Willie Creek Pearls is a Western Australian family business, owned and operated by the Banfield family. Today, three generations of the Banfield work across the business. After its humble beginnings in Broome and 30 years of operation, Willie Creek Pearls proudly remains a family business.
Navigate the timeline below to explore the fascinating history of the Banfield family, Willie Creek Pearls and how it has grown to the business you see today.
The Path To Broome
The Banfield family journey to owning and operating Willie Creek Pearls has been filled with many twists and turns. It began much further south in 1964, when as a young couple, Valda and Don Banfield left Perth to buy a farm in Tincurrin - a small community near Narrogin.
In 1985 after years of fluctuating wheat and sheep prices, the family made the decision to leave the farm. They moved to Perth where Don, alongside his two sons Robert and Darren, drove for a limousine company. Whilst in this transport job, Don met and formed a strong bond with Lord McAlpine. Lord McAlpine was playing a key role in the development of Broome as a tourism destination. On a visit to Broome with Don, they identified the fact that the town needed a reliable bus service and they joined together in this venture.
The Banfield Family Moved To Broome
In 1989, the Banfield family moved to Broome to operate Broome Buslines; the first airport transfer service to the newly-built Cable Beach Club Resort. The family evolved this business into a coach tour company showcasing the spectacular Kimberley region. Just as the Banfields were beginning to establish themselves in Broome; tragedy struck. Whilst driving one of their buses to Fitzroy Crossing, Don had an unexpected heart attack. He was aged 51, and left Valda a widow with four children.
The business, however; was non-stop so Robert and Darren’s only option was to work even harder, with valuable support from their sisters Donna, Melissa and their extended family. Having won a contract for Lord McAlpine’s Cable Beach Club Resort, they were required to meet every plane that flew in. It was a busy time, but they came together as a family to survive, and eventually thrive.
Banfield Family leased Willie Creek Pearl Farm
The Banfield family continued to expand the business by offering coach tours throughout the Kimberley region, which included driving tourists to Willie Creek Pearl Farm.
The opportunity arose for the Banfields to lease Willie Creek Pearl Farm in 1994 to host farm tours to the public, which continue to this day. The family concentrated on their core business at the time, Willie Creek Pearl Farm and their retail showroom located at Willie Creek.
Acquired The Old Zoo Complex
Lord McAlpine had built the Cable Beach Club and the Pearl Coast Zoo, which was an indulgence of one of his passions. The Zoo housed hundreds of species of birds and animals, many of which were rare and endangered.
In the early 1990s, several factors negatively affected this project. A change in Lord McAlpine’s family fortunes, a major airline pilots’ strike and the fact that the Zoo was perhaps some years ahead of its time; led to its closure.
The Banfields purchased the Pearl Coast Zoo buildings in Challenor Drive, opposite Cable Beach Club, in 1994. The Banfield family converted the zoo buildings into an administrative headquarters for their business interests. With the help of Don Bacon, they also established the Old Zoo Café.
Cable Beach Showroom Opens
In 1995, the Banfield family sought to bring their pearl jewellery retail offering into Broome itself, opening their Cable Beach showroom at the Old Zoo site they had recently acquired.
Chinatown Showroom Opens
In 2004, the Banfield family opened a third retail outlet on Dampier Terrace in Chinatown, Broome. This further expanded the business' pearl jewellery retail offering in Broome, and allowed additional promotion of the Willie Creek Pearl Farm tour.
Hillarys Boardwalk Showroom Opens
In May 2005, a fourth retail outlet was opened at Sorrento Quay Hillary’s Boat Harbour. This was the first time that the Willie Creek Pearls' brand had been tested outside of the Broome market.
Winner of Sir David Brand Award for Tourism
The Sir David Brand Award for Tourism is the highest award for tourism in Western Australia, named after Sir David Brand (1912-1979), who was Premier of Western Australia from 1959 to 1971. It was established in 1972 as a single award, and is now the highest honour in the Western Australia Tourism Awards.
At the 2006 Western Australian Tourism Awards, Willie Creek Pearls was presented with this prestigious award for the very first time.
Acquired Pearl Luggers
The Banfield family successfully negotiated a deal to take ownership of Pearl Luggers as part of their tourism portfolio.
Pearl Luggers was first opened in 1999 and played an important role in educating tourists about Broome’s colourful pearling history. Complementing the Willie Creek Pearl Farm tour and packaged together, Pearl Luggers worked to give visitors a complete education into Broome’s Pearling industry.
Winner of Sir David Brand Award for Tourism
Now one of the most awarded tourism companies in Western Australia, Willie Creek Pearls won their second Sir David Brand Award for Tourism in 2010.
