Willie Creek Pearl Farm Broome Western Australia

The town of Broome, in the Kimberley area of Western Australia, is the world’s leading producer of pearls. I didn’t realise this, until I visited the Willie Creek Pearl Farm, which is located 37 kilometres north of the town.

I had visited the pearl farm many years ago. I had enjoyed it then, so decided to re-visit the farm the last time I was in Broome and so took the half day tour as I didn’t have use of a vehicle on this occasion.

I was picked up from my hotel, on time, by Lance the coach driver, and did the rounds of the other hotels in which tour group members were staying.

Lance gave a running commentary as he drove, and he was very knowledgeable about the area and happy to take questions from his passengers. The road turns to dirt, about 20 kilometres after leaving town, and it was quite exciting to drive along the dirt stretch, with Lance picking a line of least resistance, which was usually along the shoulder, so we drove at an angle.

Upon arrival we were met by Simon, who showed us around the site, and talked to us about pearls.

You’d think that discussing the life of a pearl would be a bit of a yawn, but Simon was very entertaining and the life of a pearl is actually very interesting, especially as pearls are formed due to imperfections within the oyster shell. These imperfections are rare in the wild, but they have much more success cultivating pearls by inserting a piece of Mississippi River mussel shell into the gonads of the pearl, to encourage the oyster to produce a pearl.

Cultured pearls are real, and Broome produces the most pearls simply because the area is the natural habitat of Pinctada maxima, the world’s largest oyster. The bigger your oyster shell, the better your chances of getting a big pearl.

Broome gets 10 metres tides, and that daily rush of water is one reason why oysters flourish there.

Cultivating the pearls requires a lot of manual manipulation, and great manual dexterity. During the tour we went out into Willie Creek on a launch to see how the oysters, which are placed between netting to help them thrive, are handled and cleaned.

Afterwards we enjoyed morning tea and home-made damper, and were taken into the shop to be showing how you tell the quality of pearls. Naturally, we were also given the opportunity to purchase.

I also took a helicopter flight over the area, as you really can appreciate the size of the operation from the air, and enjoy watching sharks and rays chase fish in the clear waters.

I really enjoyed the tour, particularly as it entertained as well as informed, and I came away with a new found respect for the humble oyster and the magnificent gem it produces from a source of irritation.

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