The internet is amazing, Google Earth incredible but some places you just have to be there yourself to experience the atmosphere and wonder at peoples’ ingenuity. Our visit to Coober Pedy was one of those times we were pleased we brushed aside the uncharitable reports of the town.
Driving into the town our first impression matched the opinions of others but we were there for two nights and decided we would visit a few of the less touristy attractions as well as some of the town’s iconic draw cards.
Coober Pedy named after the Aboriginal term Kupa-Piti which means white man’s borrow due to the number of residences living under ground. It is one of the largest towns in South Australia and is famous because of the quantity and quality of opals found. It is renowned as the opal capital of the world. But we weren’t there for the opals or for an opal mining experience. We were there to see the underground dwellings, known as dugouts. When I think of dugouts they were our childhood efforts at underground caves and fortresses. These resembled nothing like our childish efforts, and for that I am sure the inhabitants of those dwellings are pleased.
The dugouts, originally made as miners pick-axed their way through rock faces in search of opal, were a blessed reprieve from the heat which can reach 50C in Summer. Underground temperature remains constant in the early 20s.
We were not prepared for the haven of the bookstore as we descended the stairs. Cool and quiet, it was calming and the book selection was amazing. The sense of airiness and excellent lighting, and the books helped ground me and stop the anxiety about the ‘unfinishedness’ of the roof.
The underground mine tour that is part of Faye’s Underground House experience was different to those we had previously experienced at Lightning Ridge on a previous trip. Together with two other women, Faye and her friends dug out a three-bedroom home that includes a swimming pool, underground. Our tour included a lot of history but I think the photos tell a more interesting story.
The home started as a one room dugout, used by the mail truck driver., which Faye Nayler bought it of him, and that original room is now the kitchen. The home was built over ten years using only picks and shovels. Each bedroom has a walk in robe and there is a living room, bar and wine cellar. Clearly Faye was a tenacious and hardworking lady who played as diligently as she played.
We loved our time in Coober Pedy and enjoyed the one or two attractions we saw, leaving something new to see next time we visit.