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Pearling continued

During the 1930s the Western Australian industry was faced with competition from Japanese and Dutch-owned pearlers raising pearl shell in international waters outside the three mile limit. Production soared, contributing to a drop in world prices, made worse by the Depression. The destruction caused in Broome by a severe cyclone in 1935 - a present and very real threat to the industry - made matters worse.

During the Second World War the internment of Japanese working in the industry as enemy aliens, and the requisitioning of pearl luggers shut down the industry. At war's
end the industry was hampered by a shortage of boats, equipment and skilled labour, especially given popular hostility to the re-employment of Japanese workers. It was not until 1952 that Japanese labour was allowed back into the industry by the federal government. The pearling industry enjoyed a short revival during the 1950s, peaking with production of 990 tons of pearl shell in 1957. However by 1964 production had fallen steadily to a low of 134 tons, reflecting the drop in demand resulting from the use of plastic as a cheap alternative to pearl shell.

The industry was saved from total collapse by the Japanese, who introduced the technique of pearl culture in 1956. The process involves collecting pearl oysters, opening them on board ship, then grafting a strip of mantle edge onto the oyster's foot and inserting a small bead or nucleus. This procedure must be done with great care so as to not kill the oyster. The seeded oyster is then taken to a pearl farm to allow it to mature for two years, during which time it secretes nacre - the substance which lines the shell - around the nucleus to a cultured pearl.

W.A.'s first pearl farm was established in 1956 at Augustus Island off the north coast of the State, and then Kuri Bay, 200 kilometres north-east of Derby, when the original site proved unworkable. By the end of the twentieth century many more pearl farms had been established, usually as joint ventures between Japanese and Australian companies. By the 1990s there were eleven licensed pearling companies operating on the West Australian coast in an industry valued at 189 million dollars in 1997-98. 

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