The Port of Broome does not feature in the long list of notable ports in the world but for those that make the pilgrimage to Broome, it is one place one cannot avoid to visit. It is the largest deep-water access port servicing the Kimberley region and supports livestock export, offshore oil and gas operations, pearling, fishing, charter boats, cruise liners and is the main fuel and container receival point for the region.
It is popular for its iconic long jetty, jutting out straight into the open waters of the pacific ocean. On other days, it is normal to find huge cruise ships docking next to the jetty and their passengers creeping out like ants from the belly of the ships into waiting buses to take them into the heart of Broome to shop for pearls.
But the jetty has another use, it is a favourite fishing spot for locals and tourists and except for times of extreme weather, remains open for all to hone their skills in fishing and usually in the process, catch something for dinner. Old and young alike are to be found anytime of the day engaged in the patient game between the fisherman and the fish that lie below the stormy waters of the pacific.
Arriving here, we had pulled the Explorer next to a ute, out of which alighted two blokes and a very young lad. We exchanged pleasantries as they whip out their rather long fishing rods. As we pep-talked about the sunny bright day and the warm weather, we talked about their weird rods and asked if they are familiar with this fishing spot. The young lad, who we later found out is 8 years old, informed us that on their previous visit he had caught an 80cm Barracuda at this spot, the reason why they are back. I got encouraged that if an 8 year old could do that there was no reason why I can’t .
Getting to the jetty, the early birds were already there and were visibly engaged in the search for that catch of the day. But today is not going to be one of those days. The ocean rages. The wind was cooking up a storm and any loose item of clothing was at the risk of being forcefully separated from its owner. I was having on a golf cap that was struggling to flee away from my head except that my right hand was determined that it was going nowhere. Soon, the hand got tired and I had to take off the cap and hold in my hand. Visibly, one can see the swirl of the water, the waves were turbulent. It wasn’t limited to that, one can hear it as well. The swoosh sound of the wind as it hurls past us was enough notice that dinner wasn’t going to be from the ocean today.
We haven’t come this far to turn back without walking on the jetty. It was scary but the presence of other folks on the jetty and gave us some encouragement. As we stepped on the green steel grated structure that makes up the jetty walkway, we could feel danger lurking near. First, the yellow rails that act as a preventive barrier for anyone from falling into the waters will not stop any small statured person from going through the space between the rails. We could also feel some slight movement of the walkway, this mainly due to the rough waters just about a meter below us. We soon passed a couple of folks and couldn’t help but noticed their empty buckets, not a single fish has been caught. A couple of folks have given up fishing and were engaged in socializing. A few metres ahead, the walkway was barricaded and we have to turn back, for us there would be no fishing today. No Barramundi for dinner for anyone.
Unnoticed by me, Saf had made for the exit just as soon as we reached the barricade. Walking back to the car park, I noticed a small beach assessable through a short flight of stairs at the end of the jetty but before the Toll supply base with its unmistakable grain silo. I succumbed to the temptation of visiting it and made for the stairs. But, before I could descend, there is a warning sign just before me asking me to carefully think about my choice. It is a warning that crocodiles have been sighted in this area before and that I should be cautious around the beach area. These are the salt water crocodiles that are endemic to the northern part of Australia, they are known bone crackers! Seeing the boulder rocks, remnants of the weathering efforts of the sea on the surrounding cliff rocks, bear testimony to the heavy punch the sea packs and its resilience. On their own, the red colour of the boulders being ferociously washed and bathed by the waves was an amazing sight to behold.
I finally caught up with Saf on the other side of the Port Drive, not far from the Wharf Restaurant. Here, we could see in the far distance some white grain silos towering above everything else and the shores of Town Beach where we had walked on the mud flats the previous day. Closer to us, as we look down at the ocean, the can look down to the ocean, green seaweeds are bubbling up and down uncontrollably on the water. A couple of working tug boats are also struggling on the water, around the head of the jetty. It was a picture-perfect spot and we didn’t waste the opportunity. A coconut tree stands aloof at our back and surrounding the edges of this elevated spot are thick well-manicured green bush with a plaque uniquely positioned in the middle. It is a great spot to take in all the sight and sound of the ocean around us. The plaque commemorates the commissioning of the jetty by the premier of Western Australia on the 23rd July 1966. I mused as I read this. While Western Australia was commissioning the jetty, the Congolese Army made up of 2,000 soldiers from the Katanga Province were staging a mutiny which would end in the death of at least 3,000 citizens of that country by the time it was suppressed in about 2 months later. That was a momentous event for South Sudan. At the same time, the Nigerian Soldiers of northern extraction were busy planning for the 1966 counter-coup that took place 6 days later on 29th July 1966 where the Head of State, Aguiyi-Ironsi, and Governor Fajuyi were murdered by Captain Danjuma and his boys. This event changed the trajectory of Nigeria till today. While we were busy killing ourselves in Africa, Western Australia was building for the future!
