Discover the untold story of how an unknown Aussie battler came to help birth the Australian pearling industry.
MEET JAMES BROWN, AUSTRALIAN FARMER OF THE YEAR
Since 1946, my family have been lucky enough to call this incredible place, one of the most pristine and remote environments on the entire planet, our home.
Our journey began when Dean Brown (my grandfather) chose to risk any chance of a ‘normal life’ to sail north and pitch a tent up here – beginning what would become a life-long search to cultivate some of the worlds most rare and beautiful pearls. It’s a story full of twists and turns, trials and triumphs – it’s a search that now spans generations.
For many decades, the pearling industry was incredibly secretive, protecting their highly coveted pearl cultivation processes. Most people had no idea where their pearls came from, how they were grown, or what makes a quality pearl, such as the world famous Australian South Sea Pearl, so incredibly unique.
We’re big believers in provenance, education and transparency, which is why in 2009, we made an industry changing decision to open our doors to the general public. It’s been one of our greatest pleasures welcoming and educating people, not just around the story of Australia’s pearling industry, but also around the knowledge and appreciation for the delicate Kimberley marine environment that we call our home.
Today, we’re more dedicated than ever in our pursuit of a world in which a pearl farmer lives in greater harmony with their environment. To help achieve this we have developed and funded our own Kimberley Marine Research Station.
THE BEGINNINGS OF A PEARL FARMER'S DREAM
It was the year of 1946 when Dean Brown was navigating the pristine Kimberley coastline in a wooden lugger, that he discovered the secluded, unspoilt beauty of Cygnet Bay along with the precious gift of the Pinctada maxima pearl shell.
It was in these waters that his pearling dream was realised and the first Australian owned and run South Sea pearl farm began. The Brown family held onto this connection to the ocean and remain proud custodians of their grandfather’s 75 year legacy, running one of only a few commercial pearl farms still operating in Western Australia.
Enter into the rare and fascinating tale of Australia’s pearling pioneers, established in 1946.
WHEN CULTURES UNITE
The year is 1960 and the first trial harvest of cultured pearls is in – Cygnet Bay Pearls has chartered a new course in pearling. From bark huts and handmade tools, the story of Australia’s cultured pearling pioneers has begun. Up until this moment, only the Japanese had the expertise to successfully culture pearls. No farm in the world had ever been started without Japanese involvement. Thanks to the Browns and their passionate dedication to a quest that was considered virtually impossible, this all changed. Once Lyndon Brown had mastered the art of growing pearls, he shared his secrets with his dedicated and talented work mates.
The first were local Bardi and Jawi men, Aubrey Tigan, Tom Wiggan and Gordon Dixon. A pivotal point in time of global significance, as the ‘magical’ process of growing these valuable gems was only known to select Japanese technicians, one white Australian and three Australian Indigenous men. Dean and Lyndon were soon joined by Dean’s youngest son Bruce and the three of them set about forging a business from their humble bark huts, pindan and the azure waters of Cygnet Bay. And so the face of Australian pearling was changed forever.
THE FARM TODAY
After half a century of pearl farming in a stable environment, the Broome pearling industry saw a massive downturn in 2008 in both pearl production and wholesale demand. Today, we continue to face a rapidly changing marine ecosystem which challenges the very existence of pearling. Pearl farms and coral reef both act as early warning systems highlighting that even pristine remote places like the Kimberley can be severely impacted.
By welcoming visitors to our home and sharing with them the same pioneering spirit and passion that fuelled and inspired our predecessors, it helps keep this iconic Australian industry and unique family tale alive, bringing everyone along on the journey with us as we create these magical, sustainable and ethical gems.