The book I am reading at the moment is "THE KINDNESS OF BIRDS" by Merlinda Bobis. It's a collection of short stories, and one of them is about a "Hard Hat" pearl diver. This got me interested in the fascinating, and perilous job these divers would perform each day.
There is a sculpture that serves as a memorial to these divers in Broome, Western Australia, which is where the short story takes place.
The sculpture commemorates the Indigenous and non-Indigenous pearl divers who helped establish Broome as the centre of the world`s pearling in the 1900s. These early pearl divers came from diverse cultural backgrounds, and this resulted in Broome being exempted from the White Australia Policy, making the town a pioneer of multiculturalism in Australia. Around 50 of these divers along with many of their ancestors still reside in Broome today.
Freddy Corpus is Australia's last surviving hard hat diver.
Born in Broome in 1928, he started working on luggers as a salvager when he was in his teens, collecting trochus shells, hunting flat back turtles and crocodiles.
Once, Freddy and his crew even found a shipwrecked Dutch flying boat, loaded with currency - Dutch guilders and bales of bank notes!
Against his father's wishes, Freddy became the third generation of his family to start pearl diving.
He eventually worked his way from Broome across to Darwin where he worked for the Paspaley family.
Freddy got the bends many times, and watched other divers die in this dangerous industry.
He remembers that once "I dived near Entrance Point in 18 fathom of water and my hose got caught in the propeller. When they pulled me up I was unconscious on deck."
Despite the perils of pearl diving, Freddy treasures his memories of his days in the hard hat.
"I honestly reckon there'd be no artist in the world who could paint what you see underwater. It's the most colourful thing you've ever seen."
Articles from Monument Australia and ABC.