After rising (painfully) at 4am, we started the long drive to Coober Pedy, an opal-mining town. I laid down across some seats on the bus, with our water and juice bottles under my head. After a couple hours of comfortably sprawling, I noticed my jacket was a little wet. And my shirt and sweater were too. Then I made the unpleasant discovery a bottle of juice had leaked, and about a glass full of juice had soaked into my shirt, sweater, jacket and pants. The next few hours were less pleasant.
The landscape flattened out as we drove, with forests turning to scrubby trees and bushes. The dirt was looking redder than before too.
A trucker greeted me over coffee at a roadhouse. A grandmotherly woman said g’day at another truck stop’s restroom. Aussies are so friendly.
The barren landscape with service stations in the middle of nowhere reminded me of parts of the U.S.
It was sunny and pleasantly cool out, a relief from the cool, wet weather of Melbourne.
Coober Pedy is one of the coolest quirkiest places I’ve been. I wish we’d had more time there. As a kid, I’d seen a TV program about it — I think it was "Real People" — and had wanted to see it ever since.
Basically, it’s an opal-mining town in the middle of nowhere; isolated and in the desert. What makes this town unusual is that the area is mined by individual miners and small companies, rather than big mining companies. So there are lots of individual miners there, trying to make it big.
Also, when these miners were digging, they realized the mines were cooler than the outside air, and began digging cave homes for themselves. As a result, many of the homes and businesses in the town are underground, dug out of the soft limestone, Flintstones-style. You can see ventilation pipes sticking out all over town. This underground architecture is the most famous feature of Coober Pedy. In fact, the name Coober Pedy means "White Man Burrows" in an Aboriginal language.
On arriving, we took a tour of an old opal mine, and learned about the mining, cutting and finishing process. The local opals are beautiful; much fierier than European ones.
Then we got to see the inside of someones home, which looked as though it had been hermetically sealed in the ’60s. But someone does live there now. It was amazing.
Then, the nice lady showed us how to make a dynamite bomb.
We took a short tour of the town as well, including the local underground Catholic church. The pastor’s sermon is delivered by radio to those too far away to attend in person.
The underground homes and churches of course reminded us of ancient ones in Kappadokya, Turkey.
The School of the Air is located in Coober Pedy too. It’s a radio-based school for the hundred-some students living in the desolate surrounding area — an area larger than France.
That evening, we had some pizza at a restaurant run by Greeks; the town is incredibly diverse, as people come from all over the world to try their luck at mining. As a side note, Australia has a huge amount of gambling with "pokies," slot machines, in many pubs all over the country. Coober Pedy seemed to us like a town full of pokies players, with everyone trying to make it big.
We stayed in a cave hotel that night; the second cave hotel in less than a year; the first having been in Kappadokya. Our room looked like a normal, if somewhat ’70s, hotel room that happened to have carved stone walls. The temperature was cool and constant. I love cave dwellings.