Leaving the port of Broome, we drove straight to Town Beach and it was immediately obvious that something was out of place, it didn’t resemble the same beach we had visited the previous day. Aha, the mud flats were gone and there was nothing left to indicate that they had ever existed. In their place, the ocean water was roaring and nobody was anywhere near the water. That is, except one poor soul that felt this was the perfect time to go swimming. Of course, some mothers do have ’em. While I took a walk on the long, narrow, concrete boat ramp. Protected by huge brownish granite rocks on each side, at the tip of the boat ramp, the waves were beating ferociously against it, almost crashing at its top. In no time, I became wet. So were other folks that were fishing at different spots around the ramp, using the huge stones as crevices shielding them from the ocean. Here, even the birds are out of the water choosing to crouch in a straight line, as if in a military formation on the boulders. Determination avails much, one of the lads in my presence reeled in a 30cm fish. Within minutes of this, he reeled in another and I got curious and asked him how he does this. Surprisingly, there was no secret behind the feat, just pure luck and a die-hard stubbornness not to give up without a catch.
We eventually settled at the café and ordered breakfast. Sitting at the open grounds waiting for our orders, we had an unrestricted view of the caravan park next to the café. It was full to the brim and we could observe folks engaged in different activities of living – cooking, chatting and some simply taking in the view of the oceans while sitting on their camp chairs. With breakfast done, I climbed up the well-manicured green lawn opposite the car park and was immediately on the grounds of the Pioneer Cemetery. This is a small cemetery of just eleven grave sites, as well as memorial plots. The earliest burial on the ground was that in 1883 and still remains well kept till now. Thinking about the lost grave of my father who died in the late seventies (nearly a century after 1883), I saw what it means to be a functioning community. Here, even the dead lie in peace and their graves are kept and preserved for generations yet unborn. Meanwhile, for my kids, they have been deprived of the opportunity to point at a tombstone as being the resting ground of their grandfather.
From here, we headed into town to explore the Courthouse market for a bargain purchase of pearl. We were disappointed, the market doesn’t open on Sundays and we headed back to our hotel where I spent the rest of the day lounging by the pool side while Saf swam. There were a couple of other folks that we came to interact with at the pool. First was the “mummy water” lady that kept on swimming effortlessly, lap after lap, without a break. At one extreme were two men trying out their skills at diving into the pool with a back flip. With an out of shape body, one of them was really struggling to accomplish this and making an awful splash each time his bloated body hits the water. Not being shy to learn, Saf eventually engaged our “mummy water” to teach her the technique she was using to swim effortlessly. Soon, as with most conversation about us ends, the “mummy water” was asking Saf where she comes from and where she is heading to after Broome. I am from Nigeria and will be heading to Karrijini, answered Saf. This answer spurred another conversation with the lady who by now could be seen as surprised by our presence there and plans.
The hotel has a BBQ area just next to the pool side and for dinner, we decided to barbeque some meat that we have purchased from the store earlier in the day. It was while engrossed with this that a petite Aborigine lady appeared from nowhere requesting my help to light a piece of half-smoked cigarette. I declined and offered her a lighter instead but she would have none of that except I light it while puffing at it. As if that wasn’t enough, she started shaking her booty at me and asking do you like? Thank goodness that Saf was around as I was already feeling cowed under her persistence. It soon dawned on us that she was heavily under the influence of some drugs as she was exhibiting mood incongruence. On getting her cigarette lighted, she reached out for a stick that she had earlier laid on the floor and was soon shouting at the top of her voice “Fuck you boys!” as she walked out of the hotel. It was only then that Saf explained to me that the girl is a prostitute and had been brought to the hotel by a couple of boys who have had their ways with her but refused to pay her for her time. She had fought her way out of the room, wielding the stick that she had on her. How Saf got all these information, I couldn’t tell but I asked whether there was a need to report the girl and her probable abuse to the hotel staff and we concluded that there was no need to do that as the camera must have captured anything and everything that we had seen and known.