Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Coober Pedy

People have a long-standing connection with the area. The first European to pass near the site of Coober Pedy was John McDouall Stuart in 1858, but the town was not established until after 1915, when opal was discovered by Willie Hutchinson. Miners first moved in around about 1916. The harsh summer desert temperatures mean that many residents prefer to live in caves bored into the hillsides. A standard three-bedroom cave home with lounge, kitchen, and bathroom can be excavated out of the rock in the hillside for a similar price to a house on the surface. It remains at a constant temperature, whereas surface living needs air-conditioning, especially during the summer months, when temperatures often exceed 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). The relative humidity rarely gets over 20% on these hot days, and the skies are usually cloud-free. The average maximum temperature is 30-32 degrees Celsius, but it can get quite cool in the winter.
Coober Pedy is a very small town, roughly halfway between Adelaide and Alice Springs, that has become a popular stopover point and tourist destination, especially since the completion of the sealing of the Stuart Highway in 1987.
Interesting attractions in Coober Pedy include the mines, the graveyard, and the underground churches. The first tree ever seen in the town was welded together from scrap iron. It still sits on a hilltop overlooking the town. The local golf course - mostly played at night with glowing balls, to avoid daytime temperatures - is completely free of grass and golfers take a small piece of "turf" around to use for teeing off. As a result of correspondence between the two clubs the Coober Pedy golf club is the only club in the world to enjoy reciprocal rights at The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews. Both the town and its hinterland, for different reasons, are very photogenic and have therefore attracted film makers. The town itself was the setting for the 2005 film Opel Dream. The hinterland, notably the Breakaways and Moon Plain, have featured as backdrops in films including Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome,Red Planet, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Pitch Black and Sa;ute of the Jugger, which made considerable use of locals as extras. Coober Pedy also featured in the second season of the TV series, The Amazing Race. The book Wildfire by Chiris Ryan includes Coober Pedy but states that there are only 3 buildings on the surface and the rest of the town is underground. The town is a pivotal location in Wim Wenders' 1999 film Until the End of the World.

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