Coober Pedy is a town in northern South Australia, 846 kilometres north of Adelaide on the Stuart Highway. The town is known as the opal capital of the world because of the quantity of precious opals that are mined here. It is also famous for its underground homes, called dugouts. The name ‘Coober Pedy’ comes from the local Aboriginal term kupa-piti, which means ‘whitemans hole”.
In January 1915, the New Colorado Prospecting Syndicate, consisting of Jim Hutchison and his 14 year old son William, PJ Winch and M McKenzie had unsuccessfully been searching for gold south of Coober Pedy. The men had set up camp and were searching for water when young Willie found pieces of opal on the surface of the ground. This was on the 1st February 1915 and 8 days later the first opal claim was pegged.
Coober Pedy was originally known as the Stuart Range Opal Field, named after John McDouall Stuart, who in 1858 was the first European explorer in the area. In 1920 it was re-named Coober Pedy. During the 1960’s, the mining industry expanded rapidly due to the many European migrants who came to seek their fortunes. The 60’s and 70’s saw opal mining develop into a multi million dollar industry with Coober Pedy developing into a modern mining town.
Coober Pedy is roughly halfway between Adelaide and Alice Springs, and 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 opal mines, the graveyard, and the underground churches. 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 2006 film Opal 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 Salute 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 music video for INXS’s “Kiss The Dirt (Falling Down the Mountain)” was shot at the Moon Plains. The town is a pivotal location in Wim Wenders’ 1991 film Until the End of the World.
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