COOBER PEDY-"WHITE MAN IN A HOLE"
Trip Start Oct 05, 2009
322Trip End Oct 31, 2013
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JOURNEY: Bon Bon, Coober Pedy
MILEAGE at BB: 17421kms
WEATHER: Cloudy, 9 degrees @ 8.14am
Along the way north, back on the road we saw large signs saying that the Stuart Highway would be closed on Sunday night. We found out later it was because a Japanese satellite was speeding back to earth after some billions of kms whizzing in space, and would release a capsule containing an asteroid sample just north of Woomera. We were in Coober Pedy at the time of the landing.
A truly spectacular sighting for us was 2 wedgetail eagles feeding from road kill;
unfortunately we could not stop immediately but reversed and were able to watch them from afar. They are huge majestic birds and we lingered a while to admire them.
We arrived in Coober Pedy around 11am and chose the Stuart Range Holiday Park, just a little out of town with good clean facilities and plenty of space!
Coober Pedy - the name comes from an aboriginal word "kupa piti" meaning “white man in a hole” is considered as the opal capital of the world; everywhere piles of dirt beside homes and businesses, which have been dug into the ground to control extreme temperatures and all in all a weird and unattractive town of 4500 people. The precious opal was discovered in Coober Pedy in 1915, and soldiers returning from World War 1 rushed up to this hot dry spot with no water supply and put their skills in digging war trenches to good purpose with the construction of underground dwellings/dugouts. They also dug into the ground in search of opal and their fortunes.
All supplies including water had to be brought in over barely formed tracks in extreme weather conditions.
The town boomed in the 1960s and 70s and Coober Pedy developed into a recognizable “real” town. After World War 2, large numbers of European immigrants settled here, also in search of their fortunes, and today there are 45 different nationalities living here amid the piles of dirt. Opal mining still goes on today and the main street is full of opal selling shops. The town has a good supply of essential services and is an important tourist destination or maybe is in the right geographical crossroads for a short stopover.
There is a permanent and reliable water supply now; water is pumped from the artesian basin 22 kms from Coober Pedy and water desalination and reverse osmosis ensure excellent quality. Travellers pay 20 cents for 40 litres to fill vans and motor home tanks!
We stayed 5 nights and used the time to catch up with domestics and blog and sleeping in after late or in some cases all night sessions viewing the World Cup on SBS; great reception here! We were very embarrassed by the Socceroos effort and felt the 4am alarm on a freezing 2 degree morning that woke us for the match was never warranted and we never really warmed up and nor did they.
Generally the weather was really cold with the day maximums not reaching more than 15 and the nights between 2 and 5.
We wandered the town on several occasions but were not really impressed; the underground buildings are interesting but the piles of dirt and junk everywhere were not. We had been told that the Aboriginal people were a threat to personal safety but despite their presence and sometimes socially unacceptable behaviour, mostly directed towards each other, we felt unthreatened. We had nearly a kilometre walk into town from the Stuart Range Holiday Park and never felt unsafe.
The supermarket was stocked after a truck delivered supplies on Wednesday nights and we thought the prices were reasonable as were the prices of petrol and diesel. Kath thought that the guy at the service station was pulling her leg when he offered her Friday's Australian newspaper on Saturday morning but she confirmed at the newsagents that newspapers reached here a day late!!! So the treasured Weekend Australia was bought on Sunday!
We tried the well known Greek Taverna for dinner on Sunday night and they were turning people away but we preferred the gourmet pizza from the little pizza place at the entrance to our caravan park; Johnny the Italian pizza chef turned out to be Yani the Greek chef who used to own John’s Pizza Bar and now as well as owning the caravan park also runs the very popular pizza place. He complained to us that he had worked 7 days a week for 23 years!!! Well that is hospitality for you.
We also hung around to join the “Mail Run Tour” on Tuesday and that was a great event The Mail Run was a 13 hour trip in a 4 –wheel- drive- OKA with Pete, the mail man who delivers mail to remote cattle stations as well as Oodnadatta and the tiny William Creek. It covered 600kms including the famous Oodnadatta Track which we are unable to access in our van and yes it is pretty rough and boggy in parts. We checked out the Dingo Fence that stretches 5500kms across SA, NSW, into south Qld and is a barrier to sheep killing dingos that reek havoc on sheep stations. The 1.8 metre high fence needs constant maintenance and Pete told us of his friend who is paid to maintain a 300 kms section of this fence.
Pete talked solidly for the whole journey, with interesting history lessons, stories of local heroes and characters and knowledgeable facts about the geography, flora and fauna. He has lived in and around Coober Pedy since 1967 and had been a miner, driver, potter etc etc. Most long term locals seem to have had many different careers!
We were astonished to learn the sizes of the cattle stations- Anna Creek station is the size of the country of Belgium and because of scarcity of feed the cows need an area of 1.5 square kilometres each for grazing. We were also surprise to witness the simplicity of the homesteads with few having any embellishments just the basics, although one of the stations was making a really good effort at some kind of garden in the harsh conditions. We had lunch at the William Creek pub and it was a very appetising hamburger with the lot; this town of 3-10 people is busy at present with the tiny airstrip a buzz with flights out to the nearby Lake Eyre which is filling fast. It is also a camping and motel stop for tourists exploring the “outback”, and boasts the world’s most expensive public telephone, solar powered and costing $1.2million.
The red dirt was dotted with newly sprouted grasses after recent rain and Pete told us that the desert sometimes burst into bloom with the most astonishing display of colours. This is definitely harsh arid land but beautiful in its own way and there are signs everywhere of man's inability to tame the environment with deserted ruins gradually falling back into the ground.
We felt we had a good grip of the town and watched our holiday park fill with caravans, motorhomes, motor bikes, tents and all kinds of travellers each afternoon and then almost empty again each morning and it is always interesting to findout where they have been and are going!
Before heading out on Wednesday we drove on a terrible unsealed road to the Breakaways Reserve, a stark and colourful area with mesas and strange little mounds- not made by miners. This area was the setting for movies like “Mad Max” and “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” and is a very lunar like landscape!! We were indeed relieved to get back on the Stuart Highway after shaking our brains out on the corrugated road.