The Opal Mines at Coober Pedy, Australia—1976
When we took our first group to South Australia in 1976, Rodney Fox arranged a flight to Coober Pedy and Ayers Rock. These remote locations in the center of Australia are very remote, very hot and completely barren. As we flew over the vast swaths of emptiness, the pilot told us about the roads, which were basically double ruts cut by truck tires going in straight lines from remote stations to the coast. Trucks barreling on the long straighaways (up to one hundred miles) would sometimes have sleeping drivers at the wheel, he said.
Then we cruised in over Coober Pedy the locations of the opal seams were apparent. The shafts down to the 70-foot level were drilled everywhere, and huge piles of tailings told us exactly what was being done in the seam.
We visited one of the miners in his extremely comfortable, cool and carpeted cave house (front door shown in the photo gallery). The same machines used to mine the seams of opal were used to build the homes.
When we donned hard hats and went down the shaft on bosun’s chairs, our group members were dazzled by the thought of opal in the walls next to them. Each grabbed a pickaxe and attacked the walls with gusto.
Our host had hit a good strike a week before we arrived, but we didn’t find any opals of value. How do they keep the ceiling from collapsing? By carving out long hallways, leaving enough stone between aisles to support the 70 feet of earth above our heads.
As the price of opal soared, miners had to cope with thieves in the night, stealing the tailings to recover the small amount of opal chips in the scrap stone.
An unforgettable adventure, to be cherished for a lifetime!
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