21a["The Pearling Industry", Truth (Perth, WA), Saturday 20 February 1909]

The Pearling Industry

And The Conditions of Life in Broome.

A Trade of Great Value to the Commonwealth

Which is impossible of being Handled by White Labor.

Some Interesting Facts and Figures.

Mr. Davis, representing the pearling firm of Messrs. Rubin, who has, he says, read in the papers a good deal about Broome and the pearling industry which never happened, called on his way East on Friday morning to make a few remarks as to the conditions and the circumstances of those carrying on the industry of pearling. An article on the possibility of whitening the industry had been read by him in "Truth," and he had also perused an extract from the Port Hedland paper, in which it was made to appear that the employment of colored men in the boats was a menace ot the citizenship of the Commonwealth.

"I am not here," said Mr. Davis, "to say the writer of the article in the Port Hedland paper is not setting out what he has been told is the truth and what he believes to be correct--and I am not going to tell you anything which is not--you will be able to do a measure of justice to an officer of the Commonwealth who has, I am sure quite unintentionally, been unfairly criticised.

There is a statement to the effect that is is possible for any number of Japs and Malays and colored men to come into the port. This is absolutely incorrect. In the first place they are not wanted. In the second, if they come into Broome they could not get out except by the boat going south once a fortnight, and the chances are they would have to account for their presence on their arrival in Fremantle. It is impossible for there to be an influx of these people to Broome. The sub-collector of Customs is a man who is perpetually on the watch for strangers, and I may tell you that it is within my own experience that I cannot take a carpenter off a boat to mend the leg of a chair in my house without being called to account for a breach of the law.

The process of engaging and deporting men is of interest to you, as you have committed yourself to the adoption of the article in the Port Hedland paper, and I will tell you just what we have needed to do to get men--and to get rid of them.

When we want a man or a number of men we have to apply to the collector for a permit to engage him or them in Singapore. We have to say why we want the men, and what have become of those they are intended to replace. I have a man die--they do, a big percentage of the divers, from paralysis--and I must get another. I report to the collector, who wires the department in Melbourne detailing the circumstances and asking that I have permission to obtain the help I require. He recommends the application, and in the course of a few days the reply comes that it is granted. Then I instruct our agents in Singapore to give me the class of man I want.

The cost of getting a man is about 14. There are a good many charges; first the medical certificate, then the fare, then, probably in advance, the agents fees, and incidentals. Perhaps the man, after he is engaged and passed by the doctor, goes on a final razzle the night before he ships to come to us, and when he arrives is found to be unfit for work as a consequence of the night out with the boys--and girls. Then we have to send him back at our cost; first, because he is no use to us; and next, because the collector will not allow him to land. These man[sic] are indentured for three years, and with each application we have to put up a bond of 100 that we will keep to our contract, hold the man while he is in our employ, and when the term of his engagement is up either renew it or deport him. It was also said that it is the practice of masters to send time-expired men out on a lugger a little way, bring them back at night when the collector is in bed, and put them to work again. This is incorrect, and nonsense anyhow.

It is as serious and formal a business to get rid of a man as to get him. The collector has a complete list of all on the boats, with their photographs, descriptions, and finger prints, and, more than that, he knows most of them. When the time is up we have to get his ticket and inform the shipping-master of his desire to leave for his home. The first question asked is as to his ticket. Then the man is interrogated, and it must be made quite clear to the officials that he is satisfied and willing to go. Everything being in order, the collector takes the tickets and, the day the steamer is to call, has all the boys lined up and marched aboard. They are tallied off in the presence of the captain and the purser and handed over, then, to the ship. The collector sees them aboard, and does not leave till the gang-plank is hauled in. So that disposes them of the story of sending them out on luggers and bringing them back when the collector is not looking. As a matter of fact, he is always looking; and if we wanted to--which we do not--evade the law we could not evade him.

As to the introduction of opium ot the country by way of Broome, that is also not true. In the fleet there are few who use the drug. Men who are known to smoke or use opium are at once got rid of, as they are of no service either above or beneath the water. There are few Chinese in the town, and of the few I do not think that many are addicted to the drug. It is safe to say it does not come into Broome in quantitites, and the little which does get there is smuggled in such small lots as to make the matter trifling. The only man supposed to have any of it in his possession was, not long ago, prosecuted, on general principles, and fined a tenner. You may as well list the opium-importing sensation with the others which will not work out to much in the way of fact.

