As Australian towns go, Broome has more than its fair share of stories and history. The Shinju Matsuri, or the Festival of the Pearl, has been celebrating the community, its history and its stories each September for 46 years. No other town or city except perhaps Darwin has more strong links between Japan, China, Malaysia, the indigenous communities and European Australians.
Sammy the Dragon
On the first day of the Festival, Sammy the Dragon is woken up. The fact that Sammy the Chinese dragon is the centre piece of a Japanese Festival shows the exuberant interconnectedness of things in Broome. This year Sammy was nudged awake by the students from St Mary’s Catholic College performing a trio of Japanese dances and the Dardiyool Dance Troupe from Beagle Bay. The Dardiyool Dancers taunted Sammy with a giant pearl – a fitness ball smothered in lustre paint.
@tlorie describes their favourite memory of Sammy in an Instagram post as follows –
“I grew up in Sammy, graduating from the baby dragons to running the pearl. I remember when we put old Sammy to sleep in the shire offices and this Sammy came out of his box. My best memory was trying to back the dragon up an airline staircase to welcome the first 747 to Broome … “.
While he is asleep Sammy is blind folded, so that he symbolically gets a good uninterrupted sleep. Once Sammy wakes up it is the job of Doug Fong who is the oldest Broome local of Chinese descent to take the dragon’s blind fold off. Once he’s done that the Festival begins. Firecrackers are let off – with the approved perimeter of safety around them – and the police lead off the Float Parade ahead of Sammy.
The Festival Patron this year was Ellen Portollano, who along with Doug Fong is from one of Broome’s original families. Ellen is 85 years old and remembers being evacuated to Beagle Bay after Broome was bombed by the Japanese during World War II. Her stepfather was half Chinese and half Japanese and he was sent to an internment camp in Melbourne after the bombing. Ellen and her grandson Bart Pigrim hitched a ride in a pedicab and threw lollies to (or at) people along the path of the Float Parade.
Wrapping up the rear of the Float Parade were the firetrucks. It is hot in Broome at this time of the year and the kids wait for the firetrucks to spray the crowd and cool them down. To see the big trucks turn the corner onto Male Oval and blast away with their water cannons into the sky is quite something. The water mists down and kids play, like I used to do when Dad told me to run outside and play under the sprinkler if I complained about being hot.
The Float Parade segues into the Opening Concert. It is a mixture of kids performing and live bands. Behind the crowd, Carnarvon Street is closed for market stalls and with everything available including Thai, Malaysian, Chinese, Mexican, fish & chips, icecream, burgers, Indonesian. You name it. I have my favourites, not naming any names Gang Wu dumplings.
And that’s just the first day.
Jetty to Jetty Trail
Broome’s Jetty to Jetty trail recaptures the essence of Old Broome – the town’s historic foreshore, the heart of Yawuru country and the hub of Broome’s vibrant pearling past on a constructed trail with 12 reading and listening posts along the way. The audio app has old timers recounting their stories and memories growing up – a lot of the stories are tragic and so many times unjust. People who were killed pearl diving, segregation at Sun Cinemas, and living at campsites while others lived in mansions. But the stories are not bitter and a lot of them capture the funny rather than the tragedy.
A new event for this year was the series of projections curated by local a local duo from architectural company udla and Nyamba Buru Yawuru. The project highlighted three locations – Streeters Jetty, Kennedy Hill and the Goods Shed with some simple and quite haunting lighting and images.
Floating Lantern Festival and the Long Table Dinner
The Floating Lantern Festival was included on the calendar again this year as was the Long Table Dinner. Five hundred lanterns set adrift at Gantheaume Point, and the next night dinner for four hundred on Cable Beach. Both events are worthy of a story by themselves.
Don Hancey, Western Australia’s food ambassador was the anchor man alongside celebrity chef Adam Liaw at the long table dinner. On the menu were pearl meat ceviche, Gang Wu’s dumplings, zaru udon, kakiage, katsuo-kombu consommé and wasabi, Aniseed myrtle-glazed roast duck, and a beef sirloin with bush spices, red miso butter – among other dishes – all putting a Shinju Matsuri spin on Western Australian produce. Guests were treated to a performance by Tura New Music, a five piece ensemble that included a cello, violin, flute, ukulele and a didgeridoo who played on a mobile stage under the full moon.
Finale and the Wrap up
And then the Pigram Brothers performed their song ‘Raindance’ at the Festival Finale. Celebrated didgeridoo player Mark Atkins joined them on stage for the last song. He sauntered on to the stage, sat down and appeared to be tuning up his didge, but by the end as the fireworks reached a crescendo and the violist was down to his last string the band was giving it everything they had.
Broome and its surrounds are mind-bogglingly beautiful and so it is easy to create events that look good. Well, perhaps easy is the wrong word because I had to take a sort of ‘leave me alone’ leave at the end of it. Approach me at your peril because I’m pretty tired and grumpy. The thing that I appreciated this year more than before is how much this festival belongs to the community and how fiercely proud the community is of it.
Does it ring any bells for you? Have you been to Shinju Matsuri, been to Broome, watched the sunset from Cable Beach?
This is my second blog about Shinju Matsuri. Read the first here.
The official website for Shinju Matsuri, if you want to see what’s coming up next year.
More information about the Jetty to Jetty trail – here
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