Lord Robert Alistair McAlpine, Baron McAlpine of West Green
– 14/05/1942 – 17/01/2014
British businessman, politician, author, and advisor to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher – and thankfully, the developer behind Broome, as we know it today.
Lord Alistair McAlpine first came to Australia around 1960. He was responsible for developing many of Perth’s office blocks, and for building Perth’s first 5 star hotel, The Parmellia. Although a developer, Broome was not on his radar at that time.
Broome, once a thriving pearling town, had been decimated by world war 2, and virtually lay in ruins – not as a result of the conflict, but from being abandoned (more about Broome’s earlier history later). The ravages of weather, white ants, and time had taken it’s toll on old China Town and Broome.
By the 1970s a beach culture was slowly emerging as Cable Beach became a magnate for those seeking temporary relief from the colder winters in the south of the country. Broome was ripe for tourism development, but nothing was happening quickly.
Then Lord McAlpine, being an avid collector, headed to Broome in 1979 with plans to collect shells. He had the foresight to see what could be done here. Purchasing an old Pearler’s home, which he restored and lived in for the next decade, he set about restoring and transforming Broome.
Apparently despite his English establishment background, he was equally at home sharing a pint with the Broome locals at the Roey, as he was with his Tory peers in England. It was whilst he was enjoying a pint or two at a local pub that he signed the contract for the purchase of the land on which he was to go on and build the Cable Beach Resort – the contract was signed on the back of a drink coaster.
Had Broome’s tourism potential been discovered by one of the other 80’s building magnates, today it may have been a town of high rise and concrete. Instead, Lord McAlpine set about restoring China Town and Broome keeping faithful to it’s cultural origins. He built his $55 million dollar Cable Beach Resort using the same vernacular architecture – latticework, verandahs and corrugated iron.The red and green colours that are seen everywhere in the town are remnant of the pearling industry. The green was a timber preservative used on the luggers, the red an anti-fouling paint was used in the pearling work areas. The verandah bungalows at Cable Beach Resort have been painted in the same colours.
Having a passion for gardening, and especially for frangipanis, he planted trees and tropical plants around the town, giving Broome the tropical feel it enjoys today.
Another of his purchases was the Sun Picture theatre, one of Broome’s a quintessential experience’s, and the oldest open air cinema in the world.
China Town, once a dilapidated street of shops that could well have been facing the bulldozer, has now been restored in keeping with the architecture of days gone by. Yes – I dread to think what Broome would have looked like today had Lord McAlpine not come here to ‘collect shells’ one sunny day back in 1979.
Thank you Lord Robert Alistair McAlpine.