There appears to be an idea in the public mind, and the newspapers do not do anything in the way of removing it, that the Nor'-West---and Broome particularly---is one of the God-forgotten corners of the Commonwealth; that the pearlers are a kind of slave-driving Legrees, and the divers and deck hands on the boats are treated as the slaves were in the days prior to the abolition. Which is all just so much plain bunkum. The white men, to the number of a couple of hundred, engaged in the industry are the equal in every way of a similar body of white men in any part of the world. There are in the waters of the coast some 2000 men employed, and the fact that the place is regarded as the paradise of the policeman may be mentioned against repeated stories of riot or revolt and running amok and raising hell generally. Now and again there is trouble, in the case, perhaps of a diver going ashore, getting too much drink and into a row in the Japanese quarter. There are a number of Japs and Chinese there; but they are mostly citizens of long standing, who claim to be Englishmen and hold the colored men in a good deal of contempt. There are Japanese women there, just as there are on the goldfields of the State; and I do not know that it is not a good thing that for the few white women in the country they are there. But all the places are under the supervision of the police and the authorities, and the town is quite as law-and-order-loving in its general arrangements as any place in the State.

Another idea which prevails to some extent in Perth, where, unfortunately for the State there is very little known of the pearling and the people connected with it, is that pearling is a big man's business and in a way a monopoly. It is, as a matter of fact, as much the business of the little man, and there are many small men engaged in the trade at present. We have sold a number of boats to men almost without means--our fleet was too big for us to handle it to the best advantage--and we have not hesitated to give some of the good men we know their chance of letting them have a boat on easy termw. There is a good deal of luck in the business. One man may work his boat to what appears the best advantage, and do a lot of the labor, particularly the opening of the shell, himself. Yet at the end of the year he is nothing ahead of it. Another, working on similar lines, will have the good luck to get a good pearl or two, or a lot of good ones, with the result that he comes out thousands to the good.

You accept some extraordinary stories as to the value of pearls found. For instance, there was a yarn going the rounds of the press some time ago, as to the finding of a pearl worth from 10,000 to 12,000. No such gem has ever been found in the waters of this coast. That special pearl, for which a special value was claimed, went round all the purchasers of London, and came back to Broome unsold, and eventually I bought it for my firm at 750.

All the stories of pearls of great price want a big discount off. There was another story of a gem in the shape of a cross which was worth 10,000. It was not worth a tenner, and no dealer would have given so much for it. But being in the particular form it had assumed, there was a value attached to it by a section of the community, and it might have been sold for any money to some one or other of the superstitious.

There are in the industry men of all businesses, for the reason, largely, of the gambling element in the pursuit of the pearl, and, perhaps, for the charm of the life of the sea, though I do not see that end of it myself. There is not much charm in being huddled up for months in the forward part of a dirty little lugger living amongst the blacks, and a good deal as they do, for the reward of a living, which is about all there is in it.

The idea that the colored labor of the port is of the cheap kind is another mistake. We cannot indent men for domestic service, and have not got them. There are none of the comforts of tropical India in the Nor'-West, no cheap nigger with a fan to brush the flies off his master. No punkah-wallah to keep the air moving when he wants to rest. No, nothing of that kind, of which you may have read in books. Ours is a hard life with little comfort and not too much profit in it--but it is life, and has its compensations. As to labor and the cost of it, I can give you a specific instance. We wanted a launch built and as there were no other builders in the town, at least none who could be depended on to put the work through in good shape and in the time, we got a quote from a Jap. He named his price at 60. Just before we closed with him a friend of mine came up on a visit, bringing with him a shipwright who proposed to stay in the place if he could get work. He was a steady man and a good tradesman and I got a quote from him. He put the price at 50, and I asked him to make sure he had submitted a figure at which he could make a profit. He was content and so was I, and the work was done to his satisfaction and to his. He is there now, doing well, mainly because he is to be relied upon, and does not get drunk when he ought to be at work. This will serve to show you there is not cheap colored labor in the country. The Jap wants as much for anything he does as a white man will ask and, in some instances, more.

