Monday 22nd November 2004 - Friday 26th November 2004
After the crossing the NT border into South Australia, we were now bound by speed limits and 110Km/h felt like we were crawling along. I heard a huge sigh of relief from Joo, when she saw the 110Km/h sign!
Nothing can prepare you for your first climpse of Coober Pedy on the way in. You feel like you've stumbled onto the set of Mad Max. In fact, Mad Max was filmed here, so that's probably why I felt like that!
They also shot Ground Zero here, a film about trying to end the world with atomic weapons. That should give you some idea of the place.
Signs warning you 'DANGER. DO NOT RUN. DO NOT WALK BACKWARDS. BEWARE AT NIGHT. DEEP SHAFTS', don't really inspire you with confidence. There must be a million holes scattered about the mining areas either side of the road.
Coober Pedy, meaning 'White man's hole in the ground' in Aboriginal, is the opal capital of Australia, if not the world. The Aboriginal name aptly descibes the place, as about half the population live in dugouts to shelter from the extreme temperatures - over 50° C in the summer!
The nearest beach is 3 days drive. What a place!
Because of it's isolation and frontier-town reputation, Coober Pedy is an ideal place for criminals to hide out.
Except that because of it's isolation and frontier-town reputation, there's plenty of police!
It's a friendly enough place, but the ready access to explosives has led to some volatile periods. Since 1987, the police station has been bombed twice, the local newspaper office and the courthouse once each, a local restaurant was demolished by a blast and hundreds of thousands of mining equipment has gone missing.
We were staying at Radeka's Underground Backpackers and, as the name suggests, was also underground. The 2 French owners, don't ask me how they ended up here, were nice if a little eccentric.
They also had a local guy helping them about the place called Gary, who by the look of him had spent too much time living underground in a hole.
Our beds were 30 foot underground and had been machine carved into solid rock. Obviously, no windows and with the lights off it was pitch black. The temp down there was an agreeable 20° C, as opposed to the 40° C it was outside.
We had dinner in one of the local Greek restaurants, there's quite a few Greeks here. In fact, there's 45 different nationalities here representing about 60% of the population of 2600.
Feeling full from our Chicken Souvlaki's, we headed back to the hostel's underground bar. Gary introduced us to their pet lizards and let them have free roam of the bar. Julie says she's never seen me move so fast!
As you can tell, I'm not a fan of lizards. In fact, I don't like anything that can move quicker than me.
On the edge of the bar was a collection box for Mine Shaft Rescue. Just in case things went bad, I dropped a few coins into the box.
I never heard them hit the bottom.
Heading downstairs to our beds, you could feel the degrees dropping and was actually slightly chilly down there at night. Feeling warm from the beer though, we were soon sound asleep.
We woke the next morning and didn't have a clue what time of day or actually what day it was.
After figuring out which day and what time it was, we got up and decided to go on a tour of Coober Pedy, which included a visit to the infamous 'Crocodile Harry'. More on him later.
There were only 5 of us on the tour, which meant we could take the smaller 4WD tour bus and get to more out of the way places.
Our first port of call was the graveyard, where Karl Bratz was buried. Karl was a local land surveyor before the drink started to take its toll on him. Soon after, his wife had had enough of him and divorced him.
Feeling death was nigh, Karl took out a loan to pay for his funeral costs including a beer barrel for his headstone.
He'd shrewdly put his wife's name as the guarantor for the loan and she ended up having to pay the loan off! The graveyard was full of characters like that.
After seeing the underground church, we went to visit an eccentric Chinaman who collects junk. He's actually got a lot of stuff used in some of the movies filmed here. He owns a big opal jewellery shop in Hong Kong, but prefers living out here and just collecting stuff. Each to their own I suppose!
Heading to the outskirts of town, we stopped at Coober Pedy's golf course. The course, apparently the only one to have reciprical links with St. Andrews, is just dust and the 'greens' are marked black with old engine oil.
Next, the highlight of the tour - a visit to Crocodile Harry's house. Harry is an 80 year old Latvian baron who moved to Australia in his 20's to hunt crocodiles. He'd been doing that for 30 years, before moving to Coober Pedy. He now has quite an underground mansion including a very lucrative opal mine.
Through the years, and we suspect mainly the 60's and 70's, people would stay with Harry for months on end, smoking grass and drinking with him. The inside of his house is adorned with paintings, scribbles and plenty of bras and knickers people have left behind.
All Harry does these days is drink and let people around his home. He's a lively old bugger and has a keen eye for the ladies. Julie didn't escape his attention and he seemed very pleased to see her. So much so, he wouldn't let go off her when she went to pose for a photo with him.
Leaving the 'Crocodile's Nest' behind, we headed towards the Breakaways Reserve, where there's a white and yellow rock formation known as The Castle. It was featured in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and also Mad Max 3.
A trip to the 'Dog Fence' and then we were on our way back into Coober Pedy. A great trip and the highlight was definately meeting Harry, I'm not sure Julie would agree though. (Dirty old man - Joo)
One of the main reasons, we wanted to visit Coober Pedy was to do the Mail Run. Covering over 600Km, you travel with the mail man and get to visit some truly remote outback towns and cattle stations. The mail run goes twice a week, Monday and Thursday, and as we'd missed Monday's we jumped on the Thursday run.
We had a great time in Coober Pedy and will rank among one of our best experiences of Australia, enjoy the pictures.
The article about the Mail Run is next.
Welcome to South Australia and 110 Km/h
Karl Bratz - RIP
Whiteman's totem pole.
Lost any keys?
"Keep off the grass" - Coober Pedy Golf Course
Crocodile Harry's place
Me with Harry. Is that peace or F%$* Off?
Harry wasn't letting Julie go anywhere!
Harry's bottle pile - about a weeks worth!
The Castle - Breakaways Reserve
The Dog Fence
Me with the Dog Fence (Come on Lee, it's just a bloody fence - Joo)
Just lying about in Coober Pedy town centre, it actually doesn't look out of place!
The 'Blower' - a Coober Pedy icon.