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History & Culture

Broome Airport

Early History

When the Geraldton-Derby airmail service first landed at Broome in 1922, the "airport" was a smooth patch of sand on Cable Beach. Sometime in the mid 1920s, a dirt strip was graded adjacent to the old race course, near the airport's current location.

By 1935, the east-west airstrip was laid out in its present alignment. As aircraft became larger and faster, the runway expanded but the airport was really nothing more than a graded strip and a covered shed for a "terminal".

World War II saw a dramatic increase in activity as Broome Airport was a refuelling stop for military aircraft in the northwest region. In addition, Broome's Roebuck Bay became a stopover for huge flying boats evacuating Dutch refugees from Java, which was in the path of the advancing Japanese military.

Broome Airport

The war reached Broome on March 3, 1942 when Japanese zero fighters attacked Broome Airport and the flying boats at anchor in the bay. Over 70 passengers in the flying boats were killed, just minutes before their scheduled take-off. Gus Winckel, a young pilot, shot down one Japanese zero, balancing a 7.9mm machine gun on his shoulder. A second zero ditched into the sea on its way back to base. A road on Broome Airport is named after Gus Winckel.

In the immediate aftermath of the attack, Japanese invasion hysteria was so great that the airport runway was ordered destroyed. At the last minute cooler heads prevailed and the order was rescinded. Nevertheless, Broome was virtually abandoned after the attack and there were ongoing fears of the invasion that never came.

After the war, some determined pearlers returned to Broome hoping to regain the riches of years past. Although the industry did revive somewhat, previous shell prices were never realised. Also, the advent of plastics in the 1950s seriously eroded the demand for mother of pearl shell , the main product of Broome's pearling industry.

Fortunately for Broome and its pearling industry, experiments with cultured pearls were producing exciting results, with the prospect of pearls replacing pearl shell as the money making product. By the 1970s pearl farms were established in coastal waters, producing thousands of beautiful pearls - and reaping millions of dollars. Prosperity finally returned to Broome. With prosperity came new residents and a steady tourism increase for Broome and the Kimberley region, with Broome Airport as the main link to the region.

Broome Airport underwent several stages of expansion, with the first major improvements in 1991 when Airport Engineering Services purchased the airport from the Federal Department of Transport. This transition from government to private operations marked the beginning of a new era for Broome's airport.