Subiaco Showroom Opens
In 2011, Willie Creek Pearls opened a new showroom in Subiaco, in a prime location on Hay Street.
A popular destination for locals and tourists alike, Hay Street is filled with boutique shops and a fabulous range of bars and restaurants.
Issued Commercial Pearling License
Pearl farming in Australia is a fully allocated and regulated fishing industry that is governed by a legislative act and controlled by the Department of Fisheries. It makes a considerable contribution to the overall annual value of the aquaculture industry in Australia and is particularly unique in that it exhibits sustainability in a “triple bottom line” context - pearling is sustainable ecologically, economically and socially. There are only 15 pearl farming licenses in Western Australia.
In 2015, Willie Creek Pearls was issued one of the fifteen available licenses, allowing us to begin farming Pinctada maxima oysters on our commercial sea leases.
Elizabeth Quay Showroom Opens
Willie Creek Pearls' Elizabeth Quay showroom opened in the heart of the Perth CBD, on the banks of the Swan River.
Our Elizabeth Quay location offered up an opportunity to bring a taste of Broome to the heart of Perth. Through our Signature Pearl Experiences, we introduced guests to an opportunity to harvest their own pearls from our oysters, delivered straight from Willie Creek Pearl Farm.
Collaboration with Marine Biomedical
Robert Banfield saw an opportunity to invest with a group of visionaries in 2021, who were exploring the incredible potential of using natural marine derived organisms as a substitute for synthetic materials in orthopedic trauma medicine.
Robert joined the board of biotech start-up company Marine Biomedical, who now own patented technology PearlBoneTM, which converts nacre from our pearl oyster Pinctada maxima into a medical device that bio-mimics human bone formation.
Harvesting "The Don"
There really is only one guarantee in pearl farming – you never know what you are going to find! In 2021 we harvested our best and single most valuable pearl to date while delivering a tour at Willie Creek Pearl Farm.
This amazing, rare pearl was measured at 20.12mm. Round, with excellent lustre and pink gem tones, it weighed in at an impressive 11.847g (or 3.159 momme). Christened ‘The Don’ as a tribute to Don Banfield, the late father to Robert and his siblings (and husband of Valda), this extraordinary gem features all the desirable characteristics of valuable pearls, based on the five virtues - shape, size, colour, complexion and lustre.
Don is proudly displayed at Willie Creek Pearl Farm - an exciting tour highlight!
Cottesloe Showroom Opens
Willie Creek Pearls' seventh and newest jewellery showroom, the Cottesloe showroom opens in the iconic historical bank building on the corner of Stirling Highway and Napoleon Street.
Napoleon Street is a boutique shopping district in the Western suburbs or Perth, filled with its inviting cafes.
The Cottesloe showroom is also home to our team of jewellers at our Cottesloe showroom.
Gold Award at the 2022 Australian Tourism Awards
Willie Creek Pearls was named among Australia’s top tourism providers at the 2022 Qantas Australian Tourism Awards, taking home two awards including our first national gold win.
Crowned top Tourism Retail and Hire Services provider and awarded bronze in the Tourist Attractions category for the Willie Creek Pearl Farm experience.
The Australian Tourism Awards is the tourism industry’s national standard of excellence, recognising outstanding operators in major cities through to the outback.
Hama Pearl II
Hama Pearl II became the newest member of our fleet after journeying with our pearling operations crew from Cairns.
Hama Pearl II was originally built by renowned Broome family the Hamuguchis and coincidentally launched in April 1991 when Willie Creek Pearl Farm first opened for tourism. We are excited to have the boat back in Broome waters.
Operating alongside our existing boats Lady Q and Gumin, the new addition increases our commercial farming capabilities for our continued planned investment in producing some of the world’s finest pearls.
Inducted into the Hall of Fame at Broome Business Excellence Awards
After being recognised as Broome's Business of the Year for three consecutive years, Willie Creek Pearls was inducted into the Hall of Fame at the 2023 awards night.
WA Tourism Awards Hall of Fame
Willie Creek Pearls has been inducted into the WA Tourism Awards’ Hall of Fame after winning Gold to retain the State’s top tourist attraction title for the third consecutive year.
Willie Creek Pearl Farm was named WA’s Top Tourist Attraction alongside 26 other fellow gold medallists at the 2023 Perth Airport WA Tourism Awards on Saturday evening, as well as also taking home a bronze medal in the Tourism Retail and Hire Services category.
Willie Creek Pearls will now compete on the national stage once again at the Australian Tourism Awards where they took out two national awards in 2022, including their first national Gold win, in the same categories last year.