The Great McIntosh Solo Adventure (Part 3: Wild, wild Australia!)
Updated: Jul 3
Still stationed outside the local beer store, with no luck for almost 2 weeks, I became more of a familiar sight and gradually began to forge tentative connections. And that's when I had the pleasure of encountering a genuine Aussie gentleman named Brett Truman, whose pride and love for his hometown, Coober Pedy, radiated from his very core. With an unwavering commitment to ensuring my experience in this oasis was nothing short of extraordinary, Brett took it upon himself to be my guide and gateway to the many charms of Coober Pedy.
Nestled in the heart of the Australian Outback, Coober Pedy is renowned for its extreme climate and unforgiving landscape. With scorching temperatures, scarce water resources, and frequent dust storms, surviving on the surface is a formidable challenge. However, rather than succumbing to the environmental hardships, Brett and the other residents of Coober Pedy have ingeniously turned the tables by burrowing into the earth.
Enter the captivating realm of Coober Pedy's underground dwellings, a labyrinth of dugouts that provide refuge from conditions above ground. Here, the temperature remains stable and comfortable throughout the year, shielding inhabitants from the blistering day-time heat with its constant swarms of flies, and the chilling night-time cold, offering a haven of respite from the harsh realities above.
Living below the surface isn't just a means of survival; it has become a way of life embraced by the community. Beyond its practical benefits, the allure of subterranean living lies in the unique and quirky aesthetics, as well as the boundless possibilities it offers. From stunningly designed homes with private cinemas, heated swimming pools and intricately carved walls, to cosy thriving cafes, churches, and even homes with their own opal mines - Coober Pedy's underground world is a testament to human ingenuity, resilience and adaptability!
Each day, kind Brett would happily pick me up, ready to whisk me away for a new day's adventure and sight-seeing. It was during one of these journeys that Brett helped me stumble upon a hidden gem within the opal fields—'Shell Patch.' These photographs immortalise the remnants of old abandoned mines nestled within the region, where beautiful and highly desirable opalised shells were once found. While abandoned places always exude an undeniable eeriness, they hold within them a captivating power that grounds us in the narratives of the past. I couldn't help but marvel at the incredible forces of nature that had transformed mere shells into shimmering opals, luring people to this inhospitable environment in order to seek them out.
A trip out to see the views of the Painted Desert was simply awe-inspiring - it was impossible to take a bad photo of this wild, beautiful landscape! It wasn't just the visual splendour that left me awestruck; it was the overwhelming sense of the raw power and majesty of nature.
Another visit took us to the Dog Fences. Spanning across the vast Australian landscape, a formidable network of fences has been erected to safeguard the grazing lands of South Australia from the threat of dingo attacks on sheep. Stretching across immense distances, the fences stand as a testament to the resolve of farmers and landowners to protect their livelihoods from the predation of dingoes. The barriers serve as a safeguard against the encroachment of these native canines, which, while an integral part of Australia's ecosystem, pose a significant threat to the thriving sheep industry in South Australia. Building and maintaining the fences has not been without its hurdles. The vastness of the Australian landscape, coupled with the harsh and unforgiving environment, presents ongoing challenges to those tasked with upholding these barriers. However, the ingenuity and adaptability of the farmers and workers working hard together for the benefit of the community has allowed for continual improvements and modifications, ensuring the efficacy and longevity of the fences.
It was nearly time to go, but not before indulging in the passion which brought me here in the first place - the purchasing of opal! I secured a fantastic $7000AUD purchase of absolutely stunning material from Matt and Rachel. I can't wait to put it to use for Two Skies!
I couldn't leave Coober Pedy without some appreciation for Brett's unwavering passion for his home town which created an immersive experience that transcended any standard tourist visit. Brett's infectious enthusiasm for sharing his town's wonders ensured that my time in Coober Pedy was not just a superficial encounter with opals, but a profound connection with a remarkable place and its remarkable people. Brett, from the bottom of my heart, thank you!
As the time came to bid farewell to one destination, a new adventure awaited on my 'opal trail'. Some of Two Skies' most popular opal jewellery started life in boulder opal mines in the far west of Queensland, so next I made my way to the town of Charleville to see if I could source more. Arriving by bus and keen to get my explorations underway, I found that fate had a different plan in store for me. Hertz, my car hire rental company, had forgotten I was coming and had just hired out the last car! My heart was in my mouth as I tried to figure out what on earth I was going to do - luckily, the mishap turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Instead of the expected modest car, I found myself upgraded free of charge and behind the wheel of a sturdy mine-ready truck, ready to traverse the rugged terrain that lay ahead. What a beaut!
My first quick stop was to revisit old friends Avon and Alice, who currently work the boulder opal claim known as Budgerigar. It was wonderful to be in their company again, partaking in the warm hospitality and camaraderie they offered. And of course, they happened to have some absolutely stunning opal I could buy!
