The Underground Town of Coober Pedy

While I was doing some online research on Australia I came across Coober Pedy and thought it sounded intriguing. A mining town established in 1915 when opal was first found there and that still supplies most of the quality opal in the world market today. What intrigued me though, was that due to the high summer temperatures most of the houses were built underground. So I knew I would have to see this for myself.

I booked a room in an underground motel and arrived very excited at the prospect of this new experience. Except I started to feel somewhat uneasy when it dawned to me that there would be no window in the room and I started to choke a little. The slight unease turned into alarm when I realised I was the only guest staying that night and the manager cheerfully announced she would soon be leaving for the day. So there I was, underground and by myself…

After 9 hours on the bus I was tired and like Doris Day, I thought “Que será, será”. Thankfully nothing crept in the middle of the night, animal, human or otherwise. I am not sure it is something I would like to do often. It felt decidedly odd

Coober Pedy has a population of around 2,500 people and an astounding 80% live underground. Running water to households arrived in 1985 (no, it is not a typo) and TV only a little earlier. I visited a 3 bedroom underground home and I can understand why in summer when temperatures can reach 116F or 47C most people would choose to live in the nice cool underground. It was spacious too.

I drove around the opal mines, which was curious. Mounds of piled up earth where men and women work in the hope of making it big. Both the motel manager and the tour guide had worked at the mines in the past. The high tunnel I saw is 9 metres high, quite imposing and somewhat spooky.

The old underground home of Crocodile Harry, an eccentric German who lived there is now heritage site and it appeared in one of the Mad Max films. The cave’s walls and ceilings are covered with women’s names and bras, that mean conquests, if we are to believe the stories.

I saw the famous Dingo Fence, a 3488 mile long fence built to protect the sheep and keep the dingos away, I walked on the Moon Plain and I saw the stunning Breakaways. I have been very lucky because in October it is spring and everything is lush. The contrast of the browns, greens, ochres and reds of the land against the blazing blue sky, as far as the eye can see, was breathtaking. In the summer it is a very different story, stark and desolate. And I can’t help but wonder what it must be like to live in a place like this. Middle of nowhere and hours from the nearest reasonably sized town. That choking feeling is returning…

The Breakaways, Australia

The Breakaways, Australia

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