The industry has a distinct value to the State. In the first place all the boats are built at Fremantle. Of the 300 now there over 250 have been locally built, and recently built, at a cost of about 350 each. Everything we use is obtained in the State, with the exception of the rice consumed by the colored men. That comes from Singapore, and on it we pay duty to the extent of 6 per ton. It may surprise you to find the Customs collections at Broome are always higher than those of any other port in the State except, of course Fremantle (including Perth).

[This is correct, the collections for 1908 being nearly three times as much as those of Bunbury, 5,000 greater than those for Albany, and 2,000 more than Geraldton.--ED. 'Truth.']

This is worthy of being considered when you are writing as to the value of the port to the State. And you must not forget the sole industry is that of the fisheries.

As to working the trade with white labor, it is impossible. In the first place you would not get white men to do the work and live the life under the only conditions in which there would be a possibility of carrying on at a profit. If we were to advertise for white men to take the places of the colored men on the luggers we would not get a hundred. We lose a large number from diver's paralysis, and I suppose it is no harm to say, in such a "white" office as that of "Truth", that it is preferable the black men should be sent to this deadly work than that the white man should be offered up on the alter of Mammon.

Also, what we take is the harvest of the sea. It belongs to no one, as most of our fishing is done outside the territorial limits, and it does not matter to us what flag is afloat where our luggers are. If the Government of Australia should attempt to crowd us out, well, we will go out. It does not matter very much where our offices are.

[http://henrietta.slwa.wa.gov.au/record=b1751524~S2]

Uniform Title Truth (Perth, W.A.).

Title Truth.

Imprint Perth [W.A.] : Truth, 1903-1931.

Details

Call # 994.11/PER

Phys. Description v.

Frequency Weekly on Sunday.

Pub Date No. 1 (25 July 1903)-no. 1435 (29 Mar. 1931).

Note Available on microfilm.

On masthead until 1916 "Conducted by John Norton" and then until 1920 "Conducted by John Norton's Trustees".

Publication date varies: weekly on Saturday until 18 Feb. 1928; then weekly on Sunday from 26 Feb. 1928.

Subject Australian newspapers -- Western Australia -- Perth.

Perth (W.A.) -- Newspapers.

WA newspapers -- 1900s -- 1910s -- 1920s -- 1930s.

Found In Truth (Perth, W.A.) Microform.

21b["The Pearling Industry", Broome Chronicle (WA), Saturday 13 March 1909]

The Pearling Industry.

The Perth 'Truth' of the 20th Feb., just to hand, contains the following chat with our Mr. Davis, which we feel sure, at the present juncture, will be read with much interest:--

Mr. Davis, representing the pearling firm of Messrs. Rubin, who has, he says, read in the paper a good deal about Broome and the pearling industry which never happened, call on his way east on Friday morning to make a few remarks as to the conditions and the circumstances of those carrying on the industry of pearling. An article on the possibility of whitening the industry had been read by him in 'Truth,' and he had also perused an extract from the Port Hedland paper, in which it was made to appear that the employment of colored men in the boats was a menace to the citizenship of the Commonwealth.

I am not here, said Mr. Davis, to say the writer of the article in the Port Hedland paper is not setting out what he has been told is the truth and what he believes to be correct. But it is a pity he did not verify what he wrote, so as to make it of real value. I do not suppose it is a business proposition to suggest that the city papers should visit the port and get the information at first hand. I do not expect the return would come out of the trip. But if you will take what I say as correct--and I am not going to tell you anything which is not--you will be able to do a measure of justice to an officer of the Commonwealth who has, I am sure quite unintentionally, been unfairly criticised.

There is a statement to the effect that it is possible for any number of Japs and Malays to come into the port. This is absolutely incorrect. In the first place they are not wanted. In the second, if they come into Broome they could not get out except by the boat going south once a fortnight, and the chances are they would have to account for their presence on their arrival in Fremantle. It is impossible for there to be an influx of these people to Broome. The sub-collector of Customs is a man who is perpetually on the watch for strangers, and I may tell you that it is within my own experience that I cannot take a carpenter off a boat to mend the leg of a chair in my house without being called to account for a breach of the law.

