Free Diving by Lorrae Coffin and Bronwyn Houston

Do you know much about the history of Australia’s pearling industry? In the late nineteenth century, many of Western Australia’s Indigenous were forced to dive for pearl shell under terrible conditions. This story is a tribute to these men and women who risked their lives for the pearl lugger owners.


Free diving by Lorrae Coffin and Bronwyn Houston is a lyrical narrative that takes the reader on a journey out to sea and on board a pearl lugger. A pearl lugger was the name given to the large vessels that were used to go out to sea to collect pearl shell. This industry, which has brought a lot of money to Australia is still a part of the economy today – visit Broome to see the many pearl shops up there – but under much better circumstances for the divers.

Older readers will be entranced by the colour of the land and the sea. They will feel scared and worried as the main character dives beneath the waves and yearns for his home. The prose entices the reader to ask questions about where they are, why they are diving with just a rope and why is pearl so precious?

This story really allows the reader to see the past injustices of society and how many people were treated so terribly just for the sake of money.

Brown Houston’s illustrations add more emotion to the story. We feel the gentleness of the ocean breeze, the warmth of the sunshine, the quietness of the moon. But we also see the fear the young man feels, we see the worry he holds within but also the freedom he feels when under the water.

Although I have read a little bit about the history of the Pearling industry from my visit to Broome this book gave me more insight into the dark side of it and how something so beautiful can hold a sad story.

Read this book with your children – it is a beautiful tale. The song at the end may inspire you to pull out your guitar and have a sing along too.

So what can you do after you have read this book?  

  • Explore the pearling industry. Compare the past and the present. Indigenous people had their own methods of finding pearl shell long before the Europeans came along.
  • Are there currently any injustices in the jewellery industry? Explore the concepts of fair-trade and worker’s rights.
  • Sing the song together – it is a beautiful tribute and there is no better way to learn about a story than through song.
  • Explore the art of Bronwyn Houston and the techniques used in this story.
  • Stand up for human rights. Keep an eye out for those around you and make sure that everyone is being treated equally. Be more mindful of what you buy to ensure that people aren’t being mistreated just for a final product.
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