In the tradition of Longitude and The Surgeon of Crowthorne comes a gripping work of narrative history, set in Australia's far north-west.
In 1912 Broome was as much Asian as Australian, filled with the smell of unfamiliar spices and a babel of competing languages. It was a frontier town, where racial tensions simmered uneasily between whites, Asians and Aborigines; age-long inhabitants of the land around Broome who had been originally forced to skin-dive for shells, but who were now displaced and discarded as it became harder to find.
In that year, twelve British Royal Navy-trained divers and their tenders were sent to Broome, urged on by a Federal Government deep in the grip of the 'White Australia' policy and anxious to rid the country of the last remaining Asian 'taint'. Their task was to master the perilous art of pearl-shell diving, and overcome the Asian stranglehold on the pearling industry, proving once and for all the supremacy of the white man over the coloured.
The White Divers of Broome tells the extraordinary story of this experiment, and its fatal aftermath. Set against the backdrop of Broome, it vividly conjures up a world where lanes and slums teemed with hawkers, noodle stalls, opium dens and prostitutes more redolent of Asia than Australia; and where pearl shell mattered more than human life.
The White Divers of Broome is a gripping narrative, and a window on a past that echoes with many of the same fears, prejudices and hopes as our society today.
Winner of the NSW Premier's Award for History 2001
Winner of the WA Premier's Book Awards' Non-fiction Book Award 2001
John Bailey has been a barrister in Melbourne, a public servant in Papua-New Guinea, and a teacher in England. He now lives adjacent to the Queensland border in northern New South Wales.