The Many Wonders of Coober Pedy

There was an English backpacker at work who had caught a bus from Alice Springs to Coober Pedy. When she told me this my initial reaction was ‘yikes’. But ever since I have felt intrigued by Coober Pedy, having never given it much thought. For instance, check out this tourism attraction that’s there: Crocodile Harry’s Underground Nest. Crocodile Harry’s Underground Nest is described on the Coober Pedy Government website as a “bizarre dugout” where “infamous character”, Crocodile Harry, lived. And drum-roll please, it’s featured in Mad Max: Beyond the Thunderdome. So, you can go in this really cool, underground house where someone described by the Government as infamous lived, for just $5. I cannot wait. It looks amazing, like, it is eclectic: there are paintings everywhere, crocodile skeletons, bright furniture and ornaments adorning walls and ceilings. I can’t begin to describe how desperately I want to go there.

Looking in other people’s houses is one of my favourite things to do. I love going to Brett Whiteley’s studio in Sydney, and I desperately want to go to Frida Kahlo’s house and studio in Mexico City. So, imagine my joy at discovering, that not only can you go inside Crocodile Harry’s Underground Nest in Coober Pedy, but that you can also go into Faye’s Underground House. Also for just $5. Faye’s Underground House looks largely preserved from the early 80s and according to Coober Pedy’s website, was excavated with picks and shovels 30 years ago by three women. Girl power!

The other main things in Coober Pedy are opals, churches and nature. There are three underground churches that you can visit, the St Peter and Paul’s Catholic Church is touted as ‘possibly the first underground church in the world’. The Serbian Orthodox Church looks amazing. From the outside, it looks like it has been carved into cliff-face and it has a Hollywood-style Welcome sign. Coober Pedy’s website has called it one the most awe-inspiring structures in town. The third and final church, the Catacomb Church, is cut into the sandstone it sits on, in the shape of a cross.

The opal mines are underground too. Obviously. There are three underground mines, and one underground art gallery with an opal exhibit, that you can go to. The Older Timer’s Mine is without a doubt the creepiest, having been originally mined in 1916, it was backfilled for reasons unknown and accidentally rediscovered in the late 60s. Now it is open to the public… Tom’s Working Opal Mine is a true-blue opal mining experience: a working mine in its original condition. The Umoona Opal Mine doubles as a museum and an Aboriginal interpretive centre. There’s also an Underground Art Gallery.

Nature-wise listen to this: Moon Plain is a “lunar-like landscape” which has been featured on the big screen in productions such as Mad Max: Beyond the Thunderdome and Priscilla: Queen of the Desert. Australian classics. There are two more important natural wonders to see: The Painted Desert and Breakaways.

Author: Emma Carroll

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