Broome Walks : Broome Historical Museum

Before my time was up in the morning for the afternoon town tour, I grabbed time to quickly visit the museum that I passed early morning that day since it still closed and because I prioritized to see Roebuck Bay first.



Broome Historical Museum (Former Broome Customs House until 1979)



Museum’s Entry


I thought I was lucky that I came in the morning to the museum as I was not really sure until what time the museum was open but from the brochure that I was holding at that time, the museum will only open in the morning. At the front of the museum, I felt hesitant to walk towards the museum because my impression was no one visits it as I haven’t seen people near the building. But even with hesitation, I opened the door and there I  saw visitors inside the museum, I felt at ease after. When I came inside, there was a Volunteer Desk near the entrance and I inquired how can I visit the museum, and the staff explained to me that there was a minimal fee that I have to pay and it cost $6 for adult at that time. Then she gave me a brochure with museum map guide. After paying, I started exploring the museum.

Pearling Display

The most spacious part of the museum is called Pearling Display where it depicts the history of Pearling Industry in the town from Aboriginals to present time. The displays to be seen here explained how important the pearls is and where it used for. There are displayed information which also shows the challenges of the divers during the early years of pearling business.

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– Aborigines in Pearling

1 – Pearl Shell (Pinctada maxima) waiting to be unloaded from lugger
2 – Aboriginal diver in the Gulf of Carpentaria using a helmet and air hose but without a complete diving suit it was not very satisfactory
3 – Crew working on deck of lugger
4 – Pearling Masters supervising the unloading of shell from lugger rowboats onto the foreshore. The shell is then taken to the packing sheds for sorting and packing
5 – Lugger crew
6 – Pearl shell on deck of lugger

Source : Broome Historical Museum

I read the information displayed and there I learned how the Aboriginals trading pearls for personal decorations and ceremonial purposes even at earlier time. But when European discovered that the north-west coast of Australia is a rich source of quality pearls, their commercial pearling vessels started to appear in Roebuck Bay around 1860s. And like history of other countries that colonized or invaded by foreign countries, dark ages or dark times happens as the Aboriginals experienced Blackbirding period of their life. This was the time where aboriginals were kidnapped to force them to work as pearl divers and skinners. They are forced to work in pearl luggers which significantly shows how the locals was treated at the height of pearling industry.

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Diver’s Suit (Standard Diving Dress)

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Air Pump (Standard Diving Equipment)


During the early years of pearl industry booming, the main challenges of the divers was to suffer from ‘Bends’ where divers experience pain when immediately immerse above the water from deep diving.

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1 – Dressed diver standing on lugger with crew members
2 – The diver would dress to dive at first light and would do about eight dives each day only finishing when it became too dark
3 – While diving, the divers connection to the lugger is his air hose and ‘lifeline’ a 50 fathom length of rope controlled by the tender who was responsible for the repair and care of the diving dress and staging the diver – stopping his ascent for periods of time after diving in deep water to avoid the ‘bends’
4 – Pearling Masters with pearl shell on the foreshore before being graded and packed.
5 – Diver getting his shell collection bag prior to diving
6 – Streeter’s Jetty was the original town jetty appearing on maps from 1880’s onwards and is located at the end of Short St.
7 – On return to the lugger the diver’s helment would be removed and while resting he would have food and drink. Note the sail used for protection against the sun
8 – Pearling Master and crew on deck of lugger
9 – Customs Storage Shed located in the grounds of this Museum. This was the second Customs House, the first being in Dampier Tce

Source : Broome Historical Museum

– Diving Suit

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1 – Pearling luggers, Dampier Creek early 1900s
2 – Crew moving pearl shell along the rail track on Streeter’s Jetty during high tide
3 – After the pearl shell has been collected the crew clelans the weed off the shells. Each crew has a shell opener who collected any pearls that were found ang gave them to the owner
4 – B25 schooner Mina on the beach at the Beagle Bay, damaged as result of the 1926 cyclone
5 – Pearling Master Taylor and others (unknown) of foreshore near Streeter’s Jetty
6 – The decompression chamber was a gift to Broome from C.H Heinke & Co. in 1914 to reduce the number of pearl divers suffering from the ‘bends’. Death or disability can occur when, after diving in great depths the diver does not ‘stage’ or rest on his ascent to allow nitrogen gas to revert back to its original state. If he comes up too quickly, the nitrogen gas which has been absorbed into his bloodstream cause pain, disability and sometimes death.
7 – Pearling Master T Hunter (centre) weighing pearls
8 – Mary Dakas was one of Australia’s few female pearl lugger operators. After the accidental death of her husband, Christopher Dakas in 1948, Mary inherited his luggers/equipment and entered into the male dominated pearl shell industry in NW Western Australia. Mary was soon operating luggers out of Broome. As Mary explained: “I had four boat pearling. I started with Swallow in 1949. My son Manual built the Kestrel on the beach at Broome and we added the Jedda and one other to the fleet. We did well while the price of shell was up’

