Travel Story What's on in Broome: Late season events guide

Photo of Gemma Nisbet

Need an excuse to head north in search of some sunshine? This busy calendar of arts, food, history and fun set against the Kimberley's red dirt and blue skies should do the trick.

Discovering a place through the eyes of writers, artists and locals can make for an unusual but very memorable introduction to its people, culture and history. And visiting a place for a specific event (whether it’s a music, arts or literary festival, a one-off dining experience or a sporting occasion) can give a whole different feel — and a new sense of purpose — to your trip. 

Such is the case for a destination such as Broome, which many of us might feel we know even if we haven’t visited — through the photos of camels on Cable Beach, the stories of the town’s remarkable pearling history, and the success of cultural exports such as Bran Nue Dae and the Pigram Brothers. So, as the Kimberley progresses through the mid-year high season towards the much quieter wet (which begins around November), here are some options that’ll show you some of Broome’s diversity, whether it’s your first visit or your umpteenth. 

Art at Short St Gallery

Housed in a building in Broome’s Chinatown that’s more than a century old, Short Street Gallery presents work by indigenous artists from around the Kimberley and Australia. Its current exhibition is Spinifex Ascendent, showcasing the artists of the Spinifex Art Project in WA’s Great Victoria Desert, who have exhibited around the world (including at London’s British Museum). The show runs until August 23, and will be followed by Kurunitja — Spirited, which is on from August 24 to September 20 and includes new paintings and ceramics by leading artists from Ernabella in South Australia. 

From September 21 to October 18, Tjungu Palya 2017 will be on show, presented in conjunction with artists from the communities of Kanpi, Nyapari and Watarru in SA, and then Jilamara — Strong Women, which opens on October 19 and exhibits the female artists of Jilamara, in the Northern Territory’s Tiwi Islands. shortstgallery.com.au.

Science on the Broome Coast, dates to September

Every year, shorebirds travel up to 24,000km from Broome’s Roebuck Bay and nearby Eighty Mile Beach to breed in the northern hemisphere, flying as much as 5000km at a time without stopping. Researcher Chris Hassell will speak about the birds’ remarkable journey and the pressures they face on Wednesday  at a talk at the University of Notre Dame’s Broome campus. 

It’s part of the ongoing Science on the Broome Coast series, which aims to encourage scientists to share their research with visitors and the community. Other upcoming speakers include zoologist-turned-pilot Amellia Formby, who will discuss her planned microlight flight to accompany migratory shorebirds from Australia to breeding grounds in Asia, and marine ecologist and bio-acoustician Chandra Salgado Kent speaking about how whales and dolphins communicate. roebuckbay.org.au.

Mud and Saltwater Short Film Festival, August 5

With its red sand, mangroves and huge tides, Broome’s Roebuck Bay not only typifies the contrast between Pindan dirt and turquoise ocean that characterises the Kimberley coast, it’s also home to diverse animal life and is an important feeding ground for migratory shorebirds and marine animals such as dugongs and turtles. It also holds cultural significance for the local Yawuru Aboriginal people and as the site of a Japanese fighter plane attack in World War II that killed about 100 people on board Dutch flying boats at anchor in the bay. 

With categories focusing on everything from science shorts and documentaries to comedies, aerial cinematography, animation and music videos, the biennial Mud and Saltwater Film Festival aims to inspire exploration and protection of this area and the Kimberley coast in general, and attracts entries from filmmakers from around the country. Selected films will be screened at the Mangrove Hotel next Saturday. mudandsaltwater.org.au.

Staircase to the Moon, dates to October 

 The Kimberley’s enormous tropical tides are responsible for some of its most remarkable natural phenomena, from Horizontal Falls and Montgomery Reef to the distinctive Staircase to the Moon. The latter, where the rising full moon reflects off exposed mudflats to create the optical illusion of a staircase leading up to the Moon, is generally visible for a couple of days each month from March to October. 

Broome’s Roebuck Bay is one of the best places to see it, and the town celebrates with the Staircase Night Markets, with stalls, food and live music at Town Beach Reserve (the next markets are on August 8-9; see broomecourthousemarkets.com.au). The refurbished Mangrove Hotel is another popular viewing spot, while the phenomenon is also visible from various spots along the Pilbara coast. 

Upcoming Staircase to the Moon dates are August 8-10, September 7-9 and October 6-8, with times at australiasnorthwest.com.

