Monday, 20 July 2015

Coober Pedy, the Opal Town - The Ghan Adventure continued

Well I have to say Coober Pedy must be the most unusual, funkiest town I have ever visited.  It was the first time I had been to a town which has mining as its whole purpose, and where many, if not most, of it's inhabitants live underground to escape the searing heat of Australian desert summers. This certainly makes for  an interesting place.

Mining camp, Coober Pedy

     The Ghan stopped way out in the middle of the desert at a place called Manguri Siding and then it was about an hour by bus to Coober Pedy.  First indications that we were getting close to town were the conical piles of mine tailings heaped row upon row amidst  rusty old trucks whose motors are used to power the blowers for the mines. It's a kind of wild west sort of place, dusty and untidy with piles of abandoned, broken down equipment and machinery here and there.

Mountains of mine tailings
Inside St Elijah's Church
 But there is beauty as we discovered at our first stop, the Serbian, Orthodox church of St Elijah, built underground into the side of a hill.   This was an amazing revelation - carefully excavated from cool, creamy rock with elaborate stained glass and carvings and a calm, peaceful atmosphere.  Our next stop, at an opal mine, was more prosaic but no less interesting. Here, suitably kitted out in hard hats, we were shown how opals are mined.  As with all mining it is pretty back breaking work but a good opal find must be very exciting. We had a lunch of food and wine seated at long tables right within the mine - very atmospheric. Afterwards we had time to tour the adjoining museum and art gallery before our next, and I must say, keenly anticipated, stop, an opal shop.

Coober Pedy's Raison d'etre

                                                                                 I was mesmerised by the variety, colours and fire in the opals on display and can understand how mining for them becomes a "thrill of the chase" and somewhat addictive.  Many of us bought opals, including me.  An extravagance I know but I don't expect to be back in Coober Pedy any time soon.                                                                                

Inside an underground house
                                                                                                                                                                  It was intriguing to look through a couple of underground homes; one a now no longer used miner's shanty, basic but comfortable, and the other a quite large family home.  I was surprised at how spacious it was with all mod cons and even a chandelier but I know I would find it disconcerting to have to rely on a clock to tell me whether it was daytime or not. 
The beauty of these underground homes is that they are a constant, comfortable 21 degrees all year round while, outside, the summers can be searingly hot, up to 51 degrees, and the winter nights, bitterly cold.

Coober Pedy's "Boot Hill'

                                                                                                                                                              We had a good look around the town, weaving around the residential streets, noting the number of homes by the number of  air vents peppering the small hills.  We even called in at the local cemetery, a real "Boot Hill", with its makeshift headstones of beer kegs and mining equipment. 

A number of homes are under this hill
I am so pleased I went to Coober Pedy.  I found it extraordinary although there is no way I would want to live there.  Our tour guide was a German who said he had arrived in the town, to mine, 40 odd years ago and fell in love with it.  He has never wanted to leave.  On my way home from Australia I met a very friendly woman who shared her airport taxi with me.  She said she had a two year teaching contract in Coober Pedy and was loving every minute of her time there and could happily stay forever.  So, there you go, what do I know?