A weekend in Broome

Friday, October 16 to Sunday October 18, 2015

DSC_0013Not that I’ve been pining for creature comforts but oh how I love our one bedroom suite with living room and kitchen facilities – and did I mention fans – and air conditioning? Such luxury! And more Australian mangoes from the grocery store.

DSC_0010Broome boasts the world’s oldest outdoor picture theatre in the world. Since 1916 when it started showing silent movies, Sun Pictures has been a fixture on the main street. Luck was with us because on Friday night they were showing a recently released 20151016_175432Australian movie Last Cab to Darwin. It’s about a cab driver in Broken Hill, New South Wales who is diagnosed with terminal cancer and decides to drive to Darwin, Northern Territories where a doctor is preparing to 20151016_175537offer euthanasia. Driving via the Oodnadatta Track through the outback he has a series of adventures and makes the decision (SPOILER ALERT) not to avail himself of euthanasia but to drive back home to die. That synopsis doesn’t do the film justice with colourful outback characters, the  quintessential Australian cross continent trip and a conversation about what in the end is truly important – relationships, honesty and love.

The screen is set outdoors with green mangoes hanging off the tree to the right of the screen. Will they be offered to movie-goers when they are ripe in November? One can hope. Six rows of old cloth deck chairs are outside and the rest are under cover which makes sense for the wet season up here. It looks unchanged from how it must have been in 1916 with an old wood floor, cheesy posters from 60 years ago and corrugated steel roofing, the only difference being the quality of screen, sound, picture and movie. Oh, and the sound effects of the jets landing at the nearby Broome International Airport (where I am writing this waiting for the flight to Perth) is a newer addition. The flight path is directly over the theatre and the planes could not have been more than 30 seconds from touchdown, maybe a few hundred feet above us. Several times they completely drowned out the dialogue, but hey, it’s part of the charm.

We walked to the Matso Brewing Company for a ginger lime cider for me, a chilli pale ale for Geoff, lamb curry and Szechwan pork belly.


Broome has an “old west” history with its origins in the 19th century pearling industry. Dominated at first by Japanese pearl traders, it has a shady past. Pearl divers were recruited from Japan, China and Indonesia. In a disgraceful part of Australian history that was replicated the world over, the indigenous people were “blackbirded” i.e. kidnapped, made to walk from their inland homes to the coast in painful leg irons and made to work as divers. Many died. The result of all this is that Broome became the most diverse town in Australia. Sun Pictures is in the old Broome Chinatown. Sadly, Broome is also populated with an aboriginal population that is impoverished and marginalized with aboriginal people sleeping in the parks and on the cricket oval.

On March 3, 1942 the Japanese air force attacked Broome. When Indonesia was about to fall to the Japanese, a concerted Allied naval and air force effort ferried between 7,000 and 8,000 (imagine any small town in Canada receiving such a refugee influx today) mostly Dutch citizens in a two week period from Indonesia to Broome. Just as the refugees believed that they had come to safety the Japanese strafed the flying boats in the harbour still sheltering women and children, and the entire Allied air power in Broome. It was all over in 90 minutes leaving Broome battered, an estimated 100+ dead, countless others injured and Australians fearful of Japanese invasion.

As in Canada and in the United States, citizens of Japanese heritage were considered a security risk. One of Broome’s most successful and supportive pearl traders of Japanese origin was sent away from Broome to the country in Victoria where, unaccustomed to the cool climate, he succumbed to pleurisy and died. His sons however, having been born in Australia, were permitted to serve in the armed forces. All over the world we seem to find it necessary to divide the world into people “like us” and people “not like us” and so very often we get it wrong.


DSC_0001Sunday morning found me back at the Anglican Church where I’d been so warmly welcomed the Sunday before by Paulina and Joy. Dean, the newly arrived interim minister welcomed me by name (!) and gave a thoughtful, compassionate sermon on Ephesians where Paul exhorts women to submit to their husbands, children to obey their parents and slaves to submit to their masters. I’ve always found this an appalling passage but Dean likened it to workplace and family relationships that are to be based on respect, letting go of a “me first” attitude and living out of a Christ-like way of caring for others.

DSC_0012I can’t imagine that there are too many phone calls between Broome and Alexandria, Egypt but Sunday I talked to my sister Judy who with her husband Graham is teaching there for two years. We’ve shared our lives for 64 years and how I’ve missed our weekly phone calls since August 11th.  They are off to Cairo, the museum and pyramids for a short holiday, and we’re off to The Pinnacles north of Perth this week.

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