A Taste of Broome, August 17 and September 6

Billed as a feast for the senses, A Taste of Broome runs a few times throughout the year and draws on songs, stories, dance, film and food to recount the history of Broome and celebrate the town’s indigenous culture and multicultural identity. 

Now in its fifth year, the event is in 2017 putting the role of Aboriginal women in the spotlight, and will also focus on the local experience of World War II as Broome marks the 75th anniversary of the Japanese bombings. Visitors will experience the town’s history through the eyes of local women and hear stories from families who were in Broome during the bombing, with performers including Stephen “Baamba” Albert. It’s on August 17 and September 6. goolarri.com/atob.

Corrugated Lines: A Festival of Words, August 11-13

Celebrating reading, writing and storytelling of all kinds, Broome’s literary festival Corrugated Lines returns next month, featuring discussions and workshops for adults and children, with guests including writer and editor Danielle Binks, indigenous writer Bruce Pascoe, writer and artist Kim Mahood, author Sarah Drummond and anthropologist and author Sandy Toussaint. 

The program also includes a free “street library” at the Broome Visitors Centre, where book-lovers can borrow a book and replace it with another, art exhibitions and a spoken word performance night. Then there’ll be Broome’s Biggest Bookclub, where Catherine McKinnon’s Storyland will be up for discussion, giant speed Scrabble at the Broome Courthouse Markets, and a staged reading of the new play Grey Nomad, which is set to premiere in Los Angeles in September. backroompress.com.au.

Broome Cup and Ladies Day, August 19 and 15

Broome’s racing season culminates on August 19 with the Broome Cup, the biggest event on the town’s social calendar and popular with locals and visitors alike. Held on a red-dirt track surrounded by bush at Gantheaume Point, the day includes the running of the $100,000 Broome Cup, along with live music, local performers, a VIP marquee and a Fashions on the Field competition. 

Another highlight of the local racing calendar is Ladies Day on August 15, which has a Fashions on the Field contest judged by WA Country Cups ambassador Holly Young. The winner then competes against finalists from all around the State for the chance to win a trip for two to London to attend Royal Ascot, with $10,000 spending money and other prizes. broometurfclub.com.au.

Sun Pictures’ 100th Anniversary Celebration, August 26

It doesn’t get much more quintessentially Broome than Sun Pictures, from the occasional gecko scampering across the screen to planes passing overhead and stories of the days when moviegoers would lift their feet to keep them dry when tidal flooding set in. Recognised as the world’s oldest operating picture garden, the building has seen huge changes in surrounding Chinatown since it was built. 

Sun Pictures marked its centenary on December 9 last year, but you can keep the party going at a special celebration on August 26, which will include the unveiling of plaques on Carnarvon Street commemorating the cinema’s history. 

This will be followed by festivities including supper and entertainment — dress code, “Kimberley formal”. Or, of course, you can just stop in and catch one of the multiple movies screened nightly. broomemovies.com.au.

Opera Under the Stars, August 26

Soprano Antoinette Halloran and tenor Paul O’Neill will be among the performers at this year’s Opera Under the Stars, which will return to the Mangrove Hotel on August 26. Mezzo-soprano Cassandra Seidemann, baritone Samuel Dundas and pianist Tommaso Pollio will also perform at the concert, which promises to entertain opera buffs and novices alike with songs from some of the world’s most famous operas along with lighter fare. 

There’s a choice of premium tickets in a reserved area as well as general admission, and music lovers visiting from out of town can take advantage of accommodation packages at the Mangrove which include tickets, breakfast, a room upgrade, late checkout and more. operaunderthestars.com.au.

Shinju Matsuri Festival, September 2-10

Broome is well known for its pearling heritage, which drew people from Japan, China, Malaysia, the Philippines and other parts of Asia to work alongside European settlers and local Aboriginal people on the pearl luggers. 

The annual Shinju Matsuri festival of the pearl has been celebrating this history, as well as the multicultural present, for the best part of half a century, with popular events including the waking of Sammy the Chinese dragon. Other highlights this year will include the popular long-table dinner under the stars on the sand at Cable Beach, featuring four courses by Sydney chef and My Kitchen Rules guest judge Darren Robertson, and the Floating Lantern Matsuri, when lanterns carrying personal messages are released at sunset at Gantheaume Point. 

Also on the program is the new Pearl Harvest street party featuring music, stalls and food trucks, a pearl-meat cook-off and an appearance by Sammy, and A View to Asia, an open-air exhibition at Cable Beach billed as Broome’s answer to Sculpture by the Sea. shinjumatsuri.com.au.

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