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Use of Indigenous divers on nineteenth-century northwest Australian pearling luggers gave rise to a transregional apparatus of coercion, physical mistreatment, and arguably, slavery. Where accounts of conditions experienced by divers are limited to the documents of contemporary colonial men, our contribution explores a rare archaeological perspective. Zooarchaeological and taphonomic analysis of the Bandicoot Bay campsite, Barrow Island, evokes an exploitative labor relationship inherited from a wider colonial process yet actively renegotiated by its participants through subsistence practices. The operation’s pearlers selected a camp that advantaged concerns for labor organization and resource management while their divers seized opportunities for self-directed subsistence.