Clear and sunny
Air Temperature: 35ºC
Pressure: 1,008 hPa
Wind: 5 knots
It was fine day along the coast of Broome as M/V Silver Discoverer’s crew busily loaded provisions for the upcoming voyage. Arriving guests were met with a cool drink, went through a fast Australian Customs check, got settled into their suites, and enjoyed lunch. Many had spent some time exploring the quaint town of Broome with its many pearl shops and spectacular Cable Beach where an evening procession of camels, once used by Afghan drivers to transport materiel, could be seen with the setting sun.
We met in the Discoverer Lounge for a mandatory safety briefing, donned our life jackets and then went to the top deck to actually see the lifeboats. By 16:00 the lines were cast and we set off in a north-westerly direction to begin our exploration of Australia’s ‘Hidden Treasure’, the Kimberley region. On Deck 5, next to the Pool, with cool drinks in hand, we started to get to know new friends as the local pilot climbed aboard his boat. Hematite-rich soils almost appeared to glow red as we slowly passed the scrubby Pindan woodland near the shore of Roebuck Bay.
We passed a beautiful restored two-masted ‘Pearl-lugger’ with sails aloft. By 1914 there had been close to 400 such boats plying the waters and Broome supplied 80% of the world’s commercial pearl shell that was used for buttons, buckles, cutlery, combs, jewellery and intricate furniture inlay work. The pearl-boom started a rush and people came here from Europe and Asia. Aboriginal divers, many of whom were ‘black-birded’ (kidnapped) into oftentimes dangerous work, forced to ‘skin-dive’ whilst holding their breath, were gradually replaced by more sophisticated techniques and Japanese divers – who seemed immune to “the bends”. As an industry, pearling played a significant role in the economic development of the country’s northwest coast thanks to the naturally abundant South Sea pearl (Pinctada maxima) in the region. Located on traditional Yawuru lands, Broome was gazetted in 1883, and named for Frederick Napier Broome, Governor of Western Australia, who was said to have been horrified to have his name associated with the scruffy assortment of pearling camps that lined Roebuck Bay.
We met for a mandatory zodiac safety briefing and then again for an introduction to some of the ship’s crew. Expedition Leader Mick Fogg gave us a comprehensive overview of our voyage and whetted our appetites for what will surely be a trip of a lifetime. The final business of the day was enjoying a sumptuous dinner prepared by our Executive Chef Pia, whether in the Dining Room or by ‘hot-rock’ on the pool deck. Right after sunset a calling Bridled Tern landed briefly on the pool deck railing as diners chatted excitedly about the start of the journey.
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