Opals in the Opal Inn

Coober Pedy. Known for its opals, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, being in the middle of nowhere, being hard to spell and being very hot. We didn’t have any particular expectations for our visit to the Pedy but we discovered one of those random and welcoming Aussie towns where just about anything goes.

Coober Pedy

Coober Pedy

Before I start I need to rewind to the night before we arrived in Coober Pedy when we were camped at Arckaringa Station near the Painted Desert. After a sunset photoshoot at the desert we headed back to our camper which we’d left on its own in an empty station campsite. On our return we were a little aggravated to see someone setting up a swag right next to our camper, despite there being a whole paddock of space around us. It turned out we were now camped next to Coober Pedy’s Anglican Minister who was on a tour of his remote parishes. The conversation was a little awkward, I was impressed to hear he lived in an underground house and worked in an underground church and we parted ways the next day…..we’ll come back to the story of the minister.

As you approach the town of Coober Pedy the vast red landscape changes to a strange creamy coloured potholed moonscape. Triangular piles of dirt, uniform in size, are spattered as far as the eye can see. These, we were soon to find out, were the tailings from the blower machines used in the underground digging process in the mines. When we exited the car in the caravan park the temperature was 20 degrees. Possibly the coldest we’d been all trip leading us to be somewhat suspicious of the ‘hottest town in Australia’ claim that Coober Pedy has staked. As Western Australians we are confident Marble Bar actually holds this title.

There's lots of mine shafts in Coober Pedy

There’s lots of mine shafts in Coober Pedy

Coober Pedy is an opal mining town and home to a myriad of hopeful miners from all sorts of backgrounds and nationalities. Due to the intense summer heat most of the town has been built underground (houses, churches, shops, restaurants). The sight of hundreds of chimneys and doors poking out from the side of hills makes the town look like an oversized rabbit warren, home to human sized rabbits. Here, each miner can have only one claim (50m squared) and must work the claim personally. This means the corporations can’t mine in Coober Pedy and the unique small mining heritage of the area is always protected. With that comes all sorts of stories of wins and losses.

Mining equipment Coober Pedy

Mining equipment Coober Pedy

The Old Timer’s Mining Museum is nestled in a rabbit hole in the centre of town. When a miner living here decided to extend his daughter’s underground bedroom he discovered the workings of a very old opal mine in the next room. He eventually turned it into a museum. On day one of excavating the front door of the museum he discovered a vein of Opals worth $50,000, enough to finance the building of the rest of the museum.

Inside the Old TImer's Mine Shaft, Coober Pedy

Inside the Old TImer’s Mine Shaft, Coober Pedy

No mining town is complete without a good pub and we ended up in the Opal Inn for a few beers and….a pool competition! Never beat the locals at their own pool comp, especially when the reigning champion is the local Anglican Minister. Yep, that’s the same guy who camped right next to us at Arckaringa Station.

Playing pool at the Opal Inn

Playing pool at the Opal Inn

While the pool comp was in full flow I was getting to know the locals most of whom were working Opal Miners and I noticed were mostly over the age of fifty. Sadly it seems the younger generation are being tempted away from the Pedy by the big mining companies and the older miners are concerned there are less and less people here to pass their skills onto. Apart from one chap who it later transpired owns a million dollar property in Broome: ‘Nah luv i’m not a miner. That’s a mugs game. I’m a baker. Miner’s need to eat don’t they? At least i know i’ll make money at the end of the day’.

Old car near Coober Pedy

Old car near Coober Pedy

The Opal Inn has a nightly ‘wheel of fortune’ competition. At 7.30 the drumroll comes and the locals get very excited. Of course on night one the first raffle number to be called was mine and feeling a little self conscious at being the only female in the pub marched forward to ‘spin the wheel’. The rules? The only rule is that the wheel must do a full circle once.  I spun the wheel in an embarrassingly girly fashion and it moved a tiny fraction. The pub erupted ‘ give her another go, give her another go. She’s new’. One more spin and…..’a duck egg’. The only blank on the board. No prizes for us. Our numbers were called three more times during the wheels spinning and we eventually walked away with two free beers.

But not only did we walk away with free beers we also walked away with 11 Opals. I have no idea where they came from and no idea why I have them but at three separate times during a night at the pub I was tapped on the shoulder and told ‘here, take these’. Confusing to say the least but a great reminder of a visit to South Australia’s Opal Mining capital.

The Opals I was given in the Opal Inn

The Opals I was given in the Opal Inn

 

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