Waving a fond cheerio to Avon and Alice, I was once more back on the road, keen to catch up on the time I had lost feeling lonely in Coober Pedy. Nestled at the northern edge of opal-bearing lands lies Opalton, a seemingly unassuming town. Eager to immerse myself within the local community, I joined forces with the Boulder Opal Association during a work weekend dedicated to enhancing the town's historical significance through improved signage.
Having made lots of new friends, later that day I was guided by the expertise of Allison and Gill, who invited me out to their claim, where the pursuit of opal took centre stage. They were happy to let me join in as they embarked on the exciting task of excavating opal-bearing boulders from the earth's tight embrace.
The next day, I joined David as he kindly invited me to explore the depths of his tunnel mine - a portal into a subterranean world, where we hoped to liberate some gorgeous opal! Equipped with a jack hammer, we descended into the labyrinth of narrow passages, labouring diligently to extract opal from the rock face. The rhythmic pounding of the jack hammer echoed through the tunnels, a loud symphony of determination and anticipation!
Feeling energised by the folk of Opalton's kindness and warm welcome, I made my way to the town of Quilpie to reunite with old friends, Kev and Judith. These seasoned opal miners have dedicated their lives to the pursuit of these mesmerising gemstones.
In its heyday, opal flowed abundantly here, transforming Quilpie into a beacon of opal mining success. The opulence extended to even the most sacred of spaces—the local church. The opal-adorned altars are evidence of just how rich Quilpie was in this gemstone!
As boulder opal transforms into smaller nodules, a new classification emerges—the renowned 'nut' opal. Just a two-hour drive from Quilpie lies the charming town of Yowah, a haven for opal enthusiasts seeking the elusive and unique beauty of Yowah nuts. Here I arranged to stay with my friend and opal expert, Dave Broom - a former opal miner turned opal cutter and seller. Dave loves his brew, so I loaded up the truck with his favourite XXXX Gold beer, ready to embark on the next leg of my adventure that would catapult me head-on into the allure of Yowah's opulent opal nut gems.
Despite the challenges the constant clouds of flies presented, my time in Yowah proved to be an immense success. Under Dave's expert guidance, I obtained a selection of opal nuts that were nothing short of magnificent. Each stone held within its depths a mesmerising display of colours, a testament to the mysterious forces that shape these precious gemstones. The flies, though really bothersome, paled in comparison to my haul! Look at these beauties!
As my journey neared its end, I headed towards the mining fields of Koroit - a place akin to Yowah in its production of opal nuts, but distinguished by a darker background matrix. My friend Mark Moore and his partner Laura welcomed me to stay with them for this last leg of my fantastic 3-month long Aussie opal experience. I even had the privilege of meeting and buying opal from the legendary Rod Griffin, fondly known as 'Griffo,' an energetic octogenarian whose dedication to mining Koroit opal at his mine, Elusive, remains unwavering. Griffo is the living embodiment of the enduring passion that fuels the pursuit of opal!
And so, I bid farewell to the opal-rich landscapes of Queensland and south Australia! As I make preparations to return home to my much-missed family. a profound sense of gratitude washes over me. Despite the initial challenges, my opal hunting season has been nothing short of remarkable. The bonds reignited with old friends and the new connections forged along the way have enriched my experience beyond measure. Most importantly, the opal haul I carry back home stands as a tangible testament to the adventures, discoveries, and triumphs of this season. As I embark on the final chapter of my journey, I carry with me the joy, memories, and the undeniable raw allure of opal, forever grateful for this unforgettable opal hunting tour in Australia. The fierce environment may make the Australian people seem a little rough around the edges, but their warm hospitality and generous hearts make them worth their weight in gold. Well, okay - definitely worth their weight in opal!
A little light history...
The year 1915 marked a pivotal moment in history. It was during this time that the New Colorado Prospecting Syndicate, comprising Jim Hutchison, his young son Willie, along with PJ Winch and M McKenzie, embarked on a quest for gold in the southern reaches of Coober Pedy, South West Australia. Despite their efforts, their pursuit yielded no gold, leaving them in search of water in the arid landscape. It was then, on that fateful day of 1st February 1915, that young Willie made a remarkable discovery - glimmering fragments of opal scattering the surface of the earth, which were to forever alter the destiny of Coober Pedy.
Driven by this serendipitous encounter, the New Colorado Prospecting Syndicate wasted no time in securing their newfound treasure. Just eight days later, on 9th February, they staked their claim, marking the birth of the opal industry in the region. Originally known as the Stuart Range Opal Field, paying homage to Scottish explorer John McDouall Stuart, who first ventured into the area in 1858, Coober Pedy took on its current name in 1920. Derived from the anglicised version of the Aboriginal words "kupa piti," it is widely interpreted to mean "white man in a hole."