Life In The "Dugouts" Of Coober Pedy, A Unique Town In South Australia

The town of Coober Pedy is not only famous for the precious opals that are mined there but also renowned for its below-ground residences.


Coober Pedy town is located on the southern parts of Australia, 526 miles north of Adelaide. The town has a population of around 1,695. Coober Pedy is also known as the “opal capital of the world” as it produces a large quantity of opal. It is also called the “dugout” since most of the houses are built underground because of the unbearable high temperatures during the day. The name Coober Pedy is borrowed from the local term “kupa pita” which translates to “boys’ waterhole.”

Overview Of The Town

The Aboriginal Australians have a connection to Coober Pedy town spanning over several decades back. Coober Pedy town was established in 1915, coinciding with the discovery of opal in the area by Wille Hutchison. The opal miners moved to the area in 1916, and by 1999 the area had more than 250,000 mine shaft entrances. The high summer temperatures mean that most of the residents live in caves bored into the sides of the hills. Dugouts are preferred because they remain at constant temperatures, unlike houses which need air conditioning. A cave home, as big as a three-bedroom house with a kitchen and bathroom, can be carved from the hillside at the same cost of building a house. The temperature of the area ranges from 30 to 32oC but can drop significantly during winter. Coober Pedy town has become a famous stopover point and a major destination for visitors. It also supplies a large quantity of the world’s gem-quality opal. It depends on mining industry and tourism as a source of livelihood for its residents.

Tourism In Coober Pedy

Although Coober Pedy is a small town, it is a popular tourist destination in Australia with the number of tourists increasing significantly after the sealing of the Stuart Highway in 1987. The major attraction in Coober Pedy town includes the Opal miles, the ancient graveyards, and the underground buildings such as the Orthodox and the Catholic Churches. The local golf course offers an opportunity to golfers visiting the town. The golf is played mainly in the evening and with glowing or bright balls to avoid the high temperatures during the day. However, the golf course does not have any grass with golfers using a small piece of turf for teeing off. The heritage sites in the town frequented by visitors include three-roomed dugout on 13 Hutchison Street and Coober Pedy Catholic and Presbytery Churches. Coober Pedy town and its hinterland have attracted several filmmakers. The town has featured in films such as “Opal Dream” and “Until the End of the World.”

Mining In Coober Pedy

Coober Pedy town is one of the world’s leading opal producers supplying some of the gem-quality opals. The law does not allow for large scale mining of opal but allows each prospector a 165-square foot claim. A copper-gold mine operated by OZ Minerals was opened in Coober Pedy town in 2009. Ore/copper/gold mine was also opened near Coober Pedy town 2010 further strengthening the town’s mining industry. A significant amount of tight oil was reported to be found near Coober Pedy town. The oil resource in this area is expected to make Australia a potential net oil exporter.


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