Coober Pedy is an opal mining town located in the Outback of South Australia and is recognized as the largest producer of opal in the world.
Opal was first discovered by Willie Hutchison in 1915. Following this discovery, settlement began and has subsequently developed into the modern town of Coober Pedy.
The township of Coober Pedy has underground churches, shops, motels and hotels, as well as caravan and camping areas. Many of the locals (about 50%) prefer to live underground in dugouts where it is cool in summer and warm in winter; several dugouts and mines are open for inspection.
Coober Pedy is situated 845 kilometres north of Adelaide and 680 kilometres south of Alice Springs. Regional Express Airlines operate a daily service from Adelaide, Greyhound Coaches operate a service from Adelaide to Alice Springs via Coober Pedy, and arrangments can be made with the Ghan Rail to stop at Manguri (the nearest siding to Coober Pedy). Alternatively, one can drive for approximately 10 hours from Adelaide or 8 hours from Alice Springs on the Stuart highway to experience our cosmopolitan community and its unique way of life.
Between April and October the weather is very pleasant, typical of a semi desert climate, sunny days but cold desert nights. From November to March the weather warms up and temperatures during summer range from 35 degrees Celsius to 48 degrees Celsius in the shade. The annual rainfall in this area is minimal at around 175 mm (5 inches) per annum.
Coober Pedy is situated on the edge of the Stuart Range, on beds of sand and silt stone 100 feet thick, topped with a stony desert that is nearly treeless. Very little plant life exists due to low rainfall. The sandstone makes it very difficult to grow any significant vegetation.
The town now has an excellent water supply but due to the high cost of water and the problem of very little top soil, the town is devoid of grassed areas except the town oval & school oval. Some determined residents are able to grow trees and shrubs utilising town water and treated waste water.
Nearby are some stunning natural landscapes such as the Breakaways and the Moon Plain, both of which have featured in a number of movies such as Mad Max III, Pitch Black, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Ground Zero and Stark and Salute of the Jugger.
The main native wildlife found around the Coober Pedy area are kangaroos, wallabies and emus. There are also sand goannas, bearded dragons, geckos and perentie lizards. Dingoes are mainly found outside the dog fence, which is located approximately 10km outside of Coober Pedy. There are about 28 varieties of bird life such as eagles, bustards or bush turkeys, budgerigars, galahs, parrots and finches to name a few. Some pelicans and black swans can be found on nearby lakes after rain.
There are more than 50 nationalities represented on the opal fields and whilst many of the children of the people in this category are Australian born, there is a strong adherence to their cultural backgrounds, norms, values and expectations. Predominant nationalities are Greek, Italian, Serbian, Filipino and German. Other nationalities include Swedish, Swiss, English, Columbian, American, Czech, Chinese, Albanian, Chilean and Iranian just to name a few.
Opal is a form of silica, chemically similar to quartz, but containing water within the molecular structure. Precious opal generally contains from 6-10% water and consists of small silica spheres arranged in a regular pattern. Opal occurs in two varieties, precious opal and common opal (also known as potch)
The ‘Olympic Australis’ from Coober Pedy is said to be the world’s largest piece of uncut precious opal and weighs 3.5 kilograms. Its name comes from the fact the piece was found in 1956, the year the Olympic Games were held in Melbourne, Australia
There is a marked difference between the value of uncut opal compared with the value of cut and polished stones. Opals may be cut and polished in a number of ways, depending on the nature and thickness of the colour band.
Refers to all opals that naturally occur in one piece having been cut and polished from rough opal.
A thin veneer of opal may show enhanced colour with a dark backing. This is achieved by cementing either black or grey silica material, glass or a thin slice of common opal to the back of the opal with an epoxy resin.
To protect the opal from abrasion, a slice of quartz crystal may be used to cap the thin opal veneer producing a three-tiered gemstone known as a triplet. This type of gem can display brilliant colours. It is a cheaper method of presentation and can enhance the appearance of the opal.
Opal was first discovered in the area that is now known as Coober Pedy in 1915. The original opal deposits were found on the surface or very near to it, so mining was not a too difficult task.
Nevertheless as the opal seams were discovered deeper and deeper the miners soon found that the temperatures underground were very pleasant, particularly during the heat of the summer and cold of the winter. It was not long before the miners decided to camp underground in their mines. These original basic dwellings have now developed to a point where luxurious underground homes, known as dugouts, have been planned and built.
Dividing walls in dugouts are much thicker than a normal aboveground house and this is necessary to provide support pillars between the rooms. These pillars are usually at least a metre thick or more.
Lighting is either by natural or artificial lights with air circulation provided by installing air shafts throughout the dugout. This will cause a natural circulation of air; warm air rises out through the shafts facilitating a constant flow of fresh air.
Families living in underground homes have all the modern conveniences of normal houses as well as not requiring air-conditioners or heaters. We have telephones (land-based and mobile), television and radio. We are not isolated from the outside world at all.
.Coober Pedy is a most unique and interesting place to visit and the underground style of living, shopping, worshipping and dining contributes greatly to that uniqueness.