Down Under: Coober Pedy
Coober Pedy: around town
From Alice Springs, I hopped back on the Greyhound and made my way further south.
As I head another 1,000 miles to Adelaide to see friends I met a couple months ago in Bali, it was recommended I stop in a town, along the way called, Coober Pedy.
So, I chose to breakup my journey and find out what Coober Pedy was all about.
I booked my accommodation via Airbnb and was expecting more details from my host in Coober Pedy, typically the day before arrival. As I was leaving Alice Springs I had not yet received details of the address, access, etc. Of course, there was no cellular or internet connectivity along the way so, I had to hang tight, so all my bookings via Airbnb went absolutely smooth.
On arrival into Coober Pedy, it was about six in the evening and the sun was setting. I felt like I’d arrived on a surreal scene out of a Western movie, if not Mars.
Dust and dirt and not a shrub or tree in site, or so it seemed.
Still no communication from my host; this was highly unusual. I left a message for my host and started walking in the direction of where I ‘think’ my accommodations were based on the google map provided in Airbnb; a general location not an exact address.
This was my introduction to Coober Pedy and I’m wondered what planet I was on.
Beware where you walk
Google maps, first took me a long way around, going uphill, and looping into the area of where the accommodation is expected to be, however, it looked commercial and as the sun had now set, a slight annoyance kicked in.
There was nothing there that looked like accommodations nor a residential neighborhood. Suddenly dogs started barking from what looked like a possible house and more like a tin shed.
Coober Pedy, around town
I figured if the dogs barked long enough somebody would come out, and lo & behold they did; a friendly gentleman.
We both walked further to what ‘could’ have been the accommodation, but there was no sign of life. In the meantime I left another message for my host.
I decided to walk back into town and stop at the local pizza joint, have a bite and give my host an hour. If I still had no response, then I’d book elsewhere and request a refund.
Coober Pedy, around town
An hour later I phoned once again, and finally received the voice of my host. It happened that he mistook my arrival and thought it was for the following day.
Finally, I’m in and settled and the following day I began to discover Coober Pedy.
History & Opal
It’s hard to imagine that this desert town, Coober Pedy, was covered by the ocean approximately 120 or so million years ago.
Climatic changes caused the lowering of the water tables as the oceans receded. Silica solutions were carried down in the ground depositing in cavities and fractures, which over time formed into opal.
Aboriginals have been known to pass through the area for thousands of years and their Dreamtime includes landmarks, especially some located in ‘The Breakaways’, however not many lived there year round prior to 1945.
Peg your Claim
John McDouall Stuart, remember him from my previous post, explored this area around 1858, and so the area was originally called ‘Stuart Range Opal Field’.
In 1915 men from the New Colorado Prospecting Syndicate had unsuccessfully searched for gold south of Coober Pedy.
They subsequently set camp in Cooper Pedy when one of their sons, only 14 years old, found pieces of surface opal. Shortly after, the first opal peg was claimed.
Stuart Range Opal Field was renamed Coober Pedy in 1920 after the Aboriginal words ‘kupa piti’, meaning ‘white man in a hole’.
Where’s your house again? ‘Noodling’
Today, Coober Pedy is known as the Opal Capital of the World. Australia produces 95% of the worlds commercial opal and a large percentage of this comes from Coober Pedy.
If you’re ready to peg a claim, you can purchase a mining permit for 50m x 50m or 50m x 100m area.
If not, you can try to ‘noodle’. ‘Noodling’ is the process of searching through discarded heaps for pieces of opal that were missed by miners.
UndergroundL Serbian Orthodox Church
The population is estimated to be 3,500 with 45 nationalities. Locals say that the population is heavily disputed given that the majority of the town is underground.
Yes, about 80% of people live underground!
Imagine extending your home and digging a hole into your neighbors bedroom!
The advantages of living underground is reprieve from the harsh temperatures, extreme heat in the day and cool desert nights; underground temperatures average a more comfortable 24C/75F day and night.
Fay’s Underground Home was built in the 1960’s by Fay and two other women who used the original laborious method of picks and shovels. The house is still used today by its caretakers.
Fay’s Underground Home: kitchen
Fay’s Underground Home: bedroom
Fay’s Underground Home: pool
Fay’s Underground Home: well stocked
The Breakaways & Dog Fence
The traditional owners of the Kanku-Breakaways are the Antakirinja Matu-Yankuntjartjara people.
This area is known as ‘The Breakaways’; these hills were once a part of the Stuart Range which have broken away.
The Kanku-Breakaways hold great cultural and spiritual significance to our people, interwoven with its striking natural formations, plants and animals. Many features form part of our stories that weave across the landscape, extending thousands of kilometers. Managing the Kanku and undertaking traditional practices on country are vital to maintain our strong connection to country.
Aboriginal peoples have occupied, enjoyed and managed the lands and waters of this State for thousands of generations. For Aboriginal first nations, creation ancestors laid down the laws of the Country and bestowed a range of customary rights and obligations to the many Aboriginal Nations across our state.
Coober Pedy: Mad Max
Did you know that numerous movies were filmed in and around Cooper Pedy and The Breakaways. These include Mad Max 3 Beyond Thunderdome, Ground Zero, Red Planet, Pitch Black and more.
While driving to and from The Breakaways, there’s an opportunity to see the ‘dog fence’, also called the ‘dingo fence’.
The fence is 2 meters high [6.5 feet], and stretches more than 5600 kilometers [~3500 miles] and is the world’s longest fence.
The fence was originally built in the 1880’s to stop the spread of the rabbit plague across the Australian state borders. It didn’t work as planned, went into disrepair, and was later repaired in the 1900’s to keep dingoes [wild dogs] out of the southeast and away from the sheep and cattle.
The longest length of combined fencing was 8,600 kilometers until 1980, when the dingo fence was shortened.
If President Trump built a fence along the USA/Mexican border from San Diego, CA to Brownsville, TX, that would only be approximately 1,550 miles; ha, ha, ha.
The cost of maintenance of the fence today averages about 10 million dollars per year.
One of my last stops is at the kangaroo orphanage. Here I learned if you see a kangaroo hit on the road side that hasn’t survived, you should check its’ pouch for a little baby ‘joey’, as they can live days after the mother has died.
If there is a baby ‘joey’, wrap it in something warm, keep it in a quiet place, contact a rescue center or take it to the next local town where someone should know where /how to contact the nearest rescue center.
In the end, I safely made through Coober Pedy and along the way, I heard a few locals say ‘if you don’t want to be found, come live underground in Coober Pedy’.
On that note, I have now experienced Coober Pedy and I’m ready to hit the road south to Adelaide.
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