String of Pearls

While in Broome we took the opportunity to visit Willie Creek Pearl Farm, which was a fascinating time and very educational. It seems that ‘natural’ salt water pearls are no longer available, and all the pearls that we see are ‘cultured’ if they are the salt water variety. Fresh water pearls are imported mainly from China.

A small bus picked us up at 7.50 am for the 38 km (an hour’s drive) drive to the farm, which is outside the town of Broome.

It wasn’t long before we left the sealed road for the dirt road for the ‘bush’ trip to the farm. Most of the way to the farm seemed to be via the dirt road.

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I loved the way the driver zig zaged to try and miss the bumps and  the teeth shattering ‘corrugated’ parts. The ‘corrugated’ parts being created by the rainy season and baked rock hard by the sun, rather than man made metal.

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Road junction – didn’t require traffic lights or pedestrian crossing.

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As we drew closer to the shore the sand started to get lighter.

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Over the rise and we were in a ‘river’ bed, which floods during the rainy season and during the equinox high tides.

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The farm is just beyond the salt bush trees.

DSC06826rA marine biologist gave us a very interesting talk on oysters . . . .

The oyster above is an oyster with a disease and was dead as he opened the two shells to show us the inside. Nothing is wasted – the meat is exported to Asia, as is the shell. Up to the mid 50’s most buttons were made from mother of pearl i.e the inside shell of an oyster and Broome supplied most of the global raw materials for buttons. In the 1950’s plastic buttons replaced the traditional shell buttons and the industry collapsed.

To create a pearl a specialist opens a live oyster and places a small piece of Mississippi mussel in to the oysters gonard. Over time this irritant is covered by nacre (a slimy solution, showing white at the bottom of the shell) by the oyster to protect itself. After the operation the oyster is returned to a special area to recover (the oyster can be left out of the water for about eight hours without any ill effects.) It is placed in special nets and hung two metres below sea level in tidal water. They feed from nutrients in the water as the tide rises and falls. The oysters are cleaned regularly and checked for disease, and they are rotated so that the nacre coats the pearl area in an even regular way, which produces a round pearl. If it was left alone gravity would cause the pearl to grow ‘flatter’ at one end.

Nets

DSC06829rAs the talk went on the speaker took a small tool and gently looked to see if this oyster had a pearl -he did not go ‘digging’, even though the oyster was dead.

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I could see something and clicked away like mad.

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It was a peal

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The average peal can take two years to be produced, after which the oyster is opened and examined by a specialist, and if he thinks the oyster is in good health he will place the oyster back in the holding nets for another two years, after which he will check the pearl again for size and condition. Sometime he will leave it for a further two years to gain a larger pearl. After this talk, and realising the skill involved, I now know why pearls are so expensive.

DSC06837rWe took a boat trip out to one of the holding pens.

DSC06841rThe tide is coming in – note the level of the bank – the tide rises and falls 9.5 meters ( 31 feet) and the water is pristine.

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The above pic is out of order (we are on our return), because we were only on the water a little over half an hour and you can see how high the water had risen in such a short time.

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Below the surface the oyster nets hang from rope stretched between buoys.

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We were shown an oyster that had been checked that morning only to be found that it had a disease on its outer shell. If not treated the disease would cause cracking in the shell, which would allow predators to get through the shell or the hinge and kill the oyster.

DSC06845r The red area is the disease. This disease has been carried from over seas in contaminated fishing boats. The pearl industry has spent a great deal of time, energy and money looking for a ‘cure’ for the problem. They found it when they realised that if they increased the salinity this would kill the red disease without damaging the oyster. So by using swimming pool salt and rubbing it all over the out shell and then placing the oyster in a special brine over time the disease would die and not the oyster.

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Oyster boat used to check the health of the oysters. The ‘hinge’ or join of the two shells to make a single oyster can become encrusted with sea creatures and the oyster farmer employs back packers to use a special tool to scrape the foreign matter from the hinge area. The back packers live on a mother ship and use the above boats for close work with the nets. They may be on the mother ship for three or four weeks, with the occasional run ashore. The act of scraping sounds a simple job, but we were told that within ten minutes the scraper’s arm starts to ache and it goes on aching for the rest of the day. I held the tool and it was quite heavy, and with actually dragging it along an encrusted oyster shell I could understand the arm ache.

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At the end of the tour we were invited for tea and cake and Maureen met their tame crocodile.

Later we were shown around the ‘shop’ and given a talk on how to value pearls via the shape, size, colour and complexion. (SSCC) and the young man picked Maureen to were a particular string.

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We were asked to guess the value of various pearls and necklaces. The above around Maureen’s neck had a value of just over $35,000. What a  String of Pearls

Overall it was a great day out.

 

Moonlight and views.

We arrived in Broome and checked in to Moonlight Bay Suites.

I booked our accommodation based on research, and with the help of Trip Advisor user’s comments.
Kate, the receptionist, could not do enough for us, with information and suggestions of things to do and experience.

 DSC06720rI didn’t see this view until the following morning.

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As we entered our accommodation we were very pleased with the high standard of the facilities and the spaciousness.

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The bathroom was through the the door on the right of our bed, which contained a bath and separate shower with good water pressure.

Our check in time was in the evening, so we were unable to see the surrounding gardens.

As dawn broke I had to try and capture the overall feeling of delight from our small balcony area.

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The India  Ocean can be seen in the distance and the green mangrove area in the centre of the picture, which appeared dry at the time . The swimming pool was not being used, but was available to residents during daylight hours.

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I zoomed in on the area beyond the accommodation grounds. The lawn area is part of the accommodation and in the distance you can see the ocean – going out I think.

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The day warmed to very comfortable 30 c – because of the very low humidity 30c is very pleasant.

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DSC06898rLie in the pool or on a lounger and listen to the waterfall.

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Later in the day the tide turned and returned to the edge of our accommodation’s garden. The hundreds of metres of sand had been covered by the daily nine and a half metre tidal change.

The accommodation is self catering, but as we leave each day we leave a card on the door for our rooms to be serviced. In most self catering accommodation we have been responsible for keeping the place clean and making our own beds, but at Moonlight Bay they look after all these details to allow us to appreciate the surrounding area.

 

Perth, W. Australia.

A few days away from Sydney in an effort keep warm – Perth is the transit stop to Broome, which is a two hour flight north of Perth. I can’t blame Perth for its coolness of weather nor could I complain about our hotel – Novotel. Using Accor points we secured a large corner room on the third floor.

As we moved along the corridor to our room I had concerns that it would not be what I’d hoped. We passed two blank service doors before we reached our room and entered – what a pleasant surprise!

A large bedroom containing two armchairs around a coffee table, a work desk, large TV and the normal fridge. In the corner was a walk in wardrobe area. The bathroom contained a Jacuzzi!

 

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     Two sets of windows gave us some great views across the Swan river  DSC06611e

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Couldn’t have asked for better,

and they had an Irish Bar

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For those readers in the UK, when the lady behind the bar (not shown) spoke to us, I asked if she was from Merseyside, because she had a definite ‘twang’. It turned out that she was from Chester and was on a working holiday. Talk about a small world.

The other odd thing was that one of the assistant managers spoke to us with a strong Irish accent. Only later did I find out that he was French, the hotel being in the Accor group, which is a French company. First time I heard the blarney from a Frenchman. :-o)