A whopping 2,240 km north east of Perth, Broome is literally a world away from almost anywhere.
There’s a different rhythm in Broome, dominated by the wet and the dry season and the closely related tourist season, which runs from May to September.
Cliff and Julie Russell moved to this northwest corner of Australia back in 2001, although they didn’t settle in Broome itself, choosing Derby about 230 km north of Broome to open their gift, homeware and souvenir business, Monsoonal Blues.
Monsoonal Blues proved a hit almost right away… but ironically mainly with people from Broome, who literally begged them to open a store there. Cliff and Julie bowed to pressure and opened a store in Broome in 2002 in the Chinatown district, the business and tourist hub in town.
Thirteen years on and Monsoonal Blues is now quite a large store stocking a wide range of giftware and homeware, as well as some commercial kitchen products. In fact it’s the largest store of its kind in the entire northwest of Australia, despite its relative isolation (the next town is Port Hedland six hours drive away).
Broome is still firmly on the backpacker and working visa itinerary, with a huge number of the casual and hospitality workforce in town doing their trip around Australia. And as well as having a good time, keeping the bars and cafes busy, these international tourists are all keen to have mementoes of their time in Broome, and so Monsoonal Blues is where they go.
Of these visitors, some are chefs and kitchen workers who need their own knife sets, and sometimes they come in store to buy a set of I.O.Shen knives, although it’s fair to say I.O.Shen is still a bit of an unknown brand in Broome.
The Nirey range of electric knife sharpeners however is another story – Nirey’s reputation precedes them and they are very popular in Broome among the amateur fishers and in the hunting fraternity, with customers now starting to come in and ask specifically for the brand, according to Cliff. Monsoonal Blues always keeps a stock of the 280 and 3000 models and all the various accessories.
Monsoonal Blues does have a website and a presence on social media, although this is largely to satisfy its local customers – and by local we mean anyone within an 8 hour drive. Locals who are a little way away can visit the website to have a look at new products and then make the trip if they like what they see. This is apparently called ‘webrooming’ (having a showroom on the web), as opposed to pure internet shopping. Shipping costs generally make regular online shopping with them a little expensive if you’re not a local, although occasionally they find themselves the only stockist in Australia for a particular product and then they get the orders.
And the name?
“In the monsoon season Broome is pretty empty – all the tourists have gone and we’re here almost on our own.” explains Cliff. “People who live in Broome sometimes suffer what’s lightheartedly referred to as the ‘monsoonal blues’… and we’re the cure!”