Discovering the Indigenous Culture in Broome

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Broome is an oasis in the Kimberley known for its indigenous art and history. Explore its vibrant heritage on a tour!

Yawuru people, the traditional owners of Broome and Roebuck Bay, feel deeply connected to this land as is evident through tours and cultural experiences that they provide for visitors.

Mabu Mayi Cafe

Broome’s galleries provide the perfect venue for admiring the talents of local Indigenous artists, many of which create engaging exhibitions that tell captivating stories through beautiful and vibrant artwork. Some galleries even provide tours around their premises and at Mirimia National Park with an expert local Aboriginal guide who will teach about rock art.

Rosanna Angus of Bardi Jawi nation sees her forebears navigating millennia of turbulent oceans on rafts made from mangrove roots and spears made by their forebears in King Sound north-west of Broome using spears as they navigated world’s largest tropical tides with ease – something her predecessors did centuries earlier clinging tightly onto rafts made of mangrove roots and spears made from mangrove trees rafts made up of mangrove leaves; as Dampier Peninsula’s first Indigenous woman owner-operator tour guide she is pioneering new experiences with First Nations people on Country.

Shells from the sea were an essential source of wealth and food for Aboriginal people long before Europeans came to Australia, as evidenced by this carved shell, or riji, worn on pearl diving men. Archeological studies suggest they also collected seaweed, crab and lobster to use in traditional medicine practices.

Today, visitors to Broome can experience an array of dining options that reflect its rich cultural history. Broome’s hospitality industry boasts Japanese, Chinese, Malay and Indian influences mixed into its tropical climate climate and manifest in local cuisine. Broome’s heritage as a pearling town also ensures it boasts an eclectic population, boasting up to four ethnicities within some families!

Broome’s annual Shinju Matsuri or Festival of the Pearl has been held annually since 1970 when three cultural festivals from Japanese, Malay and Chinese communities came together to honour Broome’s pearling industry and commemorate traditional owners, the Yawuru people. Since then, performances of traditional music, dance and theatre have also taken place during this event with one highlight being led by a dragon dancer dressed in gold and silver!

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Regional Gallery

Broome is an oasis in Western Australia where red dirt meets aqua ocean waters and pearl boutiques mingle with laid-back breweries. A multicultural melting pot, Broome first established itself as a pearling town during the 1880s, drawing workers from Indonesia, Malaysia, China and Japan – influences which still pervade today as do strong Aboriginal cultural influences which provide its distinct atmosphere.

Aboriginal art is a highlight of Broome’s Regional Gallery, making it one of the city’s top tourist spots. Situated within an iconic former church, this museum showcases work from local and national Aboriginal artists while offering exhibits designed to educate visitors on its history.

The museum boasts an extensive and eclectic collection of contemporary Aboriginal art, from traditional pieces to abstract ones and pieces depicting local history such as pearling’s impact on its community.

The museum is operated by the Yawuru people, native title holders for Broome town site and surrounding area. Their responsibilities encompass over 530,000 hectares of country including foreshores such as Roebuck Bay and Cable Beach as well as bush land and dunes inland.

Narlijia Experiences also provides visitors with an in-depth history of Broome. Led by Bart Pigram, an upholding member of Yawuru culture who founded Narlijia about 10 years ago, its name “true for you” symbolizes its approach to sharing Broome’s culture.

One way to explore Broome’s indigenous history is through walking the trails at Minyirr Park. Divided into three colour-coded trails that take visitors through different parts of the area – Nagula Trail takes you by the water; Minyirr reveals bushland; while Lurujarri leads visitors across dunes.

Broome may appear quiet from the outside, but its quiet exterior hides centuries of stories and an 22km peninsula landscape with vibrant hues that is filled with adventure. Here you can reconnect with nature while discovering Aboriginal culture – an experience which brings peace.

Shinju Matsuri Festival

Shinju Matsuri (Japanese for “Festival of the Pearl”) is an irresistibly charming community festival and must-do on any visit to Broome. Celebrating all that makes our town unique and special – its multi-cultural past during its pearling boom years (1878 – 1901) saw Japanese, Chinese, Malay Koepangers and Europeans make Broome their home; intertwining their cultures with those of local Aboriginal communities while leaving an imprint upon our beloved city that continues today!

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This year’s event marks 40 years of Shinju Matsuri, and is dedicated to commemorating those who have contributed greatly as well as welcoming new members and patrons with open arms. As such, its programme places special emphasis on inclusion and diversity.

Shinju Matsuri takes place between 29 August and 5 September and features events that showcase our city. There are bewitching dining experiences, float parades, mardi gras parties, special guest chefs, special guest chef appearances, special guest chefs’ performances and much more to be found within its program – visit Shinju Matsuri for full information! To see this year’s full program visit the Shinju Matsuri WEBSITE

Highlights include Sammy the Dragon’s highly animated arrival at the Opening Ceremony and ten days of festive community events organised for and by residents. You can sample food from different cultures at Carnival of Nations; browse artisan markets; or view works by both local and visiting artists.

At Gantheaume Point you can also participate in the Floating Lantern Matsuri, writing your thoughts onto a lantern before sending it off into the sunset. Don’t miss the LiveLighter Float Parade and Mardi Gras – thousands line the streets to witness this vibrant celebration! And don’t miss Gantheaume Point where dinosaur footprints that were made 130 million years ago still mark rocks 130 million years later!

Shinju Matsuri’s Festival Hub, situated within Broome’s new Town Beach precinct overlooking Roebuck Bay, serves as its heart. Here you will find music performances and workshops to keep you amused over two weeks of fortnight-long festivities; plus you can see art displayed at ARTS & WATER gallery.

Dampier Peninsula

Dampier Peninsula lies north of Roebuck Bay and is named for mariner William Dampier; this important Indigenous territory offers Bardi and Nyul Nyul peoples an opportunity to celebrate their traditions while exploring its breathtaking coastline. Come fishing or mud crabbing; learn ancient hunting techniques; try bush foods; or enjoy its wide-open beaches and turquoise waters – they await your discovery.

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Dampier Peninsula is a cultural landscape with immense archaeological potential, featuring shell middens, rock art (petroglyphs), stone arrangements and artifact scatters that demonstrate Aboriginal occupation that dates back tens of thousands of years. Furthermore, it serves as an invaluable location for studying colonisation processes, climate change effects and Indigenous adaptation of their environments.

Aboriginal clans have lived here for 22,000 years, seasonally inhabiting Roebuck Bay’s beaches and foreshores while harvesting fish, turtles and dugongs to sustain themselves. At one time this region held 80 per cent of all mother-of-pearl shell – a material revered as sacred by Aborigines for ceremonies and law; following its advent during the 1860s however, pearling industries caused major alterations to both land and people, leading to bloody conflicts between Aborigines and Europeans.

Dampier will give you the opportunity to witness how these changes have altered the community and land, while appreciating its rich diversity of contemporary Aboriginal culture and art of Broome region.

Broome offers numerous Aboriginal tours, providing visitors with a diverse cultural experience. Some focus on local history through storytelling passed down from generation to generation; others explore traditional Aboriginal arts and crafts.

While visiting Broome, don’t miss the chance to go on a guided tour of Dampier Peninsula with an experienced local Aboriginal guide. Experienced guides can provide insight into each site as they share their knowledge of and relationship to the land. Alternatively, use the free Jetty to Jetty app developed by Nyamba Buru Yawuru for your own self-paced tour through this region.