The process of engaging and deporting men is of interest to you, as you have committed yourself to the adoption of the article in the Port Hedland paper, and I will tell you just what we have needed to do to get men--and to get rid of them.

When we want a man or a number of men we have to apply to the collector for a permit to engage him or them in Singapore. We have to say why we want the men, and what have become of those they are intended to replace. I have a man die--they do, a big percentage of the divers, from paralysis--and I must get another. I report to the collector, who wires the department in Melbourne detailing the circumstances and asking that I have permission to obtain the help I require. He recommends the application, and in the course of a few days the reply comes that it is granted. Then I instruct our agents in Singapore to give me the class of man I want.

The cost of getting a man is about 14. There are a good many charges; first the medical certificate, then the fare, then, probably in advance, the agents fees, and incidentals. Perhaps the man, after he is engaged and passed by the doctor, goes on a final razzle the night before he ships to come to us, and when he arrives is found to be unfit for work as a consequence of the night out with the boys--and girls. Then we have to send him back at our cost; first, because he is no use to us; and next, because the collector will not allow him to land. These man[sic] are indentured for three years, and with each application we have to put up a bond of 100 that we will keep to our contract, hold the man while he is in our employ, and when the term of his engagement is up either renew it or deport him. It was also said that it is the practice of masters to send time-expired men out on a lugger a little way, bring them back at night when the collector is in bed, and put them to work again. This is incorrect, and nonsense anyhow.

It is as serious and formal a business to get rid of a man as to get him. The collector has a complete list of all on the boats, with their photographs, descriptions, and finger prints, and, more than that, he knows most of them. When the time is up we have to get his ticket and inform the shipping-master of his desire to leave for his home. The first question asked is as to his ticket. Then the man is interrogated, and it must be made quite clear to the officials that he is satisfied and willing to go. Everything being in order, the collector takes the tickets and, the day the steamer is to call, has all the boys lined up and marched aboard. They are tallied off in the presence of the captain and the purser and handed over, then, to the ship. The collector sees them aboard, and does not leave till the gang-plank is hauled in. So that disposes them of the story of sending them out on luggers and bringing them back when the collector is not looking. As a matter of fact, he is always looking; and if we wanted to--which we do not--evade the law we could not evade him.

As to the introduction of opium ot the country by way of Broome, that is also not true. In the fleet there are few who use the drug. Men who are known to smoke or use opium are at once got rid of, as they are of no service either above or beneath the water. There are few Chinese in the town, and of the few I do not think that many are addicted to the drug. It is safe to say it does not come into Broome in quantitites, and the little which does get there is smuggled in such small lots as to make the matter trifling. The only man supposed to have any of it in his possession was, not long ago, prosecuted, on general principles, and fined a tenner. You may as well list the opium-importing sensation with the others which will not work out to much in the way of fact.

There appears to be an idea in the public mind, and the newspapers do not do anything in the way of removing it, that the Nor'-West---and Broome particularly---is one of the God-forgotten corners of the Commonwealth; that the pearlers are a kind of slave-driving Legrees, and the divers and deck hands on the boats are treated as the slaves were in the days prior to the abolition. Which is all just so much plain bunkum. The white men, to the number of a couple of hundred, engaged in the industry are the equal in every way of a similar body of white men in any part of the world. There are in the waters of the coast some 2000 men employed, and the fact that the place is regarded as the paradise of the policeman may be mentioned against repeated stories of riot or revolt and running amok and raising hell generally. Now and again there is trouble, in the case, perhaps of a diver going ashore, getting too much drink and into a row in the Japanese quarter. There are a number of Japs and Chinese there; but they are mostly citizens of long standing, who claim to be Englishmen and hold the colored men in a good deal of contempt. There are Japanese women there, just as there are on the goldfields of the State; and I do not know that it is not a good thing that for the few white women in the country they are there. But all the places are under the supervision of the police and the authorities, and the town is quite as law-and-order-loving in its general arrangements as any place in the State.

