Coober Pedy in Australia, opal capital of the world

Tuesday, 14 February 2023 - 11:00 am (CET/MEZ) Berlin | Author/Destination:
Category/Kategorie: General, Architecture
Reading Time:  5 minutes

Coober Pedy opal at the South Australian Museum © Bahudhara/cc-by-sa-3.0

Coober Pedy opal at the South Australian Museum © Bahudhara/cc-by-sa-3.0

Coober Pedy is a town in northern South Australia, 846 km (526 mi) north of Adelaide on the Stuart Highway. The town is sometimes referred to as the “opal capital of the world” because of the quantity of precious opals that are mined there. Coober Pedy is renowned for its below-ground dwellings, called “dugouts“, which are built in this fashion due to the scorching daytime heat. The name “Coober Pedy” is thought to derive from the Aboriginal term kupa-piti, which means “whitefellas’ hole”, but in 1975 the local Aboriginal people of the town adopted the name Umoona, which means “long life” and is also their name for the mulga tree. In the 2016 Australian census, there were 1,762 people in Coober Pedy.

Coober Pedy is a small town about halfway between Adelaide and Alice Springs. It is situated on the edge of the erosional scarp of the Stuart Ranges, on beds of sandstone and siltstone 30 metres (98 ft) deep and topped with a stony, treeless desert. Very little plant life exists in town due to the region’s low rainfall, high cost of water, and lack of topsoil. The harsh summer desert temperatures mean that many residents prefer to live in caves bored into the hillsides (“dugouts“). A standard three-bedroom cave home with lounge, kitchen, and bathroom can be excavated out of the rock in the hillside for a similar price to building a house on the surface. However, dugouts remain at a constant temperature, while surface buildings need air conditioning, especially during the summer months, when temperatures often exceed 40 °C (104 °F). The relative humidity rarely gets over 20% on these hot days, and the skies are usually cloud-free. The average maximum temperature is 30–32 °C (86–90 °F), but it can get quite cool in the winter. The town’s water supply, managed by the District Council which operates a bore and associated treatment plant, comes from the Great Artesian Basin. Problems with ageing pipes, high water losses, and lack of subsidies contribute to consumer water charges being the highest in South Australia.

The town has become a popular stopover point and tourist destination, especially since 1987, when the sealing of the Stuart Highway was completed. Coober Pedy today relies as much on tourism as the opal mining industry to provide the community with employment and sustainability. Visitors’ attractions in Coober Pedy include the mines, the graveyard and the underground churches (the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church). The hybrid Coober Pedy Solar Power Station supplies power to the off-grid area. The Umoona Opal Mine and Museum is a popular attraction.

Umoona Opal Mine & Museum © flickr.com - Phil Whitehouse/cc-by-2.0 Underground jewellery shop © Lodo27/cc-by-sa-3.0 Coober Pedy opal at the South Australian Museum © Bahudhara/cc-by-sa-3.0 Entrance to an underground motel © Kerry Raymond/cc-by-4.0 Opal © Rob Lavinsky - iRocks.com/cc-by-sa-3.0 © panoramio.com - Pavel Špindler/cc-by-3.0 Serbian Orthodox Church © flickr.com - Robert Link/cc-by-sa-2.0
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Coober Pedy opal at the South Australian Museum © Bahudhara/cc-by-sa-3.0
The local golf course – mostly played at night with glowing balls, to avoid daytime heat – is completely free of grass, and golfers take a small piece of “turf” around to use for teeing off. As a result of correspondence between the two clubs, the Coober Pedy golf club is the only club in the world to enjoy reciprocal rights at The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews. The town also has an Australian rules football club, the Coober Pedy Saints, established in 2004, which competes in the Far North Football League (formerly the Woomera & Districts Football League). Due to the town’s isolation, to play matches the Saints must make round trips of over 900 kilometres (560 mi) to Roxby Downs, where the rest of the league’s teams are located. The town has a drive-in theatre. It opened in 1965, but became less popular after 1980 with the arrival of television to the town, and ceased regular operation in 1984. It was re-opened in 1996.

A board for the Umoona Community Art Centre was established in 2021, but needs government funding to establish a permanent location in the town. A group of highly talented artists has joined the APY Art Centre Collective, which helps to create employment opportunities for Indigenous artists in the region. An exhibition in the Adelaide gallery of the collective in September 2021 featured the work of 24 of these artists.

Read more on Coober Pedy, Wikivoyage Coober Pedy and Wikipedia Coober Pedy (Smart Traveler App by U.S. Department of State - Weather report by weather.com - Global Passport Power Rank - Travel Risk Map - Democracy Index - GDP according to IMF, UN, and World Bank - Global Competitiveness Report - Corruption Perceptions Index - Press Freedom Index - World Justice Project - Rule of Law Index - UN Human Development Index - Global Peace Index - Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index). Photos by Wikimedia Commons. If you have a suggestion, critique, review or comment to this blog entry, we are looking forward to receive your e-mail at comment@wingsch.net. Please name the headline of the blog post to which your e-mail refers to in the subject line.




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