Source : Broome Historical Museum

– Pearling in Broome

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1 – Amateur sumo tournament at Japanese Club – Mr Maruyama holding Joseph Murakami
2 – Town jetty at low tide with State Ship Koolinda in background. This jetty was built in 1898 and stretched 900 meters into Roebuck Bay. It was replaced by the current wharf in 1966
3 – Sheba Lane ‘the Red light’ district of Chinatown which ran from Napier Tce to the Star Hotel in Frederick St. In contained boarding houses, stores, gambling premises, bathhouse and the Kuomintang office, the Chinese Nationalist Party. By the 1940s, due to the downturn in pearling, this area was largely abandoned.
4 – Old Broome jetty at low tide
5 – Outside Sun Pictures in Carnavon St. indentured workers at the end of their contracts load their belongings onto the tram which will take them to the jetty
6 – Carnavon St looking towards Napier Tce with Sun Pictures on the right. LL Tacks Building centre and Tang Wei’s on the left of photograph
7 – Wedding party on steps of Bon Ton Cafe in Napier Tce. This was one of many cafes in Napier Tce in the 1920s
8 – First steam engine for the tram that ran from the jetty to Chinatown outside Mumery’s chemist shop. The driver is Captain Gregory
9 – Japanese cemetery. There are over 900 Japanese buried in this cemetery with most death connected to the pearling industry. The earlies grave is dated 1893. The cemetery was refurbished in 1983 and some of the original headstones can be seen here in the museum

Source : Broome Historical Museum

– White Australia Policy

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– Decompression Chamber

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1 – Riots December 1920 – Special Constables line Carnavon St to control the fighting between the Japanese and Koepanger crews during the lay-up in Broome
2 – The Japanese Club was adjacent to the Police Station in Napier Tce. It was used as a meeting place, theatre, a sports arena (judo, sumo wrestling) and also as gambling premises
3 – William Webber, one of the twelve British Royal Navy divers and their tenders brought to Broome in 1912 as part of the ‘white diver experiment’. These men were meant to show that white divers could be successful pearl shell divers and therefore overcome the Asian dominance of pearl shell diving in Broome. The experiment died from the ‘bends’.
4 – Yasukichi Murakami was a Japanese man who came to Broome working first as a photographer then involved in businesses associated with pearling. He became a business associate of Captain A Gregory. The two became business partners with Mr. Murakami as the silent partner. This was called ‘dummying’ and was illegal under the West Australian law but many participated in the practice.

Source : Broome Historical Museum

– Difficulties

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1 – Divers on lugger John Luis after last dive in 1975 season. This lgger (built in 1957) was modified for new diving technology and the change from pearling to shell harvesting. The lugger is now at the Australian National Maritime Museum
2 – Pearl shell on sea bed
3 – Pinctada maxima (liver slipped pearl oyster). For a hundred years prior to the 1970s this oyster was collected for its pearl shell, with any pearls found a bonus. Now it is harvested for the growing of cultured pearls
4 – A drop shaped pearl
5 – A technician inserting a spherical nucleus into the oyster’s sac. The shell is then put in panels, attached to lines and hung a few meters below the surface where nutrient is available for it to survive and cost the nucleus with layers of nacre to form a pearl
6 – Pearl shell opened showing the body of oyster that the shell protects from predators. The final product of a pearl oyster is pearl meat, a delicacy appreciated by many.
7 – Crew members doing a final clean of the frames before they are put back in the water
8 – A perfect pearl
9 – During the two years of each pearl’s growing period, the shells are rotated and cleaned regularly, removing barnacles and seaweed.
10 – After a pearl is removed a nucleus the size of the removed pearl is inserted and the pearl oyster is put back into the frame and hung off the lines for a further two years
11 – Cultured pearls

Source : Broom Historical Museum


– Cultured Pearls

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– Pearl Usage

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– Carnarvon St

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– Soy Sauce Jar

– Shell Collections


There are two Dinosaur Footprints are being displayed in the museum. First is 120 million year old print from a theropod which was cut from rock at Crab Creek and put on the black market. The offender was arrested and the footprint subsequently donated to the Broome Historical Society. The second is from the Megalosaurus Broomensis, a predatory dinosaur which scientist believe to have been about 9 metres long and five meters high. The said dinosaur footprint was kindly loaned to the Broome Historical Society by Peter Meier, who found it amongst a load of Kimberley sandstone when landscaping.