Another idea which prevails to some extent in Perth, where, unfortunately for the State there is very little known of the pearling and the people connected with it, is that pearling is a big man's business and in a way a monopoly. It is, as a matter of fact, as much the business of the little man, and there are many small men engaged in the trade at present. We have sold a number of boats to men almost without means--our fleet was too big for us to handle it to the best advantage--and we have not hesitated to give some of the good men we know their chance of letting them have a boat on easy termw. There is a good deal of luck in the business. One man may work his boat to what appears the best advantage, and do a lot of the labor, particularly the opening of the shell, himself. Yet at the end of the year he is nothing ahead of it. Another, working on similar lines, will have the good luck to get a good pearl or two, or a lot of good ones, with the result that he comes out thousands to the good.

You accept some extraordinary stories as to the value of pearls found. For instance, there was a yarn going the rounds of the press some time ago, as to the finding of a pearl worth from 10,000 to 12,000. No such gem has ever been found in the waters of this coast. That special pearl, for which a special value was claimed, went round all the purchasers of London, and came back to Broome unsold, and eventually I bought it for my firm at 750.

All the stories of pearls of great price want a big discount off. There was another story of a gem in the shape of a cross which was worth 10,000. It was not worth a tenner, and no dealer would have given so much for it. But being in the particular form it had assumed, there was a value attached to it by a section of the community, and it might have been sold for any money to some one or other of the superstitious.

There are in the industry men of all businesses, for the reason, largely, of the gambling element in the pursuit of the pearl, and, perhaps, for the charm of the life of the sea, though I do not see that end of it myself. There is not much charm in being huddled up for months in the forward part of a dirty little lugger living amongst the blacks, and a good deal as they do, for the reward of a living, which is about all there is in it.

The idea that the colored labor of the port is of the cheap kind is another mistake. We cannot indent men for domestic service, and have not got them. There are none of the comforts of tropical India in the Nor'-West, no cheap nigger with a fan to brush the flies off his master. No punkah-wallah to keep the air moving when he wants to rest. No, nothing of that kind, of which you may have read in books. Ours is a hard life with little comfort and not too much profit in it--but it is life, and has its compensations. As to labor and the cost of it, I can give you a specific instance. We wanted a launch built and as there were no other builders in the town, at least none who could be depended on to put the work through in good shape and in the time, we got a quote from a Jap. He named his price at 60. Just before we closed with him a friend of mine came up on a visit, bringing with him a shipwright who proposed to stay in the place if he could get work. He was a steady man and a good tradesman and I got a quote from him. He put the price at 50, and I asked him to make sure he had submitted a figure at which he could make a profit. He was content and so was I, and the work was done to his satisfaction and to his. He is there now, doing well, mainly because he is to be relied upon, and does not get drunk when he ought to be at work. This will serve to show you there is not cheap colored labor in the country. The Jap wants as much for anything he does as a white man will ask and, in some instances, more.

The industry has a distinct value to the State. In the first place all the boats are built at Fremantle. Of the 300 now there over 250 have been locally built, and recently built, at a cost of about 350 each. Everything we use is obtained in the State, with the exception of the rice consumed by the colored men. That comes from Singapore, and on it we pay duty to the extent of 6 per ton. It may surprise you to find the Customs collections at Broome are always higher than those of any other port in the State except, of course Fremantle (including Perth).

[This is correct, the collections for 1908 being nearly three times as much as those of Bunbury, 5,000 greater than those for Albany, and 2,000 more than Geraldton.--ED. 'Truth.']

This is worthy of being considered when you are writing as to the value of the port to the State. And you must not forget the sole industry is that of the fisheries.

As to working the trade with white labor, it is impossible. In the first place you would not get white men to do the work and live the life under the only conditions in which there would be a possibility of carrying on at a profit. If we were to advertise for white men to take the places of the colored men on the luggers we would not get a hundred. We lose a large number from diver's paralysis, and I suppose it is no harm to say, in such a "white" office as that of "Truth", that it is preferable the black men should be sent to this deadly work than that the white man should be offered up on the alter of Mammon.

Also, what we take is the harvest of the sea. It belongs to no one, as most of our fishing is done outside the territorial limits, and it does not matter to us what flag is afloat where our luggers are. If the Government of Australia should attempt to crowd us out, well, we will go out. It does not matter very much where our offices are.