Coober Pedy
Opal Capital of the World

History

For thousands of years Aboriginal people walked across this area. Because of the desert environment, these people were nomadic hunters and gatherers who travelled constantly in search of food and water supplies as well as to attend traditional ceremonies.

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, an anglicised version of Aboriginal words "kupa piti", commonly assumed to mean "white man in a hole".

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Coober Pedy Today
Aerial photograph "Coober Pedy - Today" courtesy of Peter Caust.


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Coober Pedy 1956

In 1917 the Trans Continental Railway was completed. A number of construction workers followed by soldiers returning from World War 1 came to the opal fields, introducing the unique method of living underground in "dugouts". Conditions were harsh and the environment did not lend itself to easy living. Water and provisions had to be carted great distances and under very trying conditions. Even with the introduction of very large underground water tanks things improved only marginally, the entitlement of water being only 24 gallons (60 litres) per week.

Today the town water supply comes from an underground source 24 kilometres north of the town, then pumped through an underground pipeline to the water works where it is treated by reverse osmosis and pumped through a reticulated town water supply system. The treatment process is expensive consequently water costs $5 for 1,000 litres. The water quality is excellent and people should hold no fears about drinking it.

During the Great Depression of the late 1930's and 1940's, opal prices plummeted and production almost came to a standstill.

Typical of Coober Pedy's history of boom and bust, an Aboriginal woman named Tottie Bryant made a sensational opal find at the Eight Mile field in 1946, starting a new rush to the fields.

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.

Outback, South Australia
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Hutchison Street, PO Box 425, Coober Pedy SA 5723 | FREECALL: 1800 637 076
Ph: 08 8672 5298 | Fax: 08 8672 5699 | Email: info@opalcapitaloftheworld.com.au
Page URL: http://www.cooberpedy.sa.gov.au/page.aspx?u=200
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