Life in disgrace: how Australian prospectors search for treasured gems in the underground city of Coober Pedy

Come to the end of the world, dig tons of rock at the mine, find your treasured stone and become a millionaire… The plot of a 150-year-old adventure novel? But no!

In Australia these days, anyone can become a prospector for a license fee of about 90 local dollars. Around the World also tried its luck in the opal capital of the world, the mining city of Coober Pedy.

Life in disgrace : how Australian prospectors search for treasured gems in the underground city of Coober Pedy

Australian desert, infinitely monotonous and wild… Red, heat-cracked earth, bristling with thorns of stunted shrubs. It seems that all living things have been incinerated, melted away in a trembling haze of hot air. But here on a flat surface there are neat mounds as high as a person. Next to each is a round hole. It seems that I found myself in the domain of giant moles.

Australian Klondike

Coober Pedy is an English corruption of the phrase “koopa piti”, which in translation from the Aboriginal language means “white man in a hole.” This name was given to the town not by chance: in the mines-burrows here they not only look for opals, but also live like in ordinary houses. The shafts converted into “apartments” bristle with a palisade of ventilation pipes. You can hear the noise of pumps pumping used water upstairs.

Life in disgrace: how Australian prospectors search for treasured gems in the underground city of Coober Pedy

The first European to visit these places in 1858 was the Scot John McDuel Stuart, the famous explorer of Australia. And opals were discovered here half a century later. In December 1914, a group of gold diggers led by James Hutchison set off from the town of Murray in eastern South Australia on an expedition. Their unsuccessful search continued for more than two months.

On a hot February day, the prospectors set up camp in the desert and left to explore the area, leaving the farm to Billy, Hutchison's 14-year-old son. The teenager could not sit still, and he decided to wander around. The boy was lucky: he came across a scattering of “float opals” lying right on the ground. The news of the new Klondike quickly spread throughout the continent, and within a few months, active development began here. At first, the place was called Stuart Range Opal Field (Stuart Range Opal Field), and in 1920 it was decided to give the town the name given to it by the natives – Coober Pedy.

Life in disgrace: how Australian prospectors search for treasured gems in the underground city of Coober Pedy

He told all this Jim Mugris, a local old-timer, sat down with beer at John's Pizza Bar, a popular Coober Pedy place that stopped for lunch on the road.

< p>“It wasn't easy to survive here in the beginning,” Jim says. Or, if they were lucky, they bought water at exorbitant prices from passing camel drivers. There was not enough food, they ate quinoa and rabbit meat. The scorching sun, unbearable heat – and not a bush that casts a shadow … But the atmosphere has long been friendly. It happened