Sayonara Nakamura

YourLifeChoices’ 90-year-old columnist Peter Leith has covered a lot of territory in recent weeks, from lobbying the funeral industry for being too wasteful to expressing his delight in donating his body to a university for research. Today he returns to his Vanishing Australia series with a glimpse of pearling days in Broome.


If you ever visit Broome – or should I say when we are allowed to visit Broome again after travel restrictions are loosened – be sure to spend some time in the Japanese cemetery.

It commemorates not only the people who lie there but also a fascinating chapter in Australian history – the days when Japanese pearl divers worked the waters off the north-western coast of Australia, many of them without a permit.

Long before the days of SCUBA and free-diving, these divers, wearing clumsy canvas suits, heavy helmets and weighted boots, and connected to the boat only by a lifeline and air hose, would search the seabed for pearl shells. If they were caught fishing illegally, their boat would be confiscated and they would likely be deported back to Japan.

If a police boat was sighted and the fishermen did not have time to pull up their diver, they were known to cut the lifeline and air hose.

Sometimes, after the police boat had moved on, it was possible to retrieve both the valuable diving suit and (most likely) the body – to be placed with the others already in the Japanese cemetery.

If you care to Google Ted Egan and Sayonara Nakamura, you will be able to listen to his sad and beautiful ballad.

Do you have a story or an observation for Peter? Send it to and put ‘Sunday’ in the subject line.

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Written by Peter Leith

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