Prior to arriving in Coober Pedy, I had heard many stories of the town. Apparently it was a place that you either love or hate. It is home to many colourful characters, from both present and yesteryear.
As the temperatures often soar well into the mid forties, many of the townspeople actually live underground where the climate is a constant and much more comfortable 21-25 degrees.
Way back in the day, Chrissy used to sell insurance in South Australia, and this town was one that he frequented quite often, with a few regular clients. One of those clients was the infamous ‘Crocodile Harry’. He was a crocodile wrangler back in his early years, and then moved to Coober Pedy to try his luck at finding riches with opals. He had an underground dugout that he called home, and had a very generous spirit of hospitality. He opened his doors to many a tourist and backpacker, allowing them to stay on and party hard. He passed away a couple of years ago, and his home is still open to the public. We took a wander through, and the walls definitely tell a story of the many good times that everyone enjoyed there. The house has been left in its original state, with the bar still stocked, and a multitude of knickers, bras, hats, tee-shirts and goodness knows what else left behind with ‘special’ messages for Harry!
Another house that is also open to the public is that of Fayes. She was a local identity, who lived in Coober Pedy for many, many years. She built (or dug, I should say), her house alongside two of her best friends. The ladies each had day jobs, but would come home after work, and continue to dig and create their abode. All three ladies have now passed away aswell, but the house is managed by a lovely caretaker couple, who are happy to take you on a tour, and explain the history behind the build.
As you may, or may not, be aware, Coober Pedy is largely known for its opal production. The land surrounding the town, and also within it, is littered with opal mines, and the all too familiar mound of dirt that signifies that a mine is close by. Some of the mines are commercial in production, but there are quite a few locals that have tried their luck, and purchased a mining permit. From memory, around $500 will get you a permit, and a small parcel of land, however there are strict conditions that you must adhere to, in order to keep your land. Jacko and I did a tour of one of the larger commercial mines, and found it absolutely fascinating. Mining is certainly hard, dusty work – Jacko got to try his hand at it, but I think he was happy to get back above ground!
One of the biggest things that struck us about our time in Coober Pedy was just how green it was! About 5 weeks before we had arrived they had quite an unseasonal and large downpour, flooding much of the town. The result meant that the normally dry, arid, desert landscape was replaced with a layer of bright green foliage and grass. The surrounding desert areas, known as the Breakaways, were the setting of many major movies, including Star Wars, Mad Max and Priscilla – Queen of the Desert. It was actually quite strange to drive through all of the locations, seeing a sea of green, rather than the dry, brown, moon-like landscape that we were expecting! Running through the Breakaways is also a very significant, albeit lesser known, landmark in the Dog Fence. This fence was erected gradually over a few years in the 1880s, by the pasturalists to protect their livestock from dingos. The fence spans 5600km, and runs through South Australia, Queensland and New South Wales.
After two days in Coober Pedy we were ready to move on, and with rain on its way, it was probably a good thing! We kept tracking north, and learnt a very valuable lesson…. Checking the weather forecast! Yep, that’s right, north doesn’t always mean sunshine. The rain that we could see rolling into Coober Pedy was actually a pretty decent rain event that was sweeping much of the country. There was a fair bit around, and not wanting to be stuck in a tiny outback town that we couldn’t move on from, we decided we’d put in a big day, and head straight for Alice Springs.