The city that supplies 80% of the country’s mined opal can be found in the Flinders Ranges. The town is called Coober Pedy – the opal capital of the world. It is 846 km north of Adelaide and home to 3,500 residents of various ethnicities. Accordingly, the site had few inhabitants before the discovery of opal. Despite the increasingly hot temperatures, the city’s migrants have held on to their Flinders Ranges residences in hopes of finding fortune in the opal mines. Excavations began as early as 1915 when a four-year-old boy found an opal in the area. Today, opal mining is still ongoing and old mining sites are given great importance. Three pioneer mining sites can be found, The Old Timer’s Mine, Fayre’s Underground Home and Opal Mine, and the Umuna Opal Mine and Museum.
Old Timers Mine was founded in 1916. It is one of the attractions of the Flinders Ranges which has become one of the top tourist attractions in South Australia. The museum tells a lot about the early mining area of the place. It displays the miners’ underground houses, information gallery and collection of opal jewelry. Galleries show how pioneer miners struggled to drill down for opal. There were sculptures of pioneer miners doing specific tasks. Among the old miners sculpted are Jim O’Neill, George Burford, Ben Mohr, Mick O’Reilly, Bob Trow, Carl Wills, Ron Gough and Minnie Berrington. The place houses the gallery of Ron Goff who gave birth to opal mining in the town. A variety of opal mined from the site appears such as seam gray opal, horizontal pockets of crystal opal, pockets of rot and color left by old miners, and opalized sea shells. One can also see hand-dug walls using hand-made shafts, old digging tools, dirt or rubble, and backfilled shafts. The museum also houses the ancient tools that were used in mining such as bull buckets, mine ventilation windsocks and windlass. The museum also has an opal shop for tourists who want to buy souvenirs.
Adjacent to Old Timers Mine is Faye’s Underground Home and Opal Mine. Initially, it was a small hole resulting from an excavation for an opal mine. It later became a room for mail truck drivers. In 1961, a woman named Faye Nailer who had moved to town as a cook bought the place. He then built the house with the help of two other women. Three women used shovels and chose to expand the house to three bedrooms, kitchen, wine cellar and swimming pool. The room is well ventilated with shafts. There is no need to use air conditioners during the day and heaters during the night as the underground house provides a constant heat of 20-25 degrees. The house is currently run by Colin McClean and his wife. The McCleans open the room to guests.
On Coober Pedy’s main road you’ll find the Umunna Opal Mine and Museum. It showcases opal cutting and polishing, actual underground rooms, fossils from South Australia, a wide range of opal jewelery for sale, postcards and souvenirs. The spot also features a 20-minute documentary on the history of opal mining. Houses dug underground by hand and by machinery are also displayed Also on display are historical photographs of the area. There is also an exhibition of authentic old paintings and artworks by locals.
Be part of Coober Pedy’s opal mining history. Visit the underground museums of the city’s historic opal mining sites. Plus, discover how residents live underground by staying in one of the Flinders Rangers residences built underground.