Broome, a pearler of a place

Photo of Mogens Johansen

A ‘Princess’ is the latest visitor to be dazzled by the town’s bounteous charms.

Broome is accustomed to the attention of the rich and famous, so when a princess arrives, it takes it all in its stride.

Sea Princess arrives early and her passengers slowly fill the streets of Chinatown.

The town is barely awake but the tourist paparazzi start their work of photographing its historic buildings, and the mangroves and turquoise water of Roebuck Bay.

Pearling was Broome’s first claim to fame and it is still a major attraction. Beautiful pearl jewellery sparkles in the morning sunlight in display windows, to tempt visitors into the pearl shops.

Bart Pigram is sparkling, too. He owns and runs Narlijia Cultural Tours, and charms a bus load of tourists with his easy-going nature and humour during his Life of Guwan cultural tour. 

He runs the tour in partnership with Cygnet Pearls, who have been pearling in Broome since 1946. Guwan means pearl shell in the local Aboriginal language and the tour combines Broome’s history of pearl farming as well as its Aboriginal culture and history.

A sign outside the Runway Bar in Short Street casually introduces the visitors to one of Broome’s local legends, musician Stephen Pigram (Bart’s father). His gentle, soulful music drifts out into the street and before long the bar is full of visitors.

Steve has his audience captivated with his songs and the stories behind them. Nowhere Else But Here is about life in Broome and Going Back Home is a song he wrote while living in the Eastern States and missing not only home, but his mum’s cooking ... especially his favourite meal of fish soup and rice.

It is clear that Broome is the celebrity, and the town’s history and residents’ charms relax you the minute you arrive. It is fair to say that Broome’s celebrity status began when British businessman Lord Alistair McAlpine fell in love with the town and built the exclusive Cable Beach Club. He first came to Broome in 1979 with plans to collect seashells and famously later went on to sign the deal to buy the Cable Beach site on the back of a beer coaster in a Broome pub. 

The luxury resort opened in 1988 and set new standards for accommodation in Broome and the Kimberley. It attracted the rich and famous and would-be celebrities who came to relax in the tropical paradise.

Since then, a steady stream of new resorts, self-serviced apartments and backpacker accommodation has sprung up both in old Broome and the Cable Beach area. But despite the development, Broome has managed to retain its dignity and charm and is still a favourite destination for visitors such as grey nomads, backpackers and families.

Cable Beach Club Resort & Spa (to give it its full title) captures the essence of Broome through its distinct architecture. Buildings with corrugated iron, lattice, wide verandas and balconies are nestled among 14.5ha of  tropical gardens with wildlife such as birds, lizards and wallabies. Throughout the resort is a treasure-trove of art and artefacts and the rooms are decorated with paintings by some of Australia’s best  artists.

It’s a resort that caters for  different budgets and clients.

Cable Beach Club’s studios are the cheapest option. These are spacious hotel rooms with Broome-style features such as timber flooring, corrugated iron walls and either balconies or terraces with pool views. The design of the bungalows nestled in the lush gardens is inspired by traditional pearling masters’ quarters, their open-plan living and kitchen areas perfect for families who want the option of self-catering. 

Also family friendly are the two-bedroom club apartments with ensuite bathrooms, lounge, dining and kitchen zones and a private balcony. The resort’s adults-only villas are aimed at couples wanting an extra touch of class and privacy. They have a dining area, lounge and a kitchenette as well as a private courtyard with a plunge pool.

The resort suites have  exotic antiques and artefacts and feature art from some of Australia’s leading artists, such as  Sir Sidney Nolan and Elizabeth Durack. From these balconies you see  Cable Beach.

The resort has four restaurants, and I can vouch for an excellent sashimi dish prepared by Japanese chef de cuisine Neil Sato at Zensai.

Down the road, the Kimberley Sands Resort is Broome’s youngest resort, with Jamie Durie-designed gardens with plunge pools as well as a big central pool area. This resort is all about relaxation and getting away from it all. Their day spa offers massages, body scrubs and beauty treatments as well as quiet zones and the resort’s restaurant, The Deck, is highly regarded and one of Broome’s premier restaurants.

Broome is a perfect place to unwind and escape the rat race, but with plenty of interesting activities and places to explore if you choose to venture further afield. 

Steve Pigram’s song Nowhere Else But Here sums it up. You really wouldn’t want to be nowhere else but here.


Mogens Johansen was a guest of Australia’s North West tourism.