Leaving Kings Canyon, we allowed ourselves two days to get to Coober Pedy in South Australia. It was a 530 Km trip to Marla where we stayed overnight then on the Coober Pedy next morning 240 Km. This allowed us to get into Coober Pedy before midday and early enough to get on the Minibus tour of Coober Pedy. Coober Pedy is reputably the Opal Capitol of the world. The name Coober Pedy comes from Aboriginal words “kupa piti”, which are commonly assumed to mean “white man in hole”
The tour is run by the Big 4 Caravan Park and the first stop is to check the progress of Yani’s, Caravan Park Proprietor’s, new house. Houses in Coober Pedy are not built like other houses in Australia. They are built underground. This means your builder uses a mining machine to burrow into the side of a hill. The hills are of sandstone and are very stable, thus you can just cut into the hill side fashioning rooms as you go. The only evidence of a dwelling is the vent pipes coming out of the hill side and a front door. The reason the residents live underground is that during the summer the outside temperature can reach 50⁰C while underground the temperature remains at 20⁰ to 25⁰C year round. Up until recently mining was allowed in the town site but with mines breaking into people’s dwellings in was banned.
Mining and house building here both use the same method of removing the rock. They use a machine to drill or chew into the rock and as the debris comes away it is augered into the mouth of a giant vacuum cleaner that sucks the debris away from the working face outside the house or mine to be removed or checked for opal. In the case of mining, the ore is put through a “noodling” machine that removes excess dirt and the ore then goes through an ultra violet light room. If opal is detected as the ore goes through the light room the machine shuts down and the human eye is used to find the opal.
Front Entrance to Yani’s House
Auger and Vac end of Machine
Mining is now done outside the town in the flat country and is mainly done by drilling a shaft down as far as you think you should go then the mining machine is dismantled and dropped down the shaft where it is reassembled to cut out horizontally. The ore being sucked to the surface by the Big Vac. When they are finished with a mine they just up ‘sticks’ and move somewhere else. If you look across the minefields you will see mullocks of varying sizes and somewhere close by will be a shaft. There are signs about warning you not to run or walk backwards as you may end up down a shaft
Open Cut Pit
The tour takes you into a home and mine in the township as part of the Umoona Museum. The first part is where two miners lived for 40 years digging away for opals. You then progress into the tunnels that were created as the ore was extracted. Where the men lived was fairly basic but other rooms have been added to show how a modern underground house would look.
Old Miners living area
More contemporary living room
Working mine tunnel
miner at work in the shaft
The underground living and working were not confined to these activities. Religion all so went underground in so far as the churches were built underground. St. Peter and St Paul Catholic church, Catacomb Church, Revival Fellowship and the Serbian Orthodox Church were all built underground. We toured the Serbian Church of Saint Elijah the Prophet which was built in 1993. The church is carved into the side of a hill with doors and windows at the front. Entering the doors, you go down a ramp that leads into the centre of the church and is capable of seating 300 people. The sanctuary at the front of the is enclosed by wooden doors and stained glass windows. Above them are stone carvings made in situ from the exposed rock. The whole building was made by drilling the top of the ceiling with a round drill then two more holes drilled either side of it and a bit lower. This was repeated again to get the shape of the ceiling as you will see in the photos below. The main chamber was then mined out using a square cutting miner. The Chamber at the rear forming an upper floor above the body of the church. The Windows at the rear (front entrance) are stained glass and allow light to flood into the building.
Entrance to the Serbian Church
Upper floor and windows
Looking toward the sanctuary
Carving above the sanctuary
The tour also includes the Breakaways Reserve which is 32km north of the town. It consists of colourful low hills which have broken away from the Stuart Range, hence the name ‘The Breakaways’ We were able to look out from several points to see the open spaces and the colourful environment. An outcrop can also be seen to the east which is known as ‘Salt & Pepper’. This outcrop has been used in a number of films and advertisements, while Panorama Hill situated in the middle, features in ‘Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome’ and ‘Ground Zero’. The hills seem to be painted with different colours which tend to change as the sunlight changes. It was overcast when we saw them but it’s not hard imagine the colours changing as they do in the outback.
Coober Pedy does not have any open taps in the township for water. The caravan park doesn’t have water taps that you can connect to your van. If you wanted a shower it was 20 cents for 2 minutes. If you didn’t have your own water tank you could use the camp kitchen for cooking and washing up. There are 2 places in town where you could buy water from a bowser just like fuel and these were 20 cents for 40 litres. The only place that did have any grass was the town oval and the school playground. I wouldn’t bother opening a gardening or mower shop here.
Water Filling Station open 24 hours