The Complicated Reality of Broome
A Tale of Two Cities
The horror stories filtered in slowly. Cars lost to the ocean, broken into, stolen, and burned to a crisp. The stories variated, but the message was consistent:
Watch your back in Broome.
When winter rolls around and it gets too cold down south, a great migration occurs. Due to its equatorial proximity, Broome never gets cold. Since Bali wasn’t an option this year, Broome was the premier vacation destination. Everyone and their mom was there.
Broome holds an almost mythic appeal to the backpacker community. If someone’s been to Broome, they’ll talk about it glowingly, until you either beg them to shut up or finally decide to see it for yourself.
The sheer volume of migrators was unprecedented. According to my local sources, Broome’s typical winter population hovers around 45,000. This year, there were an estimated 70,000 residents.
So what transpired? Absolute chaos.
As the high season progressed, Broome’s population continued to swell. Demand grew so much it eventually reached the point where it cost $400/week to park in a fucking caravan park.
You may have found a slightly expensive house or hostel room if you arrived early, were well-connected, or just lucky. You were definitely getting ripped off, but at least you had a place to come back to every night.
For the vast majority of travelers, the only option was to illegally camp somewhere nearby. Accommodation was so limited the shire had no choice but to look the other way and let people to sleep in their cars.
As long as you didn’t push your luck, and stay in your car past 8 AM, the rangers wouldn’t give you a fine. It was stressful, to say the least.
This sounds like a bunch of fucking bullshit. Broome can’t be that good.
Oh but it is, my dubious friends.
Against the odds, Broome delivers on its almost impossible promise. It offers a surprisingly well-paying job market guaranteed to provide the funds for an ever-flowing river of drugs, alcohol, and all the casual sex you could ask for.
It’s backpacker paradise. Here’s the schedule of a typical week in Broome:
Monday — Bush Party or Papa Fuego’s Bar (Off-night option)
Tuesday — Matso’s (Main Bar in Broome) Open Mic Night
Wednesday — Rest Day or Perhaps another Bush Party
Thursday — Roey’s Wet T-Shirt Contest (Yes this is real)
Friday — Bush Party or Surprisingly Dead Night
Saturday — Definitely a Bush Party
Sunday — Matso’s
Now repeat this every week for 4 FUCKING MONTHS. I could only handle a month and some change, but I met others who had been there for years. The relentless debauchery available in Broome is truly unparalleled.
But in the background of all this joy, all this chaos, all this revelry, there’s a dark side to Broome. It’s impossible to ignore. I’m talking, of course, about the complete annihilation of the local Aboriginal community.
In most of Australia, the Aboriginals are ghosts. Either they were extinguished long ago or there are only a few of them left. The East Coast is especially devoid of any Aboriginals except in far north Queensland.
Rarely do you see acknowledgment of their presence besides occasional street signs spouting empty proclamations like “we recognize the original caretakers of this land”. Give me a fucking break.
Western Australia has far more Aboriginal residents. But they’re not thriving. Far from it actually. In Broome, they’re absolutely reeling.
You notice them almost immediately when you arrive in Broome. Each day, crowds of Aboriginals sit in the park, not doing much of anything. Some of them alone, others in groups. Some of them sober, others fucked out of their minds on meth or alcohol.
Occasionally, they approach you. Most of the time it’s just to say hello, but other times it’s threatening. I once witnessed an intoxicated Aboriginal man screaming at three terrified French girls attempting to walk to McDonald’s.
One of the few rules in Broome is to never walk alone at night, no matter your gender. Broome’s streets are unbelievably dark and there are many stories of backpackers being robbed or even assaulted. As a result, most people prefer to drive drunk, rather than risk such an encounter.
The police have no solution. They’re present, but seemingly powerless to address Aboriginal crime. Most of the time, they just release them over petty crimes. Then, they continue to do more crime and the cycle continues.
I hate cops as much as anybody, but the situation in Broome is out of control. It’s simply unsafe, a major topic of discussion in the backpacker community. Nearly every night, someone’s car was broken into. And not by meth heads or alcoholics. Instead, it’s roving gangs of children and teenagers.
Aboriginal children are often roaming around, with little or no adult supervision. I understand why they’re committing crimes. Many of their parents are addicted to drugs and alcohol. They lack direction or a future, and their country was stolen from them. Why should they give a shit about us?
How did things get like this? Here’s the condensed and simplified version. In the 1960s, the Australian government took the children away to reform schools, in order to “assimilate” them into society. Many never found their parents again. It was called the Stolen Generation.
Regardless of the government’s intention, this policy had a severe impact on the Aboriginal community. Hindsight is 20/20, but it doesn’t take a genius to realize taking children away from their parents is guaranteed to fuck up an entire generation of people.
It’s extremely fucked up.
In the 21st century, the Australian government seemed to recognize its past mistakes and extend some olive branches. Currently, unemployed Aboriginals receive $750 a week from the government. On the surface, this is a great idea. But dive a little deeper and you start to question its efficacy.
A friend of mine opined this policy is actually designed to destroy the Aboriginal community. A ridiculous conspiracy theory! The Australian government deliberately destroying the Aboriginal community? In 2021? They’re literally giving them money!
Then I started thinking about it some more. $750 a week is a healthy sum of cash, but it’s not enough to save a considerable amount. It’s basically enough money to survive, buy some toys, and foster a healthy substance abuse problem. If they get a job, they don’t get anymore government money. They’re essentially incentivized to stay unemployed.
Unsurprisingly, there’s no evidence any of the government’s programs have been successful. Visiting Broome is all it takes to understand just how massively they’ve failed.
The intended result remains undefined. The actual result is just people sitting around, disconnected from themselves, with nothing to do except rot away.
Reality forces you to ask: what is the Australian government’s goal? Before witnessing the carnage of Broome’s Aboriginals, I wouldn’t have believed the government intended to destroy them. Now, I’m not so sure.
Broome will continue as it is: juxtaposing realities of backpacker heaven and Aboriginal hell. I’d like to say the situation isn’t too far gone, but I fear it is. Eventually, things will change. I hope they’re for the better.