Monday, June 23, 2008

Chinatown - the truth

The promised phone booth and bus stop pics! Stunning pieces of design work and creativity, don't you think!
I have also included a few other examples I found in this morning's quick hunt around Chinatown.

I've been doing some reading, and it turns out that 'Chinatown' was originally 'Japtown' or the 'Asiatic Quarter' having being built by Japanese workers from the pearl boats. Broome has been described as a 'melting-pot of cultures' in its early days however, at this time, there were few Chinese people here.

The Japanese were quite powerful in the 1890's, establishing their own hospital, shops and social and welfare club. The Club became almost a trade union, demanding better payment and treatment of Japanese workers. Japtown in its heyday was a chaotic den of crowded houses, opium dens, bars and brothels.

In the early 1900's the Government introduced the 'White Australia Policy' to stem non-white immigration to Australia. Because pearl diving was a dangerous and unpleasant profession (hundreds died or were crippled by the 'bends', attacked by sharks, drowned in storms) the industry was exempt from the policy, allowed to employ and bring in labour from Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Japan and China (at least until 1913). The owners of the Luggers (pearl boats) were not willing to pay white wages and didn't believe that white people would work in such cramped conditions, out at sea for months at a time.

I've read that in 1941 Japanese outnumbered the white Australians in Broome and were very important to the economy. However, when Australia joined America against the Japanese in WWII, Broome's Japanese inhabitants were rounded up and sent to internment camps despite the fact that many had actually been born in Broome and had no ties to Japan. This, along with men enlisting, caused the labour pool to vanish so pearling ceased in Broome for a time.

I am yet to learn when the name 'Chinatown' was put in place. In 1910 there was a motion to change street names like 'John Chi Lane' (after the owner of the noodle shop) and 'Sheba Lane' (after Mr K. Shiba, proprietor of the Bay View Restaurant) to something more 'appropriately British' but nothing happened. Funnily enough, Johnny Chi Lane, as it is now called, is the most well signposted place in Broome!

The Japanese and Chinese cemeteries sit side by side on the road to the port. Most of the graves are said to belong to Pearl divers. There are 92 in the Chinese cemetery, and more than 900 in the Japanese!

Broome suffered extensive damage from the cyclones of 1908, 1910 and especially 1912 and much of the town needed to be rebuilt then and also following the wars after it had been neglected, so I doubt anything from Japtown still exists. Although, I read somewhere that a canopy from the original Japanese club is still around.