Last full day in Broome as we fly to Perth tomorrow.
Went on the aforementioned trip to the cultured pearl farm at Willie Creek. Extremely bumpy ride, referred to locally as the “Kimberley Massage”(!) in a superannuated small coach, much of it along dirt roads. However, once we got there, things got really quite interesting as we were shown, in the usual extroverted Australian way, the journey from “shell to showroom”.
Oysters are grown in large tanks from babies to a certain size before they are set out in the ocean to grow. They are bred up to four times a year – in the wild they only breed once a year. Once born, the baby oysters are fed on four different types of algae grown in a lab on the premises. It takes 2 years for an oyster to be mature enough to produce a pearl. Extraordinarily labour-intensive operation from start to finish.
I think most people know that an oyster produces a pearl when it detects an internal irritation such as a grain of sand. Back in the day, you were lucky to get a pearl per thousand oysters. Now, using the latest techniques, pearls (of varying quality) are produced in over 90% of oysters. These are artificially seeded, very cleverly, with a pea-sized insert from – Mississippi mussel. Apparently, this is a close enough relative to the pearl oyster that it doesn’t reject it out of hand (or shell) but coats it with this extraordinary crystalline version of calcium carbonate (chalk!!)
We then went out for a boat trip on Willie Creek itself, and the skipper pulled up one of the oyster frames that are hung on long lines in the creek to display what the shells look like. The shells are cleaned regularly, otherwise they get attacked by a range of parasites which can bore through the shell and ruin the pearl-producing potential of the oyster. We couldn’t hear much of the presentation as it was choppy and windy – the tide was running in very fast indeed.
Back on shore for a – erm – retail opportunity. Jean was selected as a “model” for a top-quality pearl necklace:
This was followed by a remarkably good lunch, then back on the bus to Broome. This picture shows the type of road that formed the major part of the journey:
Then out to a little restaurant nearby called the Zookeeper Store. Apparently, this area was once a crocodile-based zoo run by one Malcolm Douglas, known to Aussies but not to me. It’s now been converted to a small collection of shops and restaurants, and the meal was excellent.
Back to the Cable Beach resort for final packing.
Last thoughts on Broome. Odd place, really. The resort has been fine, if expensive, but the town itself, only around 16,000 inhabitants, is spread over a really wide area. The pearling history and industry aspect of the town has been genuinely interesting.
Hot and humid, particularly today, and the build-up to the wet season appears to have started already, rather earlier than normal. We’ve seen clouds today, for God’s sake! First time in quite a while. Hope this is not a portent of things to come weatherwise as we will be heading north again from Perth in a few days…..
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