My great passion for travel within Australia and internationally forms one of my main sources of artistic inspiration. I’m often drawn to isolated places of natural beauty that are rich with history and cultural significance. There’s a fascination for me in reconciling the past and present within the natural landscape which for the most part remains unchanged. Visiting these places makes my senses tingle, brings me fully present and sets alight my imagination. I'm in the habit now of travelling with a small kit of art supplies, usually pastels, charcoal and mini tubes of acrylic and watercolour paint and sketchbooks, knowing that even though I may be needing rest, the discovery and stimulation of the strange and new will soon result in an urge to create and express what I experience.
The small and very remote coastal town of Broome has always held great allure for me. Located in the far north west of Australia on a long narrow peninsula protruding into the Indian Ocean it’s a long way from the big smoke, positioned 2,389 km north of Perth and 1,859km south west of Darwin. Broome sits at the gateway to the majestic Kimberley region which is considered to be one of the world’s last remaining unspoiled wilderness areas.
Recently my husband and I visited Broome for the first time and were completely enraptured by what we found there. Perhaps the most staggering discovery for new arrivals to Broome and the surrounding areas, not only for us but for most of the visitors we encountered, is the stunning landscape. As we flew northward from Perth, this became evident early. With my nose pressed to the window most of the way, I watched the dry brown land gradually turn to red revealing vast mud flats, dusty salt pans and mangrove swamps.
From my sketchbook
On arrival we found a place where the outback meets the ocean in a vivid kaleidoscope of colours. Red desert dirt fades to pink sand fringing the milky azure waters of the mangrove laden Roebuck Bay. On the other side of the peninsula vast golden and white sweeps of sand form the 22 kilometre long Cable Beach lapped by the clear cyan depths of the Indian Ocean. Swimmers must beware of stinging jellyfish (I unfortunately found out the hard way) and the occasional crocodile!
Massive tropical tides ebb and flow, dramatically changing all the waterfront areas each day. On our first visit to town we found Streeters Jetty leading into a forest of mangroves. Puzzling over the total lack of any water in the area we wondered about the purpose of the jetty. After an hour of wandering around town we returned to find the jetty area flooded with water. Eleven metre tides are quite common here!
Town Beach on Roebuck Bay became one of our favourite spots to take in the view and observe the locals at play. I loved to watch the light dancing on the water in the shadows of the mangrove trees. This is also one of the best vantage points for a natural phenomenon known as 'stairway to the moon', an illusion which occurs as the rising full moon creates beautiful reflections across the tidal flats.
From my sketchbook
The town has a somewhat romantic and, at times, tragic past. With a long history as one of the world's biggest pearling centres, formerly supplying the pearl shell market before the advent of plastic, this is still very evident today with original pearl farms continuing to produce some of the best cultured pearls to be found anywhere. And, oh my, they are beautiful. I can vouch there are around 16 pearl galleries in town. They far outnumber the pubs and that's saying something in this country!
Broome was one of only two places in Australia to be bombed during World War II, the other being Darwin. During a surprise Japanese air raid attack around 100 people lost their lives - largely a group of Dutch women and children who were refugees on route from the Dutch East Indies waiting to depart Broome aboard flying boats in the bay. Some of the plane wrecks are still visible at the lowest tides. Mythical stories also abound of heroic pearl divers working from the classic sailing pearl luggers, plane crashes, mysterious lost diamonds and piracy. The local museum gives a sad and graphic account of the terrible working conditions endured by the pearl divers who were from Japan and other parts of Asia, or aboriginals captured, then sold and enforced into diving. Not a proud part of our nation's history.
The local architecture is full of character unique to Broome with most buildings fully designed in corrugated iron to ventilate in the scorching heat and withstand the cyclone season. One of the most novel buildings is the one hundred year old Sun Picture Gardens, a three sided cinema with outdoor screen where movie goers have always reclined in traditional deckchairs to watch their favourite film stars. The town's population is an exotic cultural mix, descended from the many nationalities that have lived and worked here, adding to the town's mystique.
All of these events and characteristics swirl into a heady history destined to capture anyone's heart, especially a romantic like me. Many who come here to holiday never leave. We were tempted! Next week, I’ll share more of Broome's stunning colours including the startling Gantheume Point where dinosaurs have left their mark and our travels north to Cape Leveque, home to pearl farms and tiny local communities. I'll also show you the paintings these experiences inspired.
Your comments are always welcome below. Have a wonderful week.