Broome’s Cultural Highlights

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Broome offers thrill seekers and culture enthusiasts plenty of activities, from feeding world’s largest crocodiles to learning more about local traditions and kinship lore – something for every visitor to enjoy in this seaside town.

Marrugeku’s Mutiara production delves deeply into Australia’s colonial history. The piece highlights divers’ alien underwater world while at the same time depicting their struggle and solidarity against racism and exploitation above ground.

1. Marrugeku

Marrugeku Dance Company of Australia was established in 1996, employing rural, urban and intercultural approaches to produce work which celebrates Indigenous communities and culture. Led by choreographer/dancer Dalisa Pigram and director/dramaturg Rachael Swain as artistic directors/dramaturgs respectively; its base locations are Broome in Western Australia’s coastal Aboriginal community as well as Sydney’s Gadigal lands where its operations serve both as artistic collective and research laboratories aimed at introducing audiences worldwide to Indigenous knowledge systems as well as intercultural performance experiences.

Marrugeku has always been known for its innovative work, from remote Indigenous communities to international audiences across the globe. At present, Marrugeku stands at an important juncture of its development; expanding theatre work via research labs.

These works investigate how contemporary dance and theatre can develop through authentic engagement with community, while intercultural processes may help develop new choreographic and dramaturgical structures. This undertaking by the Company comes at a crucial time when maintaining Indigenous arts has never been more urgently required.

Marrugeku’s productions may tackle complex topics, but their energetic performances ring with defiance and optimism. This energy can be felt through Burning Daylight (2006)’s rap rhythms as well as Dalisa Pigram’s solo dance piece Gudirr Gudirr (2013) which addresses youth suicide as well as colonial-era racism classifications.

Telling That Story – 25 Years of Marrugeku’s Intercultural Performance-Making (2021, Performance Research Books) celebrates the innovative spirit of this remarkable dance company, Marrugeku. This book contains essays, reflections, script excerpts and interviews that showcase Marrugeku’s wide range of perspectives in their work. In a time where theatre criticism in non-specialist publications seems to be decreasing this book is both essential reading as well as a keepsake work.

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2. Dreamtime Dancers

Dreamtime Dancers’ lively dance performances serve to remember this ancient tradition and its central place within Indigenous spirituality. Established in the late 1980s by local Aboriginal performers who had long performed traditional dance, its initial two shows proved critical and commercial success, drawing new audiences into this art form. Over time, however, this group has expanded further still; today its ranks include singers, musicians, dancers and actors.

The members of this ensemble have performed at various national and international festivals, TV broadcasts, feature films, as well as appearing in music videos. Their dancers are known for their powerful vocal performances and dynamic stage presence as well as adding humor and warmth into every performance, creating an unforgettable experience for audiences everywhere.

Marrugeku is an intercultural dance theatre company that creates bridges between urban and remote dance communities. Their works reflect the complex social reality of Australian Indigenous societies grappling with colonialism’s legacies; yet their pieces pulsate with defiant and hopeful energy; such as Burning Daylight with its rap rhythms or Dalisa’s award-winning solo Gudirr with its fluid blend of Indigenous, Asian and Western dance elements.

Marrugeku’s new show Mutiara was created with this sentiment in mind. This captivating tale explores Broome’s pearling industry over 100 years of cruelty and seduction, depicting an unsung bond between Broome’s First Peoples and seafaring Malay people during periods of exploitation, racism, slavery and forced labor practices such as blackbirding.

Although this performance focuses on the history of pearling industry in Australia, it also explores contemporary Indigenous community struggles. Through telling their own stories through dance performance art, Indigenous culture proves its resilience and its ability to heal.

Beginning with a smoking ceremony and Welcome to Country, the show immerses its audience into an interactive journey featuring song, music, dance and storytelling from artists across Kimberley.

3. Broome Pearling Company

Pearling industry began on Kimberley coastline due to extreme tide variations that provide ideal conditions for oyster farming, giving rise to world-renowned South Sea pearls coveted for their size, lustre, and colour. Discover Broome’s pearling history on a self-guided Jetty to Jetty Walk or join one of many guided tours available that explain pearl farming processes before shopping Chinatown jewellery showrooms featuring locally farmed pearls!

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Marrugeku and other troupes bring the pearl story alive through dance performances featuring its significance in Yawuru culture, reflecting it through dance performances that show colonialism, racism, stolen children’s effects on Indigenous communities and more. Additionally, these performances celebrate First Nations people who have formed relationships with Malay immigrants who were employed as pearl divers contrary to Australia’s White Australia policy.

Robert Mckean, founder of acclaimed contemporary dance company Robert McKean & Dancers, began his dancing career with Modern Dreamtime Dancers before studying Choreography & Aboriginal Dance Development at WA Centre for Performing Arts. Since then he has performed extensively with his company while also serving as freelance choreographer & performer collaborating with groups like Bangarra as well as touring Europe with his own troupe.

Robert Mckean explores colonisation’s effects on indigenous communities through Mutiara, his latest work. Combining contemporary dance, music and multimedia installation techniques he draws upon his experiences as an indentured pearl diver as well as interviews with elders to bring their stories onto stage. With traditional and contemporary dance forms colliding on stage – touching upon themes such as exploitation, racism and stolen children; his performance is powerful yet poignant.

Broome’s vibrant pearls of the Kimberley are an integral part of its identity and continue to thrive within its jewelry business. Linneys is proud of its longstanding association with Broome; having had their showroom there for 27 years. Today they remain one of Australia’s leading pearl jewellers with an outstanding global reputation for sourcing, designing, and creating stunning pieces featuring locally cultured pearls.

4. Staircase to Moon

The Staircase to the Moon is an amazing natural phenomenon that only appears for three nights on every full moon between March and October. This exquisite optical illusion occurs when moonlight reflects off Roebuck Bay’s exposed low-tide mudflats, creating the impression of stairs leading up to it. Locals and visitors alike gather around to witness this breathtaking sight under an extraordinary starry night sky – it creates a truly unforgettable sight!

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Experience it yourself to truly appreciate this event as photographs often fail to do justice to its splendour. Town Beach Reserve on Robinson Street is the most popular spot to view it; other notable spots are restored ghost town Cossack, First Avenue In Onslow Hearsons Cove Near Karratha as well as specially constructed viewing platforms at Port Hedland and Point Samson.

If you are visiting Broome specifically to see the Staircase, make sure that you arrive early as it quickly becomes overrun by visitors. Also make sure you wear appropriate footwear, as its wet mudflats may become very dangerously slippery!

Locals recognise this celestial spectacle is something special, so they take full advantage by hosting night markets and live entertainment in order to commemorate it. Head down to Town Beach precinct on ‘Staircase’ nights for everything from local crafts to mango products, pizza and laksa; The Bay Club at Mangrove Hotel also hosts parties on Staircase nights complete with live music and an open bar that overlooks the changing tides.

Marrugeku’s dance performance, Mutiara, explores the untold stories of blackbirding – an era during which pearling masters exploited indentured workers from Broome’s Malay diaspora as slave labour. This intercultural dance theatre work depicts their love and strength despite seduction, violence, and exploitation by pearling masters. Tickets to witness this captivating performance are now on sale.