October already- Who would believe it. It has been a busy month with us leaving Kalumburu and making our way across the Gibb River Road (5th time) for the final time this year. The difference driving out at the end of the dry, as opposed to when we drove in at the end of the wet is amazing. Completely gone are the twenty or more water crossings, some of which were deep, that we had to negotiate on our way in. The landscape is now dry and brown, hot and dusty as opposed to the wet, green and lush that it was in May. Its hard to believe it is in fact the same drive. The difference is amazing. Our advice to anyone wanting to visit anywhere in the top end of Australia, not just WA is to do it just after the wet, as soon as the roads are open. Leave it to the end of the season and you will have the place to yourself, and for a very good reason.
We got into Broome after an overnight stop again at Manning George. We had 5 nights to kill in Broome before heading up to One Arm Point on the Dampier Peninsular. The Health Dept kindly put us up in a unit that they own at Cable Beach as they thought it was getting too hot for us to stay in the camper trailer. This was our first visit to town for ages when we were not rushing, and it was a great opportunity to slow down and really be a tourist. The unit was very comfortable and within a short walk to the beach. This will do us nicely.
was off again to the court house markets where we bumped into a couple
met a few weeks earlier at Kalumburu. Tim and Casey (and baby Taj) had
at Kal to see Tim’s parents who are volunteers at the Mission. We met
them when we went to the Mission for dinner one night a few weeks
earlier. We sat and chatted about their trip and where they were off to
They are coming to the end of a 6 month trip and are now trying to
to after this. My advice was and still is, keep going while you can, as
have the rest of your life to settle down.
We spoke of Cape Leveque and they said how much they would love to get up there but vans are not allowed (or recommended) on the roads. We had a very simple solution, come and stay with us, which they did. More of that later.
The next 3 days was spent shopping, doing the Pearl Luggers’ tour (which is part of Willie Creek Pearl Farm) and hanging out at the pool at Cable Beach Club Resort, which for those who have not had the pleasure, is very flash, followed by some sunset drinks at the Sunset Bar (of course) at the same resort. Sitting up on the deck, watching the sunset, with camels strolling by is a pleasant way to see in a new tomorrow. We went to the Broome open air cinema (Sun Pictures) and saw the new Pixar movie ‘Up'. If you believe what the billboard says, this is the oldest open air cinema in the world (established in 1916). Go figure. What a great movie in a great outdoor location, lying back in the old canvas chairs, pillow under your head, stars overhead.
Then Sunday after a lazy start to the day, Chris and I left the boys in front of the TV (watching the NRL final) and went to have a few drinks at Matso's, which is a small boutique brewery on the beach at Roebuck Bay. While it might be a bit sad that our little boys are growing up, there are certain advantages. We met up with Tash who we first met at Kalumburu a few months back and had a very pleasant laid back afternoon listening to the live music and sampling their beers. Next on the agenda (the following day!) was the ‘Stairway to the Moon’ which I have spoken about previously. We went up to the Mangrove Resort (with Tash again) and sat around in comfort while having a drink, band playing in the background. When the stairway began glowing on the mud flats, out went the lights and a guy started to play the didgeridoo. It was a very pleasant few hours, certainly compared to our last stairway experience, a few years ago while we were in Port Hedland. We went for the ‘budget’ experience that time, sitting in the sand dunes, in the pitch dark and without even a torch or a chair, and No drinks. Much more upmarket this time. Afterwards we all then went out to dinner in town with Monica, who is the lady who arranges all our placements in the Kimberley and Tash. Good food and good company, a great night was had by all.
Tuesday had us back at the supermarket for a few last minute things, 2 new tyres on the car and then off to One Arm Point, arriving just on dark. We have been here a few times before, just as tourists and it really is a very pretty spot. As the name would suggest it is on a point at the very end of the Dampier Peninsular, about 20kms further up the road from our very favourite Kooljiman at Cape Leveque. The guy (Dean) that I was relieving and his family were still here, so we all bunked in the house together, thank goodness. The thought of setting up the camper in the dark did not excite me at all. The next afternoon he took us out for a quick spin around the point in his boat, and we sat out in the passage watching the sun set. The next morning they left and Tim and Casey arrived. They ended up staying with us for 3 nights and we really enjoyed having them. I have said before, there are two different groups of people when it comes to houseguests. The low and the high maintenance guests. Well these guys were very low maintenance and they could have stayed for a month. The best part of having them stay, other than the great conversation and the fact that he bought Coopers with him, was that it got us out doing the touristy thing, straight away. First night it was off to Kooljiman to watch the sunset at Western Beach and then the next day down for a swim and fish and chips at the resort takeaway.
Then on Saturday we did a tour of the pearl farm a few kms out of One Arm Point. Cygnet Bay Pearls has been in operation since 1946. It is the oldest Australian owned and family operated pearl farm in this country and is well known for producing the largest pink South Sea pearl in the world. This priceless freak of nature is a perfect round and is 22.24 mm in size. Up until about 3 months ago this business was not open to the public, but the recent global recession saw a downturn in the demand for pearls. Remember, pearls are a 100% luxury item, and as we know the luxury items are the first to go when times get tough. So tough times require tough action so they decided to open their doors to tourists and have been surprised at how busy it has been. They also now sell pearls direct to the public at about ½ the retail price of elsewhere.
