Discovering the Culture of Broome in a Day
Bart Pigram was born and raised in Broome. He belongs to one of Broome’s most famous families, has been involved in revitalising Yawuru culture and language, and now runs Narlijia Cultural Tours. For Bart, the beauty of Broome is matched by deep cultural and historical significance.
Obviously there’s a natural beauty to Broome – that’s why it attracts so many visitors – but for me and my family it goes a lot deeper. We have a spiritual connection to the land and a responsibility for looking after it. I’ve learned from a lot of older people, language experts and anthropologists, in and around Broome. It has filled up my bottle of knowledge and there is still a lot more to go. It’s an honour and a privilege, and I take it pretty seriously.
The first place I take visitors is Kennedy Hill. It’s a massive sand dune and the highest point in the town centre. There’s an ancient midden packed with shells from thousands of years of Aboriginal occupation. I tell them about the beginnings of Broome, welcome them to Country, acknowledge our Elders and explain how we go about our business.
From Kennedy Hill you can look east over Roebuck Bay. The bay might be full in the morning, but by the afternoon the water will be gone and it’s all mudflats and mangroves. It’s the perfect place to explain the tidal movements. It has massive environmental significance, but it also has very strong cultural significance for our people.
Bay to beach (Roebuck Bay to Cable Beach and surrounds)
Crab Creek is a meeting place that connects neighbouring tribal groups. It’s a beautiful sightseeing trip but we also do some mud crabbing and throw in a line to catch threadfin salmon.
Minyirr Park is a nature reserve run in partnership with the Yawuru Rangers that supports the sand dunes around Cable Beach and Gantheaume Point. It has lots of bush fruits and medicines and animals, and a beautiful view of the sunset.
It’s good to go from the bay to the beach (Roebuck Bay to Cable Beach and surrounds), so you can see all the diverse landscapes and environmental systems: creeks, mangrove forests, sand dunes, red cliffs… it’s all there, even ancient dinosaur tracks.
Mud and mangroves
A lot of people have never set foot in the mangroves. They’re always asking about crocodiles – sometimes I play on that. The mud here is a foot deep. It will break your thongs in the first two steps, so I give people boots. When they walk through the mangrove forest, I always hear a few giggles. It’s like they’re little kids, back playing in the mud.
Along the way I stop and pick up things – sea snakes and anemones and stuff like that. The other day we saw a stranded stingray, and two weeks ago I was patting a little turtle. We chip fresh oysters off the rock and eat them right there.
We walk right out to Buccaneer Rock, which is the only structure in Roebuck Bay. It helps people understand that in seven hours this will be completely under water. From there, we can look back towards Chinatown. It’s a surprising way to see Broome – the town is really hidden from the mangroves and sand dunes.
Chinatown is the core of Broome’s history. It was the first settlement area, it’s where the history of Broome lies, and it ties in our Asian heritage and the pearling industry as well. It all started here. The pearlers set up camp in Roebuck Bay and Broome was gazetted in 1883. There was an abundance of pearl shell and it was booming. One of my ancestors was a slave trader. They used to collect Aboriginal people on their luggers and make them dive for pearl shell. He was charged in Roebourne in 1887.
We finish up at Sun Pictures, which is the world’s oldest operating picture garden. It used to have segregated seating, and the side door that Aboriginal people had to go through is still there today. I like to bring visitors through those doors so we can sit down together and maybe take some photos.
I’d encourage everyone to go to Cable Beach, lie on the beach and do the camel tours, but to get a true sense of the Kimberley region – which has a very strong Aboriginal cultural heritage that is active today – look into Aboriginal tours like ours. When I say goodbye to people, it’s as if a weight has been taken off their shoulders. They have reconciled with an Aboriginal person and I’ve reconciled with a white person. It’s a nice feeling, sharing that cultural connection.