Australia's underground town celebrates 100 years

By / 27th of January, 2015

Willie Hutchison stumbled on the first opal near Coober Pedy around a century ago. The 14 year old's discovery set history in motion. The town was established shortly after and hopeful miners poured in to find their fortune.

Today, Coober Pedy supplies the majority of the world's high-quality white opals, relying as much on tourism as it does mining. Willie's first opal is still on display at the Old Timers Mine museum in town.

It's well known for its 'dugouts' - houses carved in to the earth that serve to keep the blistering summer heat away. It's said that soldiers returning from World War 1 introduced the idea of the underground houses to help with the climate.

img - industries_mining_150123_Australias underground town celebrates 100 years_banner-3One of the most ornate dugouts is the Serbian Orthodox Church, which features an ornate carved roof, polished floors and sculpted reliefs.

There are 3500 people in Coober Pedy, made up of around 45 nationalities, and around half of its population live in dugouts.

Outside of town is the Moon Plain, a bare, flat landscape that has served as the post-apocalyptic landscape in cult film Mad Max, a chief location in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (one of Hugo Weaving and Guy Pearce's early hits) and an alien planet in Hollywood sci-fi flick Pitch Black.

Coober Pedy is located 846 kilometres north of Adelaide, South Australia. It's more than worth a visit, but look to the cooler months. During summer it can hit 45 degrees Celsius in the shade.

Visitors can dig around for their own opals, and there are a number of dugout hotels in the area that allow for an underground stay.

The famous Ghan train will be stopping through Coober Pedy on a special centenary trip, including a full day tour of the town.

Centenary 2015 highlights:

  • Centenary launch, 1 February – Mark history with a brunch gathering held at the Coober Pedy Golf Club to commemorate Willie Hutchison’s fateful find. Be sure to make time to play a round at the world’s hottest golf course.
  • Centenary Street Party & Multicultural Celebrations, 2 April – Take to the streets for fun, food and live music as Coober Pedy celebrates its diverse heritage.
  • 100 Year Ball, 3 April – Guests are invited to dress in their culture’s traditional attire and take part in icebreaker games to explore their nationalities, heritage and culture.
  • Coober Pedy Opal Festival, 4 April – Join the locals in celebrating the end of a long hot summer and the commencement of a prosperous opal mining season, with a street parade, fireworks and live music.

Other regular annual events include The Great Breakaways Marathon on 23 May and quirky horse and motorbike event, Coober Pedy Races & Gymkhana on 8 & 9 August.

For more information, visit South Australia's Coober Pedy website.

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