Now I don’t want you to think that I am starting to loose my marbles, or going soft, but I have started to appreciate the old pearls a little more. The more I learn about them and how they are cultured, the more they fascinate me. No longer do I just see them as bits of rolled up chewing gum. I can now appreciate their natural beauty, and how many are needed to get a few that are either perfect or close to perfect. So what makes a good pearl? Five simple things: size, shape, colour, quality (no ridges, pinholes or blemishes) and lustre. It is interesting to get a sandwich bag full of pearls and look at them all together. There is almost always a stand out pearl, and it is generally the lustre that makes it stand out from the rest.
Cygnet Pearls has 200,000 Pinctada Maxima shells hanging in panels in the bay. This is the most labour intensive industry that I have ever seen. Let me give you a very quick overview of how it works.
Firstly the shell used to grow the Pearl is the Pinctada Maxima shell. These need to be harvested from the ocean floor during the cooler months, so the first step is to send divers down who literally walk around connected to a ‘hooker’ breathing system (air compressor on the boat and a long air hose down to the diver) collecting the shells. They are then taken into the seeding shed where they are put in relaxation tanks so the shell slowly opens (this is true) and then someone sneaks up on them and jams a wedge into the opened shell. As if one wedgy is not bad enough they then receive a second wedgy. A very skilful and unbelievably well paid technician then gets a small round piece of Mississippi Mussel shell and after making a small incision in the gonad the seed is implanted.
The shells are then taken to a quiet area of the bay and are hung in panels in the ‘hospital’ section to recuperate. They are then taken out to the main section of the bay where 6 shells are suspended in each panel. So remember there are 200,000 shells in total, 6 to a panel = nearly 43,000 panels. Now this is the amazing part. Each and every one of these shells has to be hand cleaned every 30 days. They have between 3-5 boats out at a time (sometimes more) with 3 people on each boat. These guys (and girls) work 10 days on and 5 days off which means in a 30 day cycle they work 20 days. So that means they clean 200,000 shells in 20 days, which believe it or not is about 3,360 shells per day per boat (8 lines, 70 panels per line, 6 shells per panel). The cleaning consists of each panel being put through a high pressure water cleaner (see picture above of cleaner on the boat) and then each shell is manually removed from the panel and all the growth chipped off with a big knife and then placed back in the panel. How they do this for nearly 10 hours a day is beyond me, all day everyday. The panels themselves are also manually cleaned otherwise they become too heavy and not only hang too low in the water but also it causes damage to the lines.
So this continues for two years and then the shells are ready to be
bought in for
harvesting. The shell is again relaxed, given a wedgy, another incision
pearl removed and a new seed implanted. Generally the shell can be
times (total of 6 years) and generally the pearl produced gets bigger
and bigger each time and then it is buggered, and does not produce
pearls. It is then opened (as in killed), the meat sold and the shell
is then used to make buttons, watch faces etc or ground up and used in
fancy metallic car paints to mention a few. There is no waste in this
So there you have it in a nut shell, or pearl shell to be technically correct. Now that night after our visit and tour of the pearl farm we were sitting around having a drink and the subject of purchasing a pearl was raised. Now I am not a great fan of jewellery and have a belief that if we really need it we would have been born with it. Unfortunately if you combine a bit of peer pressure, a few Pure Naked Blondes (the beer for those with wandering minds) and a new found fascination for these bits of rolled up chewing gum, one does weaken. The next morning we ducked down again to the farm and Chris ended up with a very lustrous 14mm almost perfect round pearl, which will one day be made into a very attractive necklace. It will make a lovely memento from our time in the Peninsular.
So what about One Arm Point? This is a very nice community of about 400 people. It is a very functional place, very clean (like no rubbish anywhere), beautifully maintained yards and every house has a flash car and boat. The locals are a very proud bunch and most have jobs. There is one shop, a workshop with no mechanic, but does have fuel, a Council and a school that is P-12 and of course the Clinic. It is a very sleepy place with very few people just hanging around. Everyone is either working, gardening or fishing. There are a fair number of white fellas and our boys have been in their element as the builder lives next door to us and has 4 kids, two of which are around the age of ours. It has been great for them to have other kids to hang out with. If I was (and certainly could) to spend 6 months or so here you would have to get a boat as the waterways around here are outstanding. Dave the builder next door recently took a boat trip around to Talbot Bay and to the Horizontal Falls with another boat. They did the 400 kms in 4 days. What a trip that would have been. That is a long way in a boat.
I have enjoyed my time at the Clinic and would be more than happy to come back. The permanent staff have been great fun and an absolute pleasure to work with. If I could clone this lot the working world would be a much happier place. You really have to wonder why some people have to be so difficult in the workplace, as it is so pleasant when your colleagues are nice. I really can’t wait to get to work each morning, just to see their smiling faces and to listen to their corny jokes. Thanks Lesley, Cheryl 1 and Cheryl 2 for making us feel so welcome.
So that is pretty much it. We have been back to Kooljiman a few times now for sunset, for
a swim and for another fish and chips takeaway. It is hard to think of a place
so beautiful, so unspoilt, and so natural. Some places should stay the same
forever. We left the peninsular on the last day of the month and will make our
way home to QLD over the next month via Melbourne. The first week will be a bit
unpleasant as we will get to Adelaide as quickly as possible and then
will slow right down and poke along for the rest of the trip.