Introduction

Master pearlers – or pearling masters, as they called themselves – dominated the social and political life of Australia’s north, in towns like Cossack, Broome and Darwin, and as far as the Torres Strait. As powerful colonial entrepreneurs of the pearling industry, they drove the growth and character of these northern centres. However, their strong influence on state and federal governments was disproportionate to their economic productivity.

Kim Male, Pearler and pearl farmer:

“My grandfather came to Broome in 1890 to manage Streeter Ltd. Became partners in Streeter & Male in the year 1900. I succeeded, and I still am the sole director of Streeter & Male today.

In my working day with the use of indentured labour, who were people that the government gave visas to come in specifically to work in the pearling industry. Japanese people who had 3-year visas, Malaysian people from Singapore and Malaysia who had 2-year visas.

My working experience with the differing groups was very enjoyable. They were all quite different and had to be approached differently. But they were lasting. They were lasting friendships, yeah.”

Walter Scott, Master pearler

“Mustering sheep on the coast on one occasion, I saw a lugger working and I was intrigued. And then I got the impression that it sounds pretty good, so this is a business I could been in this. Built our own ship building facilities and rebuilding some of the older ones. If you built a new boat, you’d be taxed on it.

The first year that I operated we had access to one of Gregory’s foreshore camps. We had a shed under which we built the luggers and of course the shipwright was in charge of all that. We only built one a year. Sam Male had 12 boats, I had eight, Mac Daniels had four, Morgan three anyway, maybe four, and Plucanica had one, Mrs Dakas had one.

We had Malay divers, Chinese divers until the Japanese came back after the war. We had crew quarters all along the beach there, yeah. Used to close down about mid-December and wouldn’t work again until April. I was there til ’58 when the plastic button ruined the industry. We had to close down.”