Coober Pedy could well have been called “Kupa Piti” – the aboriginal language translated as “white man in a hole” !
Today signs tell of the danger “Don’t run! Don’t walk backwards! Beware deep holes!” and this is the story of Coober Pedy.
In 1915 four prospectors (Jim Hutchinson, son Willie, P J Winch, and M McKenzie) looking for gold came to the Stuart Ranges and found Opal. They apparently followed a Perrentie Monitor Lizard to its hole in the ground and there found some Opal, and now a hundred years later opal is still being found here in what is called “The Opal Capital of the world”.
Opal could well be called the “Jewel of Australia” – a precious stone that is mined here and in Lightning Ridge in New South Wales.
Coober Pedy has a population of around 1700 people, and is located on the Stuart Highway 850 kilometres north of Adelaide and 680 kilometres south of Alice Springs. It is in the middle of a desert area, so very hot, and there are signs to say “Keep off the Grass” – even if there is none to be seen!
The early prospectors and noodlers who came here may have hoped to find opal lying on the surface of the land, but most if not all had to dig holes, deeper and deeper to find the opal.
Many of the diggers had returned from World War I digging in the trenches, so digging for opal and not getting shot must have seemed like heaven. It was also cooler underground too, and so many built their homes underground to escape the heat of the day.
Today, there are homes, restaurants, hotel accommodation, bars and even a church built underground – and tours take you to see and learn about opal, meet the locals and see the museums that tell the story of Coober Pedy.
The whole area is like a movie set – with the painted desert, Moon Plain and Breakaways being some of the above ground places to see, and the star filled sky and Milky Way creating an atmosphere like almost nowhere else on earth. The original Mad Max films starring Mel Gibson were filmed here, and other films have followed. The mountains, the colours, the sky, the heat of the day and the cold at night make Coober Pedy a great place to visit, and maybe buy some opal as a gift or investment.