120 million year old Theropod Footprint



Megalosaurus Broomensis Footprint

The Norman Family & The Pearling Industry

Norman family who were prominent in pioneering the pearling industry which started from Hugh Norman and his wife Margaret Mary Norman down to his son Edgar (Ted) de Burgh Norman. Hugh Norman was founder member and a President of the Pearlers Association and Mayor of Broome (1909-1910).


Norman Family

IMG_8671_sSchooner Ena and Broome Style House


Broome Built Heritage

Aboriginal People Law & Order

Exploring the museum led me to discover one of the amazing things about the Aboriginals. I found that they have ‘Six Seasons of Yawuru’ Calendar. The impression it made on me was that these local people has scientific observations of the weather for thousand years ago.

Aboriginals wears Riji, a pearl shells traditionally worn by Aboriginal men in Broome region to whom only initiated to the highest degree. Riji are associated with water, spiritual powers and healing due to the luminous shimmering quality of their surfaces.



Six Seasons of Yawuru



Broome Museum also displays the Australian Aboriginal Flag with eye-catching rallying symbol for Aboriginal people and a symbol of their race and identity. The Black which represents the Aboriginal people. The Red represents the earth and their spiritual belief to the land. The Yellow represents the sun, the giver of life.



Australian Aboriginal Flag


Australia was one of the country that was early adopter of Telegraph Technology where its capital cities were connected since 1858. There was undersea cable between Broome and Banjoewangie (East Java) which triggered Broome and that time was just a pearler’s base camp before it transformed into a town.

One of the noteworthy thing that I learned when visited the museum was the Amalgamated Wireless Australia (AWA) which became Overseas Telecommunication Commission (OTC) and now the nationwide telecom of the country Telstra. Broome Coastal Wireless Station was one of the 19 stations in Australia that served with significant role in communications during World War I and II.



Early Duplicator or Photocopier (bottom right)







Every time I visits museum, there is always something to learn and discover. People may find some commonality of  displays or archives from one museum to another and sometimes, relations of things and even places historically. One caught my attention was a different kind of Billiard. I knew a little about billiards and saw something similar was fascinating. I saw Bagatelle which is a type of billiards famous during 19th century.


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Other photos in Recreation

Domestic Life



Some photos that represents the Domestic Life in the town


Broome has significant role on its own historically. One of it was when Farrell Family established Broome Meatworks which became a mainstay economy of the town before. During war-time, it was one that helped to supply meat for Australian defense forces and even to supply internationally by freezer ships. The business operated for over 50 years before its closure.



Diamond Plane / World War II

During my reading in this part of the museum, I realized that there was a famous story about the diamond which said to be strayed in the coast of Broome when one of the plane was hit during war and without awareness of the pilot, there was a box of diamond in his plane. The story about diamond circulates the town.

The town itself has its own story to tell during World War I. They were one of the affected town during that time as first, their lots of Japanese lived in the place due to pearling business and these Japanese interred at that time. Until it experienced to be hit by lots of Japanese Mitsubishi Zero bomber. The town was devastated.


Wing tip from Diamond Plane DC-3


320 litre Zero drop tank

Kennedy/Haynes Room

Master Pearler, T.H. (“Bert”) Kennedy, also known locally as “H.K. Unsinkable”, for his perseverance in the pearling industry during the lean years of the great depression and the post war era. He is a Melburnians whom decided to stay in Broome while he was on his way to South Africa and became Master Pearler.



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Kennedy/Haynes Room

When I left the museum, there was an open space nearby where I saw Roebuck Bay once again. And I couldn’t help myself but admired it again because of its its crystal clear water.

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Roebuck Bay from Broome Historical Museum


Broome Historical Museum

1. Plan to visit Broome Historical Museum ? Please check latest information here :
2. Transportation – Town Bus Service, Broome Cycles, Car HireBroome Taxis
3. Directions to Broome Historical Museum using Bus :
Whether you are taking “Bus route FROM Cable Beach with Bus Stop” or “Bus route TO Cable Beach with Bus Stop”, just get off at “Town Beach / Museum / The Oaks Stop” and walk few meters towards the museum.



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DBA Mountaineer

An IT Professional who is in love to travel to learn more about our world, like natures a lot specially mountains.

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