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  • Colleen Brennan

Mother of pearl shell alter, put that on your bucket list.

Beagle Bay is one of three Aboriginal communities on the Dampier Peninsula located 129 klms north of Broome and a thought-provoking piece of Western Australian history. Once used as a home for Aboriginal children separated from their families it is now overseen by those same children. The area is home to the Nyul Nyul people who’ve existed in this harsh but pristine coastal environment for thousands of years.

In August I hired a trusty four wheel drive and took the track to Cape Leveque calling in to revisit the Beagle Bay Sacred Heart Church on the way. We parked near the school with a resonating happy sound of children at play. The Church is lovingly decorated with locally found cowrie, clam, volute, olive snail and Mother of pearl shells and its raw artistic beauty has withstood the passing of time.


The church was built entirely by hand by local Aborigines and the Pallottine monks who started the Catholic mission in the late 1800s. The result is a church exhibiting Christian symbols, European mosaic techniques and "saltwater people" totems: dingos, snakes, emus, fish, shields and spears.

Aboriginals were some of the first people to value the power and beauty of pearl shell, harvesting and trading throughout the region for thousands of years. In 1910 Broome was known as one of the world’s largest pearling hubs supplying 80% of the world’s pearl shell, notably used for many household items, including cutlery handles, buttons, buckles, jewellery and furniture.


Some car hire companies at Broome airport provide commercial 4wd vehicles suitable for the dusty pindan trek.



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