ou might be thinking about where to escape from the chaos of the world and what life underground would actually be like. Fortunately, our planet indeed offers more than we can ever imagine, and so there really is a colorful underground community that considers itself lucky, special, and safe.
You need only drive to northern South Australia, 846 km (526 mi) north of Adelaide on the Stuart Highway, and you will find a prosperous city of 2000 people also known as the Opal Capital of the World because 70% of the world opals have been grown there since 1915 when a stray teenager Willie Hutchinson accidentally found them.
The next year opal miners began to settle in and in 1920, the post office was established. The town took its name of Coober Pedy which derives from the Kokatha language words, kupa piti, literary meaning “whitefella hole in the ground” and refers to the mining activities of the white people.
Indigenous people have long been associated with the region and consider it their traditional land and sacred ground. In 1975, the local Aboriginal people of Coober Pedy adopted the name Umoona which means long life and is also the name for the Acacia aneura or Mulga tree which is common in the area but you will have to go around a bit to find it.
Although opals are magnificent, Coober Pedy is better known for its subterranean dwellings called dugouts, which are the only solution to surviving the insane desert heat. There are rusted cars and pits everywhere with signs warning not to run and fall into a pit, not to walk backward and fall into a pit, and not to stare aimlessly and fall down a deep pit. If you are thinking Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, you are spot on because in 1985 George Miller shot some of the film’s wildest post-apocalyptic scenes there.
But it is not as bad as it sounds, only water is scarce and expensive, but you can see the Milky Way at night as this place is in the middle of nowhere and no wonder it was found by accident. The relaxed subterranean community of Coober Pedy lives in cool underground dugouts where the temperature is comfortable and comforting even on the hottest days, although there is no sun, yet somehow no one complains about it.
However, the area’s desert climate with no rain, frequent sandstorms, and the perpetual sun makes life strangely difficult, water scarce, and the most expensive in all of Australia, while vegetation resembles Mars more than Earth. So residents started a tree planting initiative that grows every year and in the town center, you can see the first tree ever placed in Coober Pedy – a metal tree sculpture.
You Will Not Get Bored
If you like going to church, choose from a Greek Orthodox Church to the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses. You can send your child to school, go to a bookstore and stay in a hotel or hostel and meet some of the most interesting people from around the world.
Watching movies is also possible with a car in a drive-in but don’t carry explosives as the signs will warn you. And if you want to play golf get some glowing balls and of course forget the grass because you will play golf under the bright Milky Way light on the hard sand.
Maybe you’re into art galleries and that’s great because, in the unique Coober Pedy, you’ll see some of the craziest art of all time, not to mention the incredibly valuable Aboriginal handicrafts you can find traces of almost everywhere. Jewelry shops aren’t lacking either, but if you don’t want to pick your opals behind a glass table, just visit a working mine and they will let you dig them yourself. After that, you’ll probably have to negotiate or run. If you get tired, try resting at a kangaroo rehabilitation center, which is plentiful in the area and serves up amazing ice-sweet treats.
You might also stumble upon a Painted Desert, but fear not, it’s just a very old graveyard full of fossils from who knows where and when. And just in case you missed something, literally, every shop there sells everything from DVDs and video games to watches, fossils, and opals. They also have a penchant for bugs, which are quite amazing in their display of color, as is the opal itself, the sunset in the desert, and the furniture in the dugouts.
Everything in Coober Pedy is Mad Glowing Opal Fossil Sand Hideaway. Meet you there.
Writer and director who thinks different and does everything differently. Art enthusiast. Wandering and wondering. Until the end of meaning.