Coober Pedy was originally known as Stuarts Ranges Opal Field. It is the home of the great Australian opal and underground dwellings. I had thought the opal was only found in Australia. I was wrong. The opal was valued by the Romans, they placed it at the top of the gemstone list and the Greeks called it Opallios. Basically opallios means to see a change of colour. While the Indonesians called it Kalimaya, (Kali, meaning a river and maya, meaning an illusion.) The list goes on and on with different names for opal from the different country. Australia now supplies about 80% of the world opal.
The under grown housing really started when the diggers came back from the First World War. The men were use to living in dugouts so to help escape from the harsh desert climate they adapted the style of living in Cooper Pedy. The name Cooper Pedy comes from the Aboriginal words “Kupa Piti”, translates to “white man’s hole”
An interesting thing with Opals is there is no ryme or reasoning to how you can find the gemstone. There is a saying in Cooper Pedy and that is “ Throw your hat in the air and where it lands, dig” They say 99 out of 100 hold dug wont contain opal. It seems like a lot of work for nothing but when you do find good opal, it is worth it.
The town itself is a mixture of above and below dwellings. Most of the tourist accommodation have been cut into the hills and some of the business. The landscape is scatted with piles of dirt and forgotten bits of machinery. A movie prop from “Pitch Black” sits almost hidden on the main street. The town gives a feeling of being from another time and place. Not wonder the town and the surrounds have been used for more than one movie.
We had been told about a campground that is at the back of the clothing op shop. We were told to get there early because it is quickly filled. As we were only 12 k out of Coober Pedy we arrive at 9:30am. Adrian spoke to the person running the show and was told there was no room and as no one was leaving so there wouldn’t be any room for several days. He suggested we camp by a dry creek bed about 200 meters from the op shop. He also told Adrian “If anyone comes and tells you, you can’t camp there tell them where to go because you can.” We talked about what we should do and decided to give it a go.
There were two vans already park here so we knew we were in the right place. The unofficial bush camp was a big vacant area. We set up camp and then went for a quick look around the town. It was not what I was expecting. There seemed to be a lot of buildings above ground. We ended up at Umoona Opal mine. They have accommodation, mine tours (only $10 per person) as well as selling opals. The tour which showed a short film and then we walked though a dugout house then an old mine. While fun, the tour wasn’t very informative; we finished with me not knowing much more than when I started. After the tour you could wonder thought the showroom and opal shop taking your time. The opals are like diamonds. Hard to find, lovely to look at and can be very expensive to buy for a good quality one, but after seeing them you just have to own one. They come in so many different colours, which changes as you the stone is move reflecting the light. The different colours blow my mind. Yes I did buy more than one. It is a good think I don’t live in the town as I think I pick up “Opal Fever.”
We did the tourist things and went out to Crocodile Harrys Nest as well as going to the 3 underground churches and Faye’s house.
In 2015, Faye’s House has been voted in the top 10 by Trip Advisor as a must see. It was impressive. Fay purchased the home when it was just the kitchen area, in 1960 and with the help of two lady friends Fay dug the rest of her home out by hand (finding lots of opal as she went.) It has been left as she left it. Tour guides walk you through the house telling you about Faye’s life and the house. The house wasn’t really big but in Cooper Pedy if you house is too small you just dig a bigger one. You are not aloud to mine in the resident area of the town now, so if you see a piece of Opal in you wall you can’t mine it, instead you enlarge you room.
The 3 underground churches were all so diverse from each other.
Crocodile Harry’s Nest was something different. If the dwelling had of been anywhere else it would have been consisted a junk yard but at Coober Pedy it is considered an icon. I don’t know if I liked it or not. It has been left so the public can wonder though at their leisure. It is an interesting place; all the artwork is Harry’s. Harry originally was from Latvia and he received his nickname because he was a croc hunter before arriving in Coober Pedy.
Harry seemed to have a Cryostasis Capsule. I assumed left over form the making of “Pitch Black” (not that I have seen the movie) or it could be from some other movie. Harry’s cave was featured in the “Mad Max 3” movie. Harry seems to have made an impact on the tourist of he time. The cave is decently something different.
It did cross our minds to go noodling. (That is noodling not canoodle.) The miners bring in unwanted earth from their mines to a central place in town. The general public can go ‘noodling” though it to see if they can find any opals. We figured that the chances of finding anything were going to be slim so we gave up on the idea although we had been told tourist do find opal there all the time.
We drove out to the “Breakaways” to watch the sun set. On the way we stop to have a look at the “Dog Fence.” The Dog fence is twice as long as the Great Wall of China. It was built to keep the dingoes out of the farming land similar to the rabbit proof fence. The local saying was “not dog fence, not sheep industry”. The area around the dog fence is known as the “moon plain” When you see it you will know why. There is a photo at the tourist information centre with the moon on one side and the moon plain on the other. You can’t tell the different. I guess it is the closes most of us will come to being on the moon.
The Breakaways are remarkable with different light hitting the different colour in the hills. There are two hill close together know as salt and pepper. After coming through the moon plain it was a surprise to see the vast range of colour.
There were a lot of people watching the sunset mainly coming from tour busses. One of them pulled out 2 seats and a little table. He then set up some canapés and asked the two passages what wine they would like to drink. (I did wonder how much the private tour would have cost them.) We were told the only way to see the sunset was to sit back with a glass of wine and enjoy. We had taken a beer for Adrian and a cider for me along with some dips and crackers as well as olives and cheese. (It takes a while for the sun to go down so you have to do something while you sit and wait.) The trip was well worth it. The sky was alive with colour. We were in awe all together. It was attention grabbing in the way it changed colours.
We saw many of the mines as we left the town. The shakers were working away. Coober Pedy invented the shakers and the mining vacuum cleaner. In the early times of Coober Pedy a lot of the mines were signally operated. And being Australian if you have a problem you find a solution. Instead of digging a bit then taking it to the sieves sifting through it then going back down to start again, someone invented the vacuum system when the dirt was sucked up and sifted out at the top. After working away you just needed to go to the sieves to see what was there.