The Coober Pedy Underground

Coober Pedy is a bleak mining town in the Australian outback. Bone-dry, treeless and nearly grassless, half its residents live underground to escape the blinding heat. Coober Pedy’ is an obvious location shoot for movies about the end of the world (Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, 1985) or hostile alien planets (Pitch Black, 2000).

There’s tourism. Why, God knows. But Coober Pedy has an airport, and a train, so the opportunity is there. The environs do look like an alien planet, complete with strange artifacts; the locals make public art out of scrap metal. It doesn’t tend to rust. A left-over prop spaceship from Pitch Black sits next to the IGA supermarket.

The attraction might be opals. Without opals, Coober Peedy wouldn’t exist; opals have been mined there for a century, and in abundance. The gemstones can be dug fairly easily from the soft soil — if you dig in the right spot. Coober Pedy is dotted with abandoned mines and shafts (and scrapped old machinery); watch your step at night.

As the miners were so good at digging, they dug their own homes into the soil. Later, people converted abandoned mines for businesses or habitation. It’s the easiest and cheapest way to live in Coober Pedy. Today’s high may be 120 degrees up top, but down below it’s always cool.

Many things are underground: a bookstore, churches, restaurants, a museum, hotels, private homes of course, and more. “Coober Pedy,” by the way, translates to “White Fella’s Hole” in an aboriginal language.

You’ll find Radeka’s Underground Backpacker’s Motel in downtown Coober Pedy by the Mobil station. Guests may choose between three depths of accomodation: conventional air-conditioned motel rooms on the surface; individual underground rooms with all conveniences, three meters down; or budget hostel-style barracks with communal conveniences five meters down.

Send me a picture if you go. I’m not planning to.

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