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The White Divers of Broome

Author: John Bailey


What the publisher says about the book:
In 1912 Broome was as much Asian as Australian, filled with the smell of unfamiliar spices and a babel of competing languages. The town thrived on the hugely profitable and extremely dangerous pearl shell industry. Asian labour was cheap to hire, and easy to replace. It was a frontier town where racial tensions simmered uneasily between whites, Asians and Aborigines.

In that year, twelve British Royal Navy-trained divers and their tenders were sent to Broome, urged by a Federal Government deep in the grip of the ‘White Australia Policy’ and anxious to rid the country of the last remaining Asian ‘taint’. Their task was to master the perilous art of pearl shell diving, and overcome the Asian stranglehold on the pearling industry, proving once and for all the supremacy of the white man over the coloured.

This book gives an interesting insight into the somewhat tense political situation in Australia around the start of the 20th century, where strong Australian political forces felt threatened by the large amount of non-whites coming to work and live in the country. In order to try and limit the non-white immigration, different sets of regulations were implemented.

The long established pearl industry in Broome was mainly dominated by white Master pearlers who traded the mother of pearl substance (the pearl substance inside the shell) collected by mostly Asian divers. The Asian divers were well recognized as the best divers for this job.

When government, situated far away from the actual pearl diving area, as an experimental scheme makes Master pearlers use British navy divers as pearl divers in order to prove white superiority also in this trade, it is met with both reactions and more or less hidden sanctions from the industry. The book describes the last years of the mother of pearl industry in Broome with facts sewn together as a continuous story, making it enjoyable and at the same time informative to read.

The white divers of Broome is an interesting book to read to catch an insight in the pearl shell industry in the remote parts of Australia in the early 20th century. It also provides a glimpse into the White Australia Policy of the time and is well worth reading.