Last Australian Pearling Lugger

The Last Australian Pearling Lugger

DIVING for pearls is the kind of adventure that appeals to many young people tired of classrooms and study, one that promises sunshine, limpid water, romance and treasure.

Of course, it's not really like that. The sunshine comes with staggering humidity. The sea kicks up and throws the boat about. The fabled pearls are few. The diving, rather than being a wondrous drift through tropical fish, is an endurance test of hours underwater picking up shell, braving hazards such as the bends and irukandji stings and predatory sharks. In between, the pearler faces the drudgery of cleaning the shell and hanging oyster muscle to dry.

In 1978, when Mark Dodd and his friend Al Burton arrived in Broome after a road trip from Victoria, finding a job in pearling was second on their list of things to do. A good party was the first priority and the discovery of Cable Beach, the Bali Hai caravan park and the Roebuck Bay Hotel set them up on that score.

Dodd had a passion for George Orwell and an idea about translating his own observations of the world into journalism but had not yet figured out how to make that happen. He had a series of physical jobs behind him after dropping out of art school and labouring was the first job he picked up in Broome when he discovered the pearling season was over for the year.

He went home for Christmas but Broome was in his blood or, at least, in his imagination. He returned the following year, beginning five years of working on the luggers of the various companies fishing for pearls.

The Last Pearling Lugger assembles a cast of pearlers who work hard and play with the same dedication, but whose way of life is passing as modern boats and the regulation of the pearl fishery edge out the smaller operators and harness the maverick spirit of a frontier industry.

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