Eric, I hope I got the name right, a Yawuru man, told me this story.
“Let’s say I come to your house and take a spot on the sofa in your sitting room. No invite was sent to you and neither did I write to inform you of my arrival. One day, I just opened your door and made myself comfortable. You probably are perplexed and having never faced this type of problem before, you would be busy looking for a socially acceptable way to get me off your property, right?
Before you could say hey, I opened your door and invited more folks of my kind in and now I have more of my folks than you have people of your type occupying your property. Space becomes an issue and I moved my folks to take over some of your rooms since the sitting room is no longer adequate for our needs. With that, you and your folks get driven to the backrooms. You started to fight back, just trying to lay claim to some ownership of your property that has suddenly come to be classified as “terra nullius” by me.
Just then, I dropped the salvo, going forward there are a few rules that I will like you to abide with and then I took your toilet and turned it into a jail. One in which I will lock any member of your family that doesn’t keep my laws. Now, I make the rules and you are, for your sake, constrained to the backyard of the house. You cried for justice, no one listens to you. You fight to get a piece of foothold on your property back and I put you and the rebelling members of your family in jail. Having perused your circumsttance, you cameout of jail reformed and see the futility in kicking against me. All you want now is to live your life the way you have been doing before I arrived but I would have none of it. All you could hear me say, to every complaint of yours, is that you should go get a life and stop crying over the past.”Go figure and thereafter tell me how you’ll feel, he said at the conclusion of his story. It was a sombre learning experience and one that I kept ruminating about for the day.
As we made our way to the Courthouse market, seeing the Regional Prison close by gave me the jitters. I couldn’t stop thinking of how many Aborigines are locked away therein and what the gravity of their offenses might have been. I wondered what opportunities become open or closed to them upon release, never knowing that I would get an answer to this in an encounter later in the day. The constant patrol of the streets by police vehicles was also not lost to me. All these, i observed, made for a complex relationship between the first nation people and those of us that have come much later tocall this land home.
The marketplace shows the difference in the races. Close to the entrance, we watched an aborigine artist busy working on a canvas in the open sun, no tent to provide him with cover from the elements. His works, all brilliant pieces, were displayed on the green lawn of the courthouse and there were a couple of people examining each piece with interests. On the other hand, on the main ground of the market were a couple of tents that bear insignias of galleries. The sales persons were comfortably seated on the chairs, with the arts framed, placed and arranged with the idea to command some good prices from potential buyers.
Walking around the market gives one an insight into the economy and therefore, political power, in this north-western city. It goes without saying that commerce is entirely in the hands of non-Aborigines, we could not find any business owned or represented by an indigenous person. The only “black” business we saw was a cloth stall manned by someone of African ancestry. The food stalls and pearls tents were mainly Asians with the Caucasians holding forth on everything else. The market was crowded and many stalls have people queuing to patronize them – the juice and food stalls especially. Kids were engrossed in playing on the grasses at the foot of the courthouse and, soon, they were being entertained by a group of Aborigine guitar players who were dishing out melodious tunes.
We checked out a couple of pearls, these weren’t cheap by any standard. Thereafter, we ordered our meals from the food vendors. One of the vendor, barbequing beef on a charcoal grill talked to us about his unique italian grill, one that has been custom made for his use. With nothing more to be done at the market, we walked the short distance from the courthouse to Chinatown. We sat near a make shift stage where two siblings were trying theirskills out on the keyboard and singing out lines scrolling from an ipad. Passer byes in attempts to encourage them of a future career in music were dropping coins in their guitar case and there was a fair bit of coins in it by the time we left.
It seemed that all tourists, without announcing to us, had converged here. We walked past the Sun Picture theatre, a theatre that claims to be the world’s oldest picture gardens still in operation. It survived the 1942 Japanese World War II attack on the city. The irony was, during this attack, the city had its fair population of Japanese working in the Pearling industry, yet this did not deter the bombing from Japan. The contributions of the Japanese to the city is encapsulated in the tombs of the individuals buried in the Japanese Cemetery located on Port Drive, an area that we were later to drive past in the evening.
