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ColumnistsPeter Nelson's TravelsPeter Nelson's travels - Australia - Coober Pedy

Peter Nelson’s travels – Australia – Coober Pedy

by Peter Nelson

The only traffic we saw the rest of that afternoon were a couple of road trains.  That’s what they call the really big truck rigs in Australia.  In Canada, most truck tractors haul a single trailer, but you will sometimes see a double trailer.  In Oz, when they’re in the remote areas of the north and west and centre, they haul 3 trailers.  And let me tell you, those big babies move!  Even if you were foolish enough to stand near the road and try to flag one down, they’d never stop.  After you’ve had your first experience with the wind these guys generate, and the dust storm that follows in their wake, as soon as you see the distant dust cloud that tells you what’s coming, you head out for the hinterland!  At least 100 feet from the road, to be safe.

But of course, the only car to appear that day stopped and picked us up.  He was a soldier, returning from Darwin, where he’d been helping with the clean-up after Cyclone Tracy.  He was driving a small station wagon, and it was packed!  No room inside whatsoever.  All the seats were so full of gear, he couldn’t have squeezed a kitten in!  Stuff was tied on the roof, and he had water bags and jerry cans of spare petrol tied to the bumpers.  How on earth was he going to fit us in?

But he did it.  He emptied the station wagon, moved more stuff up onto the roof, and then repacked everything again.  By now, it was pretty late in the day, so he only drove another couple of hours before pulling over to camp for the night.  Had a quick small supper and then just threw our sleeping bags right on the ground.  Since there was absolutely no chance of rain, there was no point in bothering to put up our tents.

Ever slept out in the open like that?  With no lights of any kind within hundreds of miles?  The night sky was just super clear, and the southern constellations put on quite a show!

Downtown Coober Pedy
Downtown Coober Pedy

The next morning, he drove us to Coober Pedy.  Even though he was going all the way down to Adelaide, we hopped off to have a look around.  Coober Pedy is the opal mining capital of the world, and its name is a transliteration of an Aboriginal phrase meaning “white man’s hole”.  The natives thought it was pretty silly to spend so much time and energy digging up some colored rocks!

Because of the intense heat, a lot of the residents built their homes underground.  But these dwellings are not dark little caves — far from it.  Some of the miners have made a lot of money selling their opals, and they created real luxury homes beneath the surface.

Coober Pedy 2 DCF 1.0

As you can tell by the top photo, vegetation is rather scarce here.  There’s not a single tree growing in Coober, and the miners got so sick of everybody saying that, that they built a tree.  Out of metal




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