Coober Pedy: People living in underground mining towns
After spending the night in an underground cave in the middle of the Australian desert, I learned three things: Silence is deafening. Your eyes will never adapt to the darkness. If no one has brushed the ceiling before you arrive, when it falls on your face at 2 am, the dirt will scare your life.
I have already flown 1,200 miles because he has the right to sleep in a hole in Coober Pedy. There is no Wi-Fi here. The glare of my MacBook is annoying in the stillness of the ground. The TV broadcasts ads from the “local” cleaning service in the next town, but happens to be just 400 miles away.
Australia is a country defined by “distance tyranny”, but going to the underground opal mining town of Coober Pedy feels like a holiday on Mars.
In the middle of the South Australian desert, driving in any direction from the nearest capital (Adelaide to the south or Alice Springs to the north) for eight hours, Coober Pedy is not in the grid, most of it is hidden underground. More than half of the residents live in the bedrock of a cavelike house called a “canoe” to escape the cold winters, hot summers and occasional hurricanes. Usually, the only sign you walk on someone’s roof is the vent that sprouts next to your boots.
Although the people of the first country have lived in the deserts of central Australia for thousands of years, Cooper Pedy, which we know today, does not exist without opals. The miners arrived here in the 1920s, endure extreme conditions, look for colorful gems, excavate, bulldozers, and eventually blast the earth to find elusive seams that make them wealthy.
Living in Coober Pedy is not just for survival. It is about creating a way of life in one of the worst environments on the planet. For locals, this means providing resource-rich, jury-controlled solutions that combine advanced 21st century technology with low-tech realities in cutting-edge life.
But with the lives and departures of miners, the biggest survival story may be Coober Pedy itself.
As a child in Australia, I grew up and heard about Coober Pedy: everyone lives in a small town in a cave! The dusty men in the crocodile hunters wear iridescent opals (Australian national gemstones) and where they filmed the Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome in 1985. In your fifth grade, some unfortunate people drive during school holidays, insisting on a burned paradise through the endless Australian inland three-day Datsun backseat.
Even flying to Coober Pedy is epic. Leaving Sydney, landed in Adelaide two hours later, I was again facing a two-hour flight to Coober Pedy. To this end, I boarded a 34-seat Saab 340 aircraft (how to fit the bush) operated by Australian regional airline Rex.
We have internet when the generator is on. ”
After reading the in-flight security card (in fact, the “survival kit” was installed on our plane), I spent most of my time concentrating on a sun hat and hunting suit on the delicate old gentleman next to me.
A few minutes before landing on the landing strip, I was still stretching my neck to see the town. From my seat in our still miraculous air plane, all I can see is the endless Mars – red earth, filled with countless mining holes – rows of land dug into the ground, each accompanied A pile of dust next to the white soil.
Traces of opal spurs spread throughout the landscape. I later heard that the search for opal here gave the name Coober Pedy. According to folklore, “kupa piti” in the local language means “white hole”.
Then I saw Coober Pedy itself. A group of roads and small buildings clung to the edge of the Stuart Highway, like a small town dug out of the dust. I have a feeling that I am in another reality and will be on the moon to visit the last outpost of humanity.
However, I think it looks good on Instagram.
Driving from the airport in my rental car – a ridiculous large mining car with rotating lights on the roof, I accidentally opened a scenic driveway – I saw a warning along the barren roadside about Cooper The shaft of Pedi deep well: Do not run! Note the holes that are not marked! Never, when you want to take a picture, never go backwards.
I am going to see Andy Sheils, a local who has lived here for more than 40 years, managing underground art galleries and local national emergency services and mine rescue volunteer teams. A few weeks before my visit, Hills and his team rescued a man from the bottom of a 50-foot mine. He was igniting opal in the dark (using ultraviolet light at night to find opals left near the mine). He somehow survived and could only hurt his ankle. He apparently did not see signs around the towns of fear and fear around me.
I drove to the Sheils gallery – marked with a huge boomerang logo that looked like a bomb shelter entrance. At the bottom of the stairs is Andy, wearing a Coober Pedy mine rescue cap on his white hair, turning the lights around the large sandstone caves, illuminating the artwork of the local indigenous artists and the sparkling opals in the cabinets.
I found this to be the first time I went to the corner of the excavator.
Unlike traditional architecture, shelters like the galleries and houses around the town are free of charge on the building.
The guidelines of the local council stipulate that all air-raid shelters must be ventilated (usually simple to the pipeline through the ground), emergency lighting, safety exits and roof thicknesses of not less than 2.5 m (just over 8 ft). From there, you are almost free to bring your shelter to where you want it. When you don’t need a square room, hallway or window, the world is your Hobbit hole.
Since 1975, Sheils has always had its place, from family homes to art galleries, digging walls and digging new walls on walls, which I think is “refurbished by gelignite”.
Claire Reilly / CNET
Conveniently, the same process used to dig new rooms is also used to find opals. Finding rainbow-like gaps in sandstone involves drilling holes in rocks and placing explosives. If you are lucky, you will find a formation where water has penetrated the sandstone and mixed with silica gel for millions of years to form a bright opal seam. Although not as expensive as other rare gems like diamonds, opals look great and can yield lucrative benefits – especially in overseas markets like China.
For many miners and locals, mining is a low-tech, almost domestic pursuit. Searching for opals on weekends can be as simple as putting some explosives on the living room wall and looking for opal seams in a hollow to pick. Even if you don’t have seams, you can still get an extension of the restaurant.
“When you explode, it will shake this place like hell,” Sheils told me. “You illuminate 11 fuses in a row, put your fingers in your ears, [and then] go around the corners to find a safe place. When they are off, if you are close enough, it will lift your butt off the ground.”
Sheils is not the only place to dig out of your own home. Just a few blocks from the underground art gallery, I visited Faye’s underground home, a bomb shelter built by local bar chefs into opal miner Faye Nayler. Accompanied by her friends, Ettie Hall and Sue Bernard, Faye dug out the underground home between 1962 and 1972, looking for opals as she went. The house is still in its original state, from the tidy master bedroom 8 meters (26 feet) underground to the underground pool. These women opened bomb shelters to the public in 1972.
“They connected the house themselves, there was no Google search at the time,” volunteer tour guide Grant Steele said, walking through our house. “This is the power of fair women.”
Back at the gallery, Sheils showed me his efforts to connect his underground home. For a hole on the ground, this is a surprisingly high-tech – in a low-tech way. He himself connected the entire area and sprayed the cable holes with ammonium nitrate before filling the holes with cement and steel.