Coober Pedy - 'Opal Capital of the World'

on . Posted in South Australian Opal Mines

Coober Pedy

Welcome to Coober Pedy‘Kupa Piti’ is an Aboriginal name meaning ‘White Man in a Hole’ in the language of the Kokatha people the traditional owners of the area. It was selected from four proposed names by a newly formed progress committee in June 1920.

'Coober', as it is affectionately referred to, by its 4000 inhabitants, is also known as the 'Opal Capital of the World'.

The Coober Pedy Opal fields contain the largest concentration of opal bearing ground in the world.  Known for yielding big ‘runs’or patches of full colour ‘seam’ Opal, Coober Pedy has been the single greatest producer by quantity over the last century and was instrumental in making Light Opal (milky,white,grey & crystal) the platform of the Opal industry, in terms of market availability and recognition. 

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Discovered in 1914 by Willie Hutchison the youngest member of a gold prospecting party which was desperately looking for water at the time. The 14 year old had disobeyed orders and strayed from camp to search for water in the surrounding foothills. When he finally returned after dark, although exhausted he wore a huge grin on his face and his eyes were brightly lit. Willie had not only located a waterhole, he also had a sugar bag full of Opal to show his much relieved father and crew.

Due to its remoteness, only a handful of miners worked the field in the early years, the first rush took place in 1919 yet there weren't any visiting buyers before 1920. During this period, massive amounts of Opal were produced and the population swelled to a few hundred. The harsh climate and lack of water, which often had to be recycled many times before being discarded, was always a problem. The situation was so critical that the Government built a 2,000,000-litre tank in 1924 which partly solved the problem, allowing water to be rationed at 110 litres per person per week.

 

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Blower & Elevator extracts dirt from underground

Willie Hutchison

Coober Pedy suffered during the Depression years when opal prices bottomed out. The discovery of the Eight Mile field in 1945 by Toddy Bryant, an Aboriginal woman, caused a great sensation. Her discovery of Opal within 20 centimetres of the surface was a turning point in the history of the field and went a long way towards establishing Coober Pedy's future prosperity. - Len Cram

The desert landscape around Coober Pedy is extremely barren and the climate dry and unforgiving, 45C in summer and as cool as 4C in winter. The mesas and mogul hills are not only prospective for Opal  they have provided low cost, temperate dugout living since the ‘diggers’ returned from the trenches of France in 1918. The exceptional stability of the region’s ancient sandstones makes tunnelling and the excavation of safe and adequate underground homes highly practicable. The temperature in most dugouts only varies about 5C all year round with temperatures inside being from 21C to 26C.

Not surprisingly the majority of Coober Pedy's population lives underground. This multicultural melting pot consists of 45 nationalities, Greeks, Yugoslavs and Italians predominantly. One could speak Greek throughout their stay here, the Australian accent is the exception and the choice of food is fantastic. Garlic Prawns at Tom & Mary’s are a must!

Interesting attractions in Coober Pedy include the mines, the underground churches, the local golf course which is completely free of grass and the ‘Breakaways’ which resemble a mini Grand Canyon.

To complete the outback odyssey and discover the heart of Australia and Opal country visit the Opal Capital of the World where Umoona Mine & Museum and The Old Timer's Mine are a must see amongst numerous attractions! If you are lucky and speck some good colour you might like to stay at the Desert Cave, a 4-Star underground hotel!
Underground at Umoona Mine & Museum umoonadugout.jpg The postmansdugout.jpg Postman's Place

Major working areas and famous mines include: German Gully, Black Flag and Benitos Folly South-East of town, Olympic and Southern Cross to the West-South-West. Zorba, Larkins Folly, Hellenic Hill and Russos Folly (15km) East of town. Hans Peak, 8 Mile, 10 Mile, Greek Gully, 14 Mile, 17 Mile and Shell Patch (35km) moving North-West of town in that order.

Map of the Coober Pedy Opal Fields

 

Sources & Image Credits:

ABSALOM'S OUTBACK, John Mabey, 1981. (Andamooka)

Andamooka Opal, Peter Taubers (photo of rough crystal opal)

BEAUTIFUL OPALS - AUSTRALIAS NATIONAL GEM - SPECIAL 2000 COMMEMORATIVE EDITION, Len Cram, 1999.

COOBER PEDY, 65 YEARS YOUNG 1915-1980, Kerry E. Medway, 1981.

DIGGING AROUND COOBER PEDY, Anne Johnson, 2006.

Mineshaft, Peter Blythe, Mintabie miner & historian

Oldtimersmine, An award winning tourist mine dating back to 1916

Opaline, Photo collection

Umoona Mine & Opal Museum, (colour photo of dugout interior)

Testimonials

Sue-White opals29 June 2013
Dear Rainbow Serpent,
Thank you for your email and membership.
It is great to know that you are out there promoting Australia's National gemstone & NSW emblem.
Keep up the good work, I love your concept.
Sue White - Orana Glitz & Glamour Extravaganza Inc Assn.

15 march 2013
Hi Peter,
Colourful characters are key,
your Facebook page and the photos look like there are some fantastic people!
We loved the look of Tarzan of Opalton.
Gemma Brady - Boundless productions.tv

Alexander fink.PhysicsPHD opal28 Nov 2012
Hello,
I would like to welcome your information page on opal,
with detailed information about nearly everything their is to know in a general term.
Alexander Fink PhD - Dept. of Physics La Trobe University

5 August 2010
Hi from another opal lover.
Just wanted to say I love your site, a wealth of information.
I always send people to your page for opal info.
Kind Regards
Sean Tapner - Planet Opal

8 july 2010
Dear Rainbow Serpent,
Will be recommending your website as a primary reference to 15 Macquarie Uni media students who will be doing a PR project for us as part of their assessment soon.
Best wishes
Renata - Opalminded

Opalminded recommend opalsinformation6 June 2010
Dear Rainbow Serpent, 
Greetings from Opal Minded In Sydney.
We are all very impressed with your website – one of the best things that has happened to this Industry for a long time. 
We would love to share it with the visitors to our website. 
Would you mind If we post with us links to your website, 
also on our facebook and twitter. 
Best wishes
Renata, John, Nelly, Fabrice and Summer

Fri, Apr 16, 2010 
Good Morning,
I have just found your wonderful website.
I produce a monthly e-newsletter which is circulated to the Tourism businesses in Coober Pedy and neighbouring stations plus the Info Centres around SA & the NT.
I wondered if I could use some of your Opal info in my October Edition (Opal Month), mainly the parts in your “About Opal” section – names, spiritual info etc.
I would obviously reference it to your website noting the address so others could read your site. 
Cheers,
Sandra Harris
Tourism Officer - Coober Pedy Information Centre

5 April 2010
Hi,
I am wanting to use your site in an assignment as it is a superb example
of a site to use for a primary teaching unit on gemstones.
Many thanks,
Libby

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