Wow where to start, what a full day. Driving into Coober Pedy was an experience in itself. There are dirt mounds everywhere, sometimes one here and there and then other times lots and all different sizes.
First impressions of Cooper Pedy was that it seemed a bit slow to get moving as there wasn’t many people in the streets as we drove down it. There seemed to be more buildings above ground that we thought there would be, some are above ground completely, some are half and half and some are totally underground with only the entrance at ground level. We parked and called into the underground bookshop as they supposedly had a good mud map on the Painted Desert. It was quiet weird being underground and that particularly store really stunk, it seems he is a smoking and it really gets into the sandstone as none of the other underground places had any smell to them. The nature strips if you can call them that, and parking are just el natural red gravel.We first called into the info centre, talked to the lady there about possible rain forecast as even a small amount can have an effect on roads out here. Thursday when we would be leaving here and hitting many km’s of dirt road. They are forecasting an 80% chance of 5-10mm, doesn’t sound like a lot but apparently it depends on how it falls, over the day or all at once. So we will need to recheck weather and road conditions before we leave.
The streets had started to get busier and we noticed how many locals there were and how they were gathering in certain spots. Then after a while they all started moving towards one spot, we realised it was the local pub. We also commented on how many dogs they had, we later found out they get $7 per dog per week from the govt, they also get away with not having them on a lead as the claim they are working dogs, pity the owners didn’t work. There is a high population of Aboriginals in CP; there is some uncertainly about what the exact population of people live in CP anywhere for 2500 to 3500 depending on who you are talking to. Out of that number 400 to 500 of them are Aboriginals; the other 60% are Europeans.
We decided to stay the night at the Caravan Park where we were doing the tour as it was convenient, and is about the nicest in town. There is no water at your site, applies to all C/Van parks in CP. Water is very precious in these parts and hard to come by. They pump water up from the Artesian Basin, it was ok at first but is now very salty so in 1985 they installed a desalination plant using a reverse osmosis process that gives very good water quality. For travellers a coin operated water dispenser is available at a cost of 20c per 30lts of water. In the park we are staying you can get water for 20c for 40lts. The showers also take 20c, so it’s cheaper for us to have a shower in the van. The town folk pay $5 per 1000lts.
General info about CP. 50% of the population live in dugouts, Aboriginals won’t live underground as they believe the spirits are underground. Dugouts are 25 degrees in summer and plummet to 23 degrees in winter. These days they use machinery to dig a dug out which is into sandstone rock. All dugouts are to be dug into a side of a hill; purchase of land is about $12,000. The cost of excavating a dugout can be anywhere between $20,000 and $60,000, and some of these are quiet big, like 8 bedrooms. For every room a venational pipe/shaft goes up through the roof there is also a main shaft that brings fresh air in. Once a dugout has been dug they need to be left for 2 summers to dry out the sandstone, then the sandstone is sealed with Bondcrete which stops any dust. If you want an extension you just dig another room. In fact they have used this as an excuse to mine for Opal which is no longer allowed in the town area, due to people digging into their neighbour’s homes, which used to happen quite a bit. Which caused the council to put a clause in the building agreements which was called the “Oh Poop clause” (only not the words they used) cause that’s what people said when they dug into their neighbours home “oh Poop”. If someone does that now they are fined $30,000 which goes to the council not the poor sole who had his home dug into. This stopped people from doing renovations sideways, now they just go down.
You do Safe Public Noodling in CP, know what this is? I’ll tell you later while you think about it.
Now for the tour, about 17 of us hopped onto a coaster bus, first of all we did the town area getting commentary as we went, some of which has already been mentioned. We saw the local golf course, the T was green grass, the greens were gravel, the water traps were scrub traps, the rough was really rough, boulders etc. We then went out to the working mine area, where there are all these piles of dirt, with holes next to them. Each hole costs $400 to dig, whether there is opal there or not. There has been 4 millions holes dug in CP and none of them have been filled in, so they remember where they are so no one drills right next to one and has a collapse. The dirt that comes up and is in piles is called Mullock which can have and most often does, have opal in it. The miners are after the big stuff and often don’t worry about the Mullock. Locals and tourist can then go Noodling it in. Noodling is searching through the Mullock looking for Opal. Because some people fell into a hole and died they now bring the Mullock into town to a public Noodling area so you can Noodle in safety, so SAFE PUBLIC NOODLING.
We then went to the Breakaways which are colourful hills which have broken away from the main range. This is a taste of what’s to come with the Painted Desert. The Breakaways are where Mad Max 3 “Beyond Thunder Dome” was made, Pricilla Queen of the Desert, Ground Zero, and another one we can’t remember the name of, but they had a space ship crash out there and the space ship is now a feature in town. The bus driver is nuts and drives the coaster like a crazy man. We also drove passed the Dog Fence and the Moon plain.
The tour was great and well worth doing. Tomorrow there will be more exploring of CP. We then drove back into town and went to Umoona Mine and Museum, which was very fascinating. There was a short film on how Opal is formed, then a tour of an old underground miner’s home and then what a modern one looks like today. Then a tour of what a mine is like.
We then went to the underground Serbian Church, before heading back home.