My name is Pearl Hamaguchi. I was born in Broome in 1940. I live in Broome. I’ve lived nowhere else.
My grandmother on my father’s side, Yae Yamamoto, was Japanese. Yae was from Ichoda-mura (now part of Amakusa city), a village on Shimoshima Island, the largest of the Amakusa Islands in Kumamoto prefecture in Kyushu. When her family wanted her to marry a man she did not like, she ran away from her village to Nagasaki. She later stowed away in the coalbunker of a ship, which was leaving Japan, and arrived in Fremantle in 1896. She was one of those women escaping the rural poverty in Japan.
Yae met my grandfather, John Chi, a pearler and businessman, originally from Shantou (Swatow), Guandong in China, who arrived in Australia as a cabin boy in 1870, but soon became involved in the pearling industry in Cossack. They married, and moved to Broome in 1899, and invested in property in Broome’s Chinatown. They ran some boarding houses and a noodle shop.
Of course, I have never met my grandmother. She died before I was born, but I used to hear stories from my Aunty Theresa. Whenever I went to see her in Darwin or when she came to Broome, she would tell me about her mother. That is how I got to know my grandmother’s story. I know that Yae was very tough. Women had to be very strong in those days.
My mother Barbara Lynott is what is now called a “Stolen Generation”. She was from the Ruby Plains, and institutionalised in a Catholic mission in Beagle Bay in 1909 when she was about four years old. This was the policy of the time, because she was fair. She was fathered by a white cattleman from a Scottish background. She met my father in Broome when she got a job as a waitress in his noodle shop.
My father Jimmy Chi (Snr) is half Japanese and half Chinese. He ran a successful business including boarding houses, a noodle shop and a taxi business in Broome. He was interned during the war because his mother, Yae, was Japanese.
Many others in Broome were interned too, and the war crippled Broome’s pearling industry. The luggers that weren’t burnt, were laying there on the foreshore unattended. But the revival of history began in 1955 when the Japanese returned. New luggers were built, and things went back to what it used to be like in Broome since the 1910s.
Mr Sam Male of Streeter & Male pearling company kept in touch with Mr Toshio Fukuda, who recruited all the pre-war pearl divers to come back to Broome. First there were about a dozen of them. It was important to the pearling industry, because these people knew the industry and where the Pinctada maxima (Australian South Sea pearl oyster) beds were located. Because Japan’s economy was recovering, the older men who returned encouraged the younger ones to come out to Broome to work. Of course the old men only talked about the good things, and didn’t tell them about the hardships, and the younger ones saw this as an adventure.
My husband Hiroshi Hamaguchi was a young seaman from Wakayama, and he came to Broome in 1955, and on his flight were 22 others. At the time as I was a shop assistant at the Streeter & Male General Store, just across the road from the Japanese quarters for the Streeter & Male company.
We got married in 1960 and had six sons. Four of our sons were involved in the pearling industry, of which three were divers. Everybody helped on the deck, and helped their father’s pearling business, which we started in the 1980s. Now I am a grandmother with many grandchildren, and most of them have visited Japan. A few of my grandchildren are learning Japanese, and the older ones are interested in Japanese culture and their ancestry. When my grandchildren visit Japan, they are welcomed by our family and friends.
I have also been to Japan several times. The first time was in 1977. I thought we were going there for just a month, but we ended up being there for more than four months. Whenever I asked him when we were going home, he, being a typical Japanese husband, replied, “Soon.” August, September, October, and November came, and it was getting too chilly for me. It was a good experience, but of course, nobody spoke English in small villages, except for our younger nieces and nephews, but they were shy.
I was also very lucky to have had a chance to meet Uncle Joe in Japan during one of my visits there, because he died from the Great Hanshin Earthquake the following year. Uncle Joe told me about the old Broome days, and was able to confirm my lineage for me, and my husband once took me to Nagasaki and Amakusa, where Yae was from.
- Pearl Hamaguchi was interviewed by Mayu Kanamori for Nikkei Australia 2020