Living Underground: Coober Pedy, Australia
Paula here. I was going over some photos taken about 10 years ago in Coober Pedy. My wife, Trish, was teaching in Sydney and I went on a three- day adventure. I wanted to visit this opal town in the Outback where emigrants and Aussies have worked deep in the mines for nearly one hundred years.
I flew from Sydney to Adelaide on Melbourne Cup day. This horse race is famous worldwide and I sat in a bar and did the “Aussie thing” – I drank a glass of champagne and ate oysters. I watched my horse lose on the television screen, but I was happy as a bounding kangaroo.
The Look of Mars.
A small white plane flew me from Adelaide to Coober Pedy. Looking out of the plane window I saw miles and miles of red soil. We landed with a few unexpected bumps. The airport was tiny with cars and utes (trucks) meeting people. I looked around for my ride and there he was, a young bloke (Aussie word) with his akubra hat and shorts. I looked around me – the place resembled Mars.
We drove to town with red di
rt on the ground and piled high beside mine shafts. The day was ‘blazing hot’ and I just wanted a cold drink and a chance to stretch out in my UNDERGROUND motel room.
Residents of Coober live in homes above ground and into the sides of hills. They tunnel inside and that keeps homes cool and similar to living underground.
Faye’s Underground Home.
I didn’t get the opportunity to meet Faye, a woman who bought an underground home from the local mailman. Over 60 years ago, Faye and two women companions enlarged the one room home using picks and shovels. It is now a tourist attraction with three rooms and even a swimming pool.
Building a Home Today
Modern machinery will do the job of drilling into hillsides of strong sandstone. What is it like to live in a dug out home? It is very attractive due to the swirling patterns left on walls by tunneling machines. The sandstone is a beautiful maroon and rose color that adds warmth to a cool and comfortable temperature. When the drilling is completed, the sandstone is sealed with a clear sealer to keep the rooms dust-free.
Approaching a Dug Out Home
The entrance is usually at street level with rooms going back into the hill. Water is scarce in Coober, but the folk are inventive when it comes to gardening.
Desert plants and Bougainvilleas in pots add charm to dug out homes. On approaching a home you will see a shaft poking out of the hill. This is part of the ventilation system and hundreds of these shafts are dotted around the town. In most homes there are areas where light penetrates through windows, but inside the temperature is cool. Bedrooms are set further back. My motel room was part of the Backpacker establishment and was actually underground. I walked downstairs and the rooms were carved out. It was a wonderful experience. I did not feel claustrophobic.
Coober Pedy Town
I visited opal stores and took my wife, Trish, back a gift. I also signed up for a tourist mail (postal) trip to Anna Creek, the largest cattle station in the world. I will blog about this later.
In the evening, I would go to the local saloon and wait for the pay phone to be free. I needed to hear Trish’s voice. One one occasion, a funny incident occurred. Women are a scarce commodity and a few men asked me to join them for a drink. I declined, politely indicating that I was waiting for the phone to be free. However, one older gentleman with a ‘thick European accent’ sat down at my table. He was friendly and he was delighted to learn I was Canadian. Here is part of the conversation.
“You are Canadian, yes?”
“Your Prime Minister was Mr. Mulroney, yes?”
“Yes. His wife is Mila.”
“You know, Mila?”
“Mila, she is from my country!” ( Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina)
“You NOT know her?”
St. Peter and Paul Church
This dug out Roman Catholic church was within walking distance from my motel. It was filled with visitors and those saying a few prayers. It had an historical feeling like the early tombs used by early Christians worshipping in secret from the Romans.
I would recommend a visit to Coober Pedy if you are ever in Australia. I want to go back there, but this time with Trish.