Monday, October 1, 2012

Broome Festival

  This is a great time of year to pick up a broom. A Broome pearl, that is.  A second business trip to this vacation oasis in the far north of Western Australia could not have been better timed.

   There is a big festival going on – the Shinju Matsuri.  It is commonly referred to as the Broome Festival.  This is a celebration of the Asian and Pearl culture in the area.  An industry once highly dangerous for its shark-infested, oxygen-depriving ‘naked dives’  has evolved into  a high-science, cultured pearl industry.   With the trials and tribulations of those early days long gone, a highly diverse population embraces its past and celebrates the gold-colored nacred beauties  that have put Broome on the map.

Broome Fest Dragon parade
   The Festival starts with a bang…literally.  Firecrackers go off and the Dragon parade starts winding its way through Chinatown.  Stephen “Baamba” Albert, an Aboriginal folk singer regales revelers with songs about ‘saltwater cowboys’ (read:  pearl divers) and food trucks keep us fed.
Baamba sings of saltwater cowboys
Staircase to the Moon
    For another week and a half, the party continues with special markets, art exhibitions, athletic events, motor stampedes, musical performances including a night of Opera Under the Stars, a popular long-table luncheon and a gala ball.  The big highlight, around which the Festival is always scheduled, is the Staircase To The Moon.  The natural phenomenon of the Staircase to the Moon occurs between March and October when the full moon rises over the exposed mudflats of Roebuck Bay at extremely low tide creating the optical illusion of a staircase reaching for the moon.  It draws big crowds, many of whom walk the low tide area with has receded from its original shoreline by almost a mile. Not too dramatic an appearance this month and a greater camera than mine is needed to capture it, but it was fun.
Broome courthouse markets
    Another delightful phenomenon is the appearance of dragonflies.  The court house market has some beautiful, framed silk lightboxes , mostly with dragonfly motifs.  In fact, many crafted items have the dragonfly motif on them. A popular design at the time of my wedding, I have a soft spot for the double-winged beauties.  For Broomers, dragonflies signify the end of the rainy season.  They come in like locusts , but far from pests, they  eat all the mosquitoes the rainy season also brought in.  Dragonfly appearances also indicate that the warm ocean currents will start bringing the whale migration and that comfortable weather is coming.
    Perfect for the Festival of Broome.

Sunday Shopping

  Good things come to those who wait…and wait…and wait.  The state of Western Australia was ‘founded’ by English colonists  in 1829.  Fast forward 183 years and it is only now legal to buy a loaf of bread, a pillow case or clock radio anywhere in the state on a Sunday.  Welcome Sunday shopping, you were a long time coming.

   I come from the land of 24-hour shopping.  Odd work shifts or sleeping habits did not leave a person outside the world of consumer commerce.  It is entirely too easy to get used to that convenience.  Indeed, ease gives rise to expectation.  Imagine my surprise and culture shock when I moved to Perth just a few years ago to find that the sidewalks were rolled up at 5:30pm daily and buildings practically boarded up on Sundays.  How did a working person shop?  Two options: fight the crowds on Saturday mornings or go out on the government-approved Thursday Late Night Shopping. Stores stayed open until 9p.m.  and it was actually a family event for many people.  I could not hide my incredulity at what seemed a comical sight:  Whole families slowly strolling down aisles ooohing and aaaahing  the grocery shelves as if taking in the latest exhibition at the Art Gallery. Cracked me up this did.

    Why was this so?  Why would the state government care about retail trading hours, much less regulate commerce? The government was protecting the little guy from the Goliaths.  Small business owners felt they could not compete against the big corporations and beseeched the state government to help them by limiting hours of trade, especially for shops of certain consumer goods.  Slowly, over the last 25 years, this has been evolving  to respond to the needs of  nontraditional work and family models as well as joining contemporary business thinking.  Sunday shopping  and extended hours were allowed in the tourist inhabited downtown area of Perth.  The tourist zone was widened into the suburbs. Certain consumer goods were exempt from the laws.  And finally, the last weekend of August, the last veil dropped and all is fair in commerce and war.  Sunday Shopping had arrived in Western Australia! Great fanfare, sales, giveaways and  entertainment sirened “come hither” to people not used to handling their wallets on the seventh day.

    All this is still a far cry from round-the-clock cash register ecstasy, but it feels a whole lot less like Pluto here in Perth.