Broome, a small city of 15’000 people, located in the northwestern part of Australia is the major stop when travelling through the Kimberley region. With the Timor Sea at its northern shores, Broome is in fact much closer located to Indonesia than most Australian states. The next big cities to the east (Kununurra) and west (Port Hedland) are about 720km, resp. 610km away, a long drive through sometimes featureless deserts. This makes the town of Broome stand out like an oasis, where infrastructure (shops, restaurants and accommodation) seems to be the primary reason to stay for a day or two.
However, Broome also has a quite exotic history and absolutely beautiful beaches, located in a colorful mix of red earth, crystal blue sea and white sand. Although small, I felt that Broome was vibrant and full of energy, like the bigger cities in Australia. There is a mix of pioneering spirit and laid back entrepreneurship, which results in an unique atmosphere that is fascinating. I planned to stay two days here and ended up having to kick my butt to finally leave after four days. It would have been very easy for me to hang around a couple of weeks in this town.
The Japanese started the business of pearl diving here in the late 19th century, joined later by Chinese and Malay divers. This was back then an especially dangerous job, when operating in the open sea. Many workers were killed by sharks or other accidents. The Japanese, Chinese and Muslim cemeteries do witness parts of this tragedy, as well as a small statue of a pearl diver downtown Broome. This statue is actually located in Chinatown – one of many hints pointing out the cultural mix that makes this small outback town very unique. There are also Pioneer cemetery, historic courthouse and Broome museum showing the tragic pearling past.
Another notable sight downtown is the Picture Garden (Sun Pictures), which is the world’s oldest operating outdoor cinema. It is operating since 1916 and entering this cinema is in fact like traveling back in time (although the movies shown are the current blockbusters). Lying on a deckchair watching a film under the stars in this historical setting was a personal highlight. However since the Airport of Broome is located within the city, the landing path of aircraft just goes over this theater. But then, the occasional plane flying through the cinema’s ‘ceiling’ is the spice which makes the experience so special. I guess that this is probably also the case for flight passengers who get their share of a short, free glimpse of a movie during landing.
Town Beach features a unique sight at certain dates: When the tide is low and the rising moon is full, the reflections in the rippled bay cause an optical illusion of a golden stairway to the moon. Unfortunately, I would have had to wait two weeks for this event (called ‘the staircase to the moon’) to happen – but I was told that this was an awesome sight.
A bit further away from town is the lighthouse at Gantheaume point, where the retreating waters during low tide reveal some 135million years old dinosaur footprints along the coastline. A bit further north, the much hyped Cable Beach is definitely beautiful – but then again: I still find beaches very boring, despite the fact that I have been through a very dry desert before arriving here. I guess that some of the excitement of Cable Beach stems from the possibility of nude sunbaking at the north end of the bay. The name of this site actually comes from a telegraph cable between Indonesia and Australia that was laid here back in 1889.
Youth hostels in Australia are simply called “Backpacker”. However, many tourists down under – and this includes Broome – who are staying in Backpackers aren’t backpackers. Usually, teens would fly in by plane and have suitcases with wheels – carrying heaps of clothes to dress perfectly for the nights out. To cater for this audience (they should be called “Suitcasers”), receptionists hand out crockery to anyone checking in. There was no point for me to argue that I had my own – it would have messed up their “system”, since upon check-out everyone is supposed to return the loaned cutlery and dishes. After the initial outrage of how posh backpacking through Australia had become, I now do try to blend in as much as I can.
The Broome Backpacker reminded me a bit of the joint in Beijing, since it had a licensed bar attached and thus there was quite some partying going on. Quiz nights and wet t-shirt contests were organized on nights. Obviously, you’d want to get dressed nicely for this.
By chance (?), I ended up in the dormitory with the worst reputation of the whole hostel: On the door were final payment notices pinned (“…or you may get evicted!”) for a couple of guys staying in the room. And inside the room it looked as if a bomb had hit all suitcases. Hundreds of pieces of clothes were laying everywhere: On the beds and on the floor. All the cupboards doors were open because the clothes were spilling out onto the floor. There was no way for hostel staff to clean the room and therefore they ordered everyone to put all their belongings at least onto the beds.
This was the situation when I entered the room at 11am. One guy was sleeping in my bunk, because this empty bed was the only free space in the whole 12bed dorm. He was not keen to clean up the mess, since he simply had gathered all his clothes from the floor and put them on his bed (as did most of the others). However, he was very apologetic and left my bed immediately to sleep outside in a hammock instead. After the staff had cleaned the floor in the room, the guy came back, threw all his clothes back onto the floor and then went back into his bed. By 4pm most of the others in the dorm had done the same and the creative chaos was back in place.
Traveling with only four t-shirts, pairs of socks and underwear, it was almost impossible for me to blend in with the crowd and mess up the place. But at least I got some free entertainment, when the boys and girls tried to dress up in the evenings, sifting through their piles of clothes. It’s a good way to listen and learn swearing in Australian slang. Somehow I ended up loving this dorm.