Broome is the pearl capital of the world, so we expected some good bargain. At the intersection of Carnavon and Shorts Streets, we saw the Paspaley Pearls Broome showroom and went in. The jewels were all lovely and we got educated on the significance of pearls and the differences between the salt and freshwater pearls. We were told that pearls are the only jewels made by living organism. Saf was, by now, so much interested in getting a set of these pearls for herself and I was lost in reconciling the astonishing high prices on display with the low sense of value that I have for the sight I was beholding. When asked why the prices seemed high, the attendant told us of the hours of labour it takes to farm a single pearl over a 2 year period and informed of a set that had taken two generations to produce but recently sold for over two million dollars. An elderly man, within hearing distance, retorted saying that is enough reasons for anyone without deep pockets not to come into the store and advised that a signboard should be placed outside – “Poor people, do not enter”.
Still interested in a bargain, we turned to Dampier Terrace and entered a few shops with these jewels in dazzling displays and more dazzling prices. In one, Saf was actually encouraged to put some of the necklaces on and take some pictures with them. They looked good but I still couldn’t fathom why they are ridiculously costly. Thirsty, we turned into the Roebuck Bay Hotel bar for a drink only to be met by scantly dressed ladies in their underwears, the girls were especially nice and having taken our lime, lemon and bitters, we left the bar. The crowd here shows that this will be a great watering hole at night time but the night crawlers were still sleeping at this hour of the day.
Walking back to our accommodation, we stopped for a break and sat on a roadside bench directly in front of Bedford Park, the location of Broome’s War Memorial. Hamersley Street separates us from the “Women of Pearling” statue, a 3 metre bronze cast statue of an indigenous woman diver coming out of the water, pearl shell in hand that is dedicated to the women who have contributed to Broome’s pearling history for over a century. It was another way through which Australia is confronting its past. Here, the monuments acknowledges the exploitation that occurred during the ‘blackbirding’ phase. “Blackbirding” was the forcible kidnapping of Aboriginal women to pearl luggers, where they dived for pearl shells in deep water, often without breathing apparatus. Unsurprisingly, many of the women drowned. We were absorbed in taking in all this information when a group of Aborigines passed by. The women called out to my wife “Hey Sista” to which she replied courteously. One of the men coming behind extended his hands in a gesture of friendliness to me.
After a very refreshing sleep, we made for Cable Beach to watch the sunset. We stopped, along the way at Woolworth’s to pick some groceries. My wife had gone inside the mall and I was a little behind her. In the little pathway that leads from the car to the entrance of the mall, I was stopped by a mid-aged Aborigine man, I guessed he must be in his early forties. With a friendly mien, he had called out “Hey, Brother”. To which I answered, “Hi, how are you”. That response caused him to stop on the path, blocking my way.
“You know, this path is not big enough for me and you to pass”, he said.
I was a little scared but responded “Is that so?”
“Yes and that’s why I have shifted left so that you can pass” and as he said this, he moved sideways to create a way for me.
“Oh, that’s kind of you but I will also shift aside for you to pass as well” I responded and then shifted to the other side.
He had a cigerrete in his hand, about to light it.”Where are you from, brother”, he said.
“Nigeria and you know we are all the same”
“You know, I just got out of Prison man. In there, I met a man, a good man, just like you. He really was nice to me”
“Oh, okay, good to know that. So how are you?” I asked.
“My name is Aaron, what is yours?”
“Olu is my name”
“That is a difficult one to pronounce”, he said and made effort in pronouncing something that sounded like Orlu. So I spelt it for him.
He extended his hand and we shook and parted ways.
We made it to Cable Beach just in time to see the first camel train commencing tits walk up the beach and were fully setup by the time they returnied, treading close to the beach for that amazing picture with the sunset as a backdrop. Everywhere we looked, people were busy enjoying this natural environment provided by the calm sea. Not too far a distance from us, there were a couple of people riding ATVs up and down the sand dunes. Humanity had been locked in by Covid19 and was now released! The young, old and not so old were everywhere. The low tide of the ocean turns the beach into a solid flat land that runs for more than a kilometer from the point of entry near a set of weathered rocks precariously laying scattered. We took our cxhairs and watched the sunset, it was all peaceful here.