National Geographic : 2004 Nov
Thomson, the engineer for the prawn trawler Ocean Pearl,told me. "The heat and humidity sends them crazy." "Going troppo" is the local phrase for it; it's also called mango madness, since it all happens around the time the mangoes are ripening on the trees. A snippet I came across in a "Police Patch" column in another remote tropical town's newspaper says it all: "The weekend had its usual riots, beatings, and dangerous driving incidents, and the weather and mangoes seem to be bring ing out the best in us all." Here in Karumba the mango trees were fruit ing nicely-Mick and his kids picked a wheel barrowful in an hour in their backyard. Madness, happily enough, was in shorter supply. The town's two jail cells were unoccupied. For all its out ward rough-and-tumble and the hard-drinking larrikins in the Animal Bar, Karumba is a good natured little town, the sort of place where nobody locks their doors, everybody knows everybody else, and despite the odd Friday night dustup in the pub, people largely tolerate one another's foibles. It's a quirky combination of Mayberry R.F.D. and Cannery Row. "What's the secret for getting through the wet?" I asked "Grandma," a sprightly 88-year old who runs the town's busy thrift shop out of a corrugated-iron shed behind the cafe. I'd stopped in to browse her stack of old paperbacks, hoping to find a hefty potboiler to help kill the time. It was dying mighty hard. "Go to the pub," she replied. "There's noth ing else to do." My question drew a chorus of jocular replies from the other browsers: The dead men buried in Pioneer Cemetery were the city fathers who launched Broome'sfamedpearl ing business. Often lucrative, it was also risky: Two cyclones in 1887 and 1935 -each killed about 140 crewmen, who were buried down the coast where their bodies had washed up. Today,pearldiv ing still isn'tfor the faint of heart.Getting hosed down after a shift, Cheyne Pollard (left) cleans oyster beds 60feet under waterfor three hours at a stretch, often in muddy darkness brought on by runoff from the wet. "We feel our way around, which can be spooky," says Cheyne. "I don't like the sharks, or when my airsupply goes wrong. But pearl ing is a good thrill." r #~I r ,s. trl '. =( ~1 'j" ..i : -- i, ~ ::. .. "1" - : I: ;b;=- _ ~rc1" 2"1-S~ j.. iart .-.