Life in Broome after the Great War

After World War One, a different pearling industry emerged. At the beginning of the war an advisory committee of five Broome pearlers had been set up to supervise the industry. Within six months this ‘Big Five’ had purchased more than 120 luggers that had been laid up due to the collapse of the pearl shell market.

When pearlers returned after the war to find that there was no crew or gear available to them, the Big Five suggested that no additional licences should be issued. This attempt to monopolise the industry, however, was not tolerated by the Western Australian Government, which insisted that no Asian be permitted to sign on to a lugger until the needs of returned soldiers were met. Despite this, the pearl shell industry recovered too slowly to enable pearlers to get back into the business. The markets remained unstable over the following decade and never fully recovered.

The influence and affluence of the English also disappeared from Broome, when many of the socially prominent families chose not to return. The war was over, but Broome and its pearling industry had only just managed to survive.