A celebration that embraces the history of multiculturalism – defined by the pearl.
Some call it ‘destination desire’, others include it on the proverbial ‘bucket list’ but whatever the label, your own desire to be part of a special experience is like carrying around a travel itch.
For a long time, my itch has been to view the ‘stairway to the moon’ that appears at various times throughout the year in Broome. This exquisite natural phenomenon is the result of a full moon rising from the horizon over the exposed tidal flats of Roebuck Bay. The celestial event runs for two to three days and the town joins in with Staircase to the Moon markets at Town Beach and visitors and locals vie for the best viewing point.
The Mangrove Hotel Resort is tops, and it is where I finally viewed this beautiful event. Watching the elliptical yellow plates become steps in the black sky was extraordinary.
Funny thing – some of the other folk around me held their iPads up to the sky videoing the moon – rather than actually watching it. And I heard one bloke say: “wish it would go faster”. What a slow old moon it is!
For the few days in Broome it was nonstop festival – and how Broome loves to party! Over the same weekend as the moon did her thing, the Shinju Matsuri ‘festival of the pearl’ happened. The festival is a celebration of Broome’s special character, beauty, history and the pearl industry’s role in unifying the many rich cultures of the region for more than a century.
The history of pearling is the very essence of Broome’s history – the good, the bad and the ugly side. From indigenous divers, male and female, in the early days of the burgeoning industry it was a hard and cruel job the divers had to perform. Several nationalities gave decades to the industry as it changed to modern methods, including, Filipino, Indonesian and Japanese divers – all who left their mark on this town.
The festival this year included some fun and fine activities that reflected the spirit of Shinju Matsuri.
The first day for me started rather slowly as I had to drag myself away from the splendid accommodation of the Billi Resort. I didn’t have to go bush to stay in a Queen eco tent – this is serious glamping on a sophisticated level that is top shelf.
Skipping breakfast, I headed for the airport for a once-in-a-lifetime flight in a tiny plane that flew north to Cape Leveque. The coast is pure Kimberley – glorious reds and white sandy swathes against brilliant blue sea. Landing at Cape Leveque I enjoyed a sit-down breakfast with a damn fine latte too. In the plane, up again and off to Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm, and after lunch at the farm, a leisurely flight back to Broome sweeping across the Buccaneer Archipelago and the intriguing Horizontal Waterfalls.
Part of the festival in the evening took us to Taste of Broome – music and a picture show with food from the distinctive Indigenous culture within the town’s multicultural community.
I continued with more local experiences that are year-round and then was taken in the evening to the beach! The Floating Lantern Matsuri is a community effort where we all created lanterns and launched them into the outgoing tide at dusk. This special, quiet act of reflection and remembrance was a clear and present moment.
And then for the BIG moment on the beach. The Shinju Matsuri Sunset Long Table Dinner – is held on the sand at Cable Beach. Dressed to the nine’s, the guests mingled for sunset cocktails in bare feet before wandering down to the spectacular gourmet feast.
Guest chef Adam Liaw was joined by Broome’s finest chefs and they cooked up a storm while more than 200 people enjoyed the balmy sunset on the beach.
What a wonderful night, and the only time I’ve been encouraged to leave a ‘restaurant’ because a mighty king tide was coming in and we would be underwater by 11pm. We ate, we talked, we danced and then we skedaddled.
The festival closed off with market food stalls, live music featuring Archie Roach in the Cable Beach amphitheatre and, I believe, a bold and beautiful fireworks display to end this special event.
I missed the fireworks as I slipped away to realise my desire to see the Staircase to the Moon – overall – a happy decision.