Cycle Oz day 53 – White man in a hole

Today was a much needed day off. I had been looking forward to coming to Coober Pedy so there was no way I was just going to roll through without doing a little exploring. Coober Pedy translates from Aboriginal as ‘White man in a hole’, which is a very accurate description. It’s a mining town and there are lots of people digging for Opals which is not an easy task by all accounts. All the operations are small and run by individuals or small groups, there isn’t a giant industry here. As a result it has attracted people from all over the world to take their chances at finding enough Opal to make them very rich in this unregulated cash based industry. 

There are 47 nationalities represented in town which makes it a very individual and unique place. At first it appears a dusty, brown and desolate town until you realise that two thirds of the population live underground. The one third that live above ground are the Aboriginal people as they don’t believe in living underground, you only go underground when you die. The reason why people live in ‘dugouts’ is because its so bloody hot here! Even in the middle if winter, which it is now, it was too hot for me. In the summer it can be over 50ºC and the underground houses maintain a temperature of 21-25ºC all year round. 

We got our laundry on, which we were lucky to be able to do as it seems the laundromat only works a few weeks out of the year, and then we went exploring. Right outside of our accomodation is a leftover from a movie set, the spaceship from Pitch Black. 

Next we went to Boot Hill Cemetery which I found fascinating. There were so many different nationalities represented, mostly with very simple graves marked with a white cross and decorated with plastic flowers, it felt like it transcended any religion and it was a simply burial ground for anyone, whoever they were. Of course there were a few unusual ones amongst them, including the one with a beer keg as a headstone!

We passed the first cemetery in Coober Pedy where there was the first burial of James Cony in 1921. It was reported that this prayer was said at his funeral which I thought was rather nice: ‘Oh, good Lord, today we put in this grave what is left of the best blooming mates a man could wish to have. He was a straight goer, and we hope You will give him a good spin. If he is not amongst the angels then neither me or my mates want to go there. Thank You, O Lord.’

We explored an underground church:

We saw some random things on the way to our next tourist activity:

And our next tourist activity was a tour of a dugout house and opal mine. This house and mine was owned by a lady called Faye and she was a lot of a badass woman. She singlehandedly dug her own mine with a pick and a shovel, and while no one knows how much money she made form the opal she found, it was assumed she was a very wealthy lady. She also dung out her own house which took her, and two female friends (power to the women here), ten years to complete. Ten years! In the 60s when Faye began her home there were 10 women and 80 men living in the town. 

The house is pretty cool, and in the 70s she gave up mining (probably because she had more money than she knew what to do with), and had the house and mine turned into a museum. So the house is preserved, complete with half drunk bottles of wine and personal effects, exactly as it was in the 70s. And although it is assumed that there is a lot more opal in the mine next to her house, no one is allowed to mine there, nor are you allowed to mine anywhere within the city limits. 

Inside the house was such a nice temperature, I can completely understand the desire to live underground, although I think the lack of natural light would get to me. 

Next we had to do that agonising tack of resupplying for the next 7 days. My relationship with food is getting worse and worse and I ended up buying a load of random crap. The guys spent AU$78 for the both of them and I spent AU$66 just for me. Ugh. It’s because I’m lazy and buy a lot of ready made stuff, and they can still stomach couscous and I can’t! Anyway, with the pain of buying food over, I had a quick snack of eggy bread before we went to our next tourist activity, the Kangaroo orphanage!

We went at 5:30 because that was feeding time. The orphanage is out the back of an art gallery where you could but Aboriginal art or a didgeridoo and they would post to to your home, anywhere in the world for free. Then I saw the cost of all the things and I could see why they could afford to do that! They had a tray of coins which were Australian half pennies with the head of King George on which I though was awesome. I don’t think I have ever seen a coin with George on before. If they had one dated 1920 I would have bought one, but I looked through them all and couldn’t find one. 

So back to the Kangaroos, there were 4 kangaroos at the orphanage and it was difficult to hear all the stories because there was a very loud group of French people there, but on of the kangaroos was found next to her dead mother, who was being eaten by birds, and they were starting to eat the baby alive which is pretty gross (but she is fine now). We also saw a baby one which was only just learning to walk and was still being kept in a makeshift pouch. So cute. 

We were give handfuls of banana chips and wasabi peas for them to eat, they weren’t interested in the food I had for them, they were more interested in licking my skin, it was really nice to see some live kangaroos, with their faces intact and not surrounded by a zillion flies. 

To round off a very nice day we climbed up the hill to the Big Winch to see the sunset over town. You may have noticed these trucks in a lot of pictures. They are called Blowers and there are thousands of them all over the desert where the mines are. They are basically a giant vacuum cleaner and they suck the dirt out of the mines and deposit these little conical mounds of dirt all over the place. They were originally going to be called a Sucker, but they thought that sounded wrong so they went for Blower. I’m not sure either are great names!

It’s been a busy day off. I’m not looking forward to tomorrow. Priscilla with be fully loaded and heavy and there are strong headwinds predicted. We roll out of here and head for Alice Springs…

••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

I continue to raise money for Just A Drop – they bring sustainable clean water, sanitation and hygiene projects to communities around the world.

663 million people across the globe are living without access to clean, safe water. That’s 1 in 10 people. A child dies every 90 seconds from a water related disease. One third of the worlds population – 2.4 billion people – don’t have access to adequate sanitation.

If you have enjoyed this blog, please consider donating a few…pounds / dollars / euros / yen… and together we can change lives.

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