White man's hole
Coober Pedy got its name in 1929 from the translation of the Aboriginal words ‘kupa piti’, which means ‘white man's hole’. The first dugouts were built by soldiers returning from the First World War, and their structure imitated the trenches they had dug in France.
The only viable option is to live like ants. Living in sheltered houses dug out of the ground and the rock is the way to avoid spending a fortune on air conditioning. They call these houses ‘dugouts’ and 70% of the population lives in them. There aren’t any windows but “it’s very quiet, very dark and very peaceful” says Christine Henry, a local resident. And if you need another room, you just dig it out.
Coober Pedy is a town obsessed with ‘desert fire’. That’s what they call opals, which can fetch up to 3,000 dollars on the market. They have their own festival devoted to this semi-precious stone, with a digger parade included. It’s hardly surprising, as along with the towns of Andamooka and Mintabie, they account for 85% of world opal production, a figure that translates into an income of millions of dollars. Even so, less than 1% of the population is wealthy.