Thursday, December 15, 2011

Coober Pedy - Dust, Tina Turner's Knickers and a Frenchman

I am so thrilled to be travelling that I simply can’t say a bad word about any place that I visit. It’s just not in my DNA.  If I’m in a place where I don’t have to clean the toilet, push buttons on household appliances or scrape dried Weet Bix off the dining table with a knife then by definition I am already in heaven.

That was until we arrived at Coober Pedy – the Opal Capital of the World. Some places are simply harder to love than others and this place, my friends, was one such place. It is the only town located along the 1300km stretch between Port Augusta and Alice Springs so we really had no choice but to stop here overnight.

I was forewarned though. The Pianoman has mentioned his dislike for this place on more than a few occasions.  His dislike for Coober Pedy is so strong that his family used to make the trek from Alice Springs down to Adelaide without stopping at Coober Pedy at all. They left at 4am and drove 15 hours non-stop and arrived around 7pm the same day. Madness. Is it really that bad? I really wanted to see for myself.

All I can conclude is the following. It's unusual. Everything is underground. It's like the wild wild west. It is hot, dry and dusty. Did I mention the dust? I understand it’s the desert and all. But this type of dust gets into everything, every nook and cranny of the car, the caravan and even the Whippet’s nostrils. It actually leaves a film of chalky dust on your entire body that not even a dip in the pool can remove. It sticks to every strand of your hair and lodges in every wrinkle and I know it will take days of bathing to remove.

We didn’t really fancy wandering around aimlessly as there were signs like these everywhere. Thousands of deep, dark holes in the ground. We joked that if you really wanted someone to ‘disappear’ Coober Pedy would be an excellent place to do that!

But we were determined to make the most of it so we asked a local where to go for fun. We wanted to go underground. The boys wanted to see where the opals came from so we visited the Umoona Opal Mine and Museum, which was great. Tick. We also wanted to see the best thing in Coober Pedy and to that end we were pointed in the direction of Crocodile Harry’s Nest for an authentic underground house experience.

So we arrive at Crocodile Harry’s Nest, which is a short drive out of town. The place is deserted. There are dogs chained up barking and other interesting breeds of dogs wandering around with puppies at their heels, which were of an even more interesting breed. We knock on the door that says “Enter At Your Own Risk”. No answer but it is unlocked so we figure we go inside, find the ‘real’ entry, pay our money and see the underground house. We start looking for a person. No-one is there. We are literally in someone’s living room uninvited. We think we better get out of there quick smart. Just as we are exiting the house a Ute comes screaming into the parking area, the radio blaring and two men fly out along with a couple more hounds. I’m hoping we look innocent enough. They come up to us and one man says he is going inside for a drink of the alcoholic variety. The other man, who is already holding a glass of Jack Daniels says he’ll be our tour guide and will take us out back to see the real underground mines. Given our earlier discussion about people ‘accidentally’ falling down mine shafts, The Pianoman and I instantly swap glances that we understand to mean “if things look they are heading in the wrong direction, we are to grab 2 kids each and run like a bat out of hell”.

In the end, our tour guide was clearly harmless and he showed us an excellent time. He explained that Crocodile Harry died a couple of years ago so others have taken over his house to show it off to tourists like us. Apparently Crocodile Harry was a bit of a superstar, all the celebs went to see him and he was a bit of a lady’s man. There were momentos and paraphernalia from all over the world covering the walls and ceilings of his underground house. Eclectic to the extreme. He showed us where a scene from Mad Max 2 was filmed. I’m not a Mad Max fanatic even though this is the second time in a few weeks that I’ve been to a place where that film was shot. Finally, he showed us Tina Turner’s knickers. I really wanted to take a photo of Tina Turners knickers but it just seemed so wrong at the time. But you can take my word for it that her knickers were Simply The Best.

The kids with the "Tour Guide" and his Jack Daniels

So we then left Crocodile Harry’s to return to our dusty caravan. We hopped straight in the pool and told a Frenchman all about our crazy tour guide. He thought it was cool we were travelling around in our ancient caravan with the tribe of kids and animals. But then the Frenchman told us how he was travelling around. This man is truly amazing. And it really has nothing to do with the fact he shares the same name as the Whippet or that he has a French accent. No, Remi Camus is travelling from Melbourne to Darwin. Not by caravan, by car or even by bicycle. No no. He is running. Running for charity and carrying everything he needs on his little cart behind him. Amazing! I think he will be a little bit famous.

Remi Camus sleeping in his tent right next to our Matilda

We finished the day by singing Happy Birthday to the Pianoman and sharing a crappy chocolate cake we got from the corner store with the Frenchman.

Anyone else been to Coober Pedy? Did you also have an unusual but memorable experience?


  1. Oh man, I was not a fan of that hot and dusty freaky old place. I'd drive through it next time too. Travel safe.

  2. I had to chuckle at Pianoman's recitence to go to CP. I feel exactly the same way. It has to be one of the dirtiest, most boring and 'get-me-the-hell-out-of-here' towns I have ever been to.

    When we were kids making the Tennant Creek (I lived there for 9 years) to Adelaide run, we skipped it too, just kept on driving after the first time. No need to see it again.

  3. Hey Mel,

    I'm loving your blog. hope you don't mind me reading up on it after Lara send me the link.

    I have fond memories of CP and have to say it was a pleasant experience. Then again i was 7 and perhaps your kidlets think it's wonderful too. i might think differently now!

    Take care and lots of love to you all. Have a wonderful Xmas and NYE and most of all, enjoy your trip! very envious!

    Love Siona

  4. I lived in Coober Pedy for a year in 1977 (I was 7 years old). It was an adventure unlike any other. 4 years later we lived in Tasmania for a year. My parents wanted us to know the diversity of the country we were born in and the people who lived there. I can see the horror in Coober Pedy but along with that I have amazing memories of being the city kid who turned up for a year. People were ridiculously welcoming and kind. It's a strange but cool place.

    (I've just found your blog via Che and Fidel -it's lovely).