The Town Underneath Australia

National Geographic goes underground in Coober Pedy.

When exploring the Outback, two of the great annoyances can be flies and heat. But, for these residents of Coober Pedy in South Australia, that’s not a problem.

Around 70 percent of the world’s opal production coming from Coober Pedy, but that’s not the only buried treasure.

With temperatures reaching up to 45 degrees in the shade, residents have had to learn to adapt to their surroundings. Approximately half of the town’s population now live underground.

[Image: Daniel R. Westergren]

While the town’s earlier populations built very modest underground dugouts, modern residents have created lavish subterranean homes, museums, churches and even swimming pools.

Colin and June Maclean are the operators of Faye’s Underground Home and Opal Mine. In the 1960s, Faye Nayler came to Coober Pedy and dug out a home with the help of friends, using pick and shovel. The historic dugout remains at 23 degrees Celsius, no matter how hot it gets outside.

[Image: Daniel R. Westergren]

The Church of St. Elijah the Prophet, a Serbian Orthodox church in Coober Pedy, was carved out in 1993 by Serbian-Australians who had settled in the area

“The beauty of living underground is that it’s very quiet and very still,” Robert Coro, managing director of the Desert Cave Hotel, recently told The Smithsonian

“There’s no air movement or rush of air from the air conditioner, and since there are no windows or natural light, you get a very peaceful night’s sleep.”

[Image: Daniel R. Westergren]

The home of crocodile hunter Crocodile Harry, one of Coober Pedy’s most interesting characters, is a notorious stop for backpackers from around the world. Visitors will come to the nest, which was used as a location in the 1985 film Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, and scrawl their name or a picture on its walls.

Discuss this article

Newsletter

Never miss a Nat Geo moment

Your email address
Submit