Broome has lots of interesting infrastructure. It’s home to a beach that’s named after one of the most important infrastructure projects of the nineteenth century. Cable Beach is where the Banjoewangie, Java to Cable Beach sub sea telegraph cable emerged. Broome has more roundabouts per head of population than any other town in the world and it has a new lookout built at the top of Dampier Terrace that’s made most Broomies ask, “why”? Broome also has a shell midden on Kennedy Hill that is an infrastructure project that the first Australians, the traditional owners spent a millennium creating and shaping. *
Given the amazing array of infrastructure in Broome, it should be no surprise that Broome has a staircase to the moon. Only this staircase is more illusion than infrastructure. It’s more light than steel. More reflection than concrete, and for something that doesn’t actually exist, it attracts more visitors to Broome than anything tangible in the town.
For a few nights a month between March and October the Moon rises across the mudflats of Roebuck Bay on a low spring tide. As the moon controls the tides, it never rises across the bay on a high tide. The low tide and full moon have danced together for longer than the Yawuru have worked on the midden. The spectacle attracts thousands of people to line up along the shores of Roebuck Bay anywhere from Simpsons Beach to Chinatown. They all face east and talk in low voices or whispers as if at some spiritual event. At the Mangrove Hotel there is often a digeridoo player adding to the solemness of the occasion.
The low murmurs slowly intensify as those with better eye sight detect a glow on the horizon, a sign that the moon is approaching. As the moon rises ever so slowly at first, its top is flat at first as if its struggling to keep its bulk below the horizon. But it has no power to resist nature and continues to rise now with a perfect circular top, then as its almost completely up it seems to have a last struggle to stay connected with the earth on the other side of the bay. Then as the magnetic pull of the earth forces it to let go, it casts a golden reflection on the empty bay. Initially it’s a short beam making those who are experiencing it for the first time to wonder what all the fuss might be about? But then as the moon slowly floats higher the golden beam stretches long across the textured mud flats, creating the appearance of steps. It continues to stretch, making its way directly to the viewer. Its an inviting motion that beckons the viewer to walk up what now appears to be a Staircase to the Moon.
At this point the serenity is broken by hundreds of cameras firing flashes in a vain attempt to capture that perfect image. Sadly, for the photographically challenged you cannot capture an image of the moon using flash. Nor can you successfully achieve getting the moon's reflection and the much brighter moon on a single exposure setting. However, each Staircase thousands of people try.
The Staircase to the Moon is celebrated each month with the Staircase Night Markets at Town Beach. The dates for Shinju Matsuri, Broome’s annual cultural festival are determined by the Staircase to the Moon. Its been the subject of books, songs and the play “Ship of Dreams” by Mary Durack performed multiple times in Broome. The first Staircase to the Moon this year is on Thursday March 21. Moon rise will be 6.28. You’ll know you’re in Broome when you see a Staircase to the Moon.
You can find all Staircase to the Moon dates in our here.
*The midden on Kennedy Hill has special significance to the Yawuru people (Broome’s traditional owners)