Pearling – A Culture of Cover Up

Australian Workers Film Guide


This is a video about dissatisfied workers leaving the pearling industry. If something goes wrong they don’t want to report it. One shell can be worth up to 20,000 dollars, but divers are only paid $700 for ten days work. Pearling is very dangerous work, can cause the bends. Broome has a pearl divers’ cemetery, which is a tourist attraction. The pearls are now farmed, not how it used to be, it is very systematic, almost like an assembly line. There are still dangers, such as sharks, crocodiles and all manner of dangerous sea creatures. They work long hours and can sometimes run out of oxygen at the end of the day. 

Pearling is a very dangerous industry that has been heavily romanticised, more so than any other industry. The industry is a law unto itself. The industry is unregulated, and it has a deep culture of cover up, poor safety conditions and a very high turnover of workers, which are casual. The video also mentions alcohol and drug abuse with the workers.

Special Notes/Achievements

Part of a collection of short videos presented at the Maritime Union of Australia’s National Conference in 2004. 

Author: J Bird, 2023

Duration: 7 mins 28 secs

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