The Banfield family, have been educating visitors to Broome about the history and modern day workings of the Australian South Sea Cultured Pearl industry for more than 20 years. Two units of ‘wildshell’ (shell captured from the wild) was allocated by department of fisheries, to be farmed at Willie Creek Pearl Farm, specifically for this purpose. The farming of this shell took place inside the calm and pristine waters of the tidal estuary that is Willie Creek itself, allowing guests to unlock the mysteries of the pearling industry just 40 minutes from Broome. The two long lines which hold these shell remain inside the creek today.
In 2015, the rare opportunity arose to purchase additional shell quota, allowing one of only 17 available commercial pearling licenses in Western Australia to be issued to Willie Creek Pearls. The Banfield family seized this opportunity to continue their pearl journey. Originally wheat and sheep farmers from Tincurrin, the move to a fully-fledged commercial pearling operation saw them come full-circle, and return to their deep roots in primary production.
This now means that Willie Creek Pearls undertakes its farming operations at multiple sites, including sea leases 10 nautical miles off the coast of Quondong Point (north of Willie Creek), as well as at Willie Creek itself.
Quondong Point and the sea lease are integral locations for the company’s commercial pearling operations. At the sea lease, there are more than thirty sub-surface long lines, holding around 20,000 shell. At Quondong Point, there are also a series of ‘bottom lines’, which are located on the floor of the sea-bed, and are used for shell resting and conditioning. These locations are free from certain substrates found in the creek bed of Willie Creek itself. Therefore, they are ideal for parts of the pearl farming process such as culturing operations (seeding of oysters), post-operative turning and post-harvest rest protocols.
Willie Creek’s Pearling Masters select various cohorts of shell that are due for harvest and have reached the end of their pearl-producing life cycle, and send them to Willie Creek for harvesting as part of the Willie Creek Pearl Farm Tour as well as our Elizabeth Quay Showroom. Willie Creek Pearl Farm remains one of the Western Australia’s most awarded tourist attractions.
Out at the sea lease, the mother ship “Trident Aurora” which is owned and operated by Autore Pearling is a platform that is used to undertake various parts of the pearl farming process.
These activities include;
The Trident Aurora is 31 meters long and was constructed in 1971 but has had several refits including a major refit in 2017. It sleeps 29 staff including skippers, technicians, shell cleaning crew, divers and engineers. Staff spend 10-14 days out at sea and work 12 hour days.
Autore Pearling is one of the largest and most renowned producers of South Sea Cultured Pearls in the world, and provides technical services to Willie Creek. Excitingly, in 2018, their long-standing working relationship led to the development of a state-of-the-art hatchery at Willie Creek. The hatchery, designed by Autore Pearling, which is used to produce juvenile oysters, now not only plays an important part in both company’s commercial pearling operations, but now also provides guests visiting Willie Creek Pearl Farm with additional insight into the fascinating process of producing the world’s finest pearls.
You can read more about the hatchery here.
As a result of the progressive work done in our commercial pearling venture, we have recently harvested a stunning 19.7mm Australian South Sea Cultured Pearl (pictured below) on our Pearl Farm tour. This exceptionally rare pearl has been valued at $75,000. It's the most valuable pearl Willie Creek has harvested at the Pearl Farm and the best pearl harvested so far in Broome for the 2018 harvest season.
Willie Creek’s commercial pearling operations complete the ‘shell to showroom’ experience enjoyed by thousands of guests visiting Broome, the pearling capital of Australia, every year. As well as the stunning Australian South Sea Cultured Pearls produced by Willie Creek, inside Willie Creek showrooms you’ll also find a vast array of the finest pearls from all around the world. These include pearls from South-east Asia, China and Tahiti.
Willie Creek Pearls is proudly a member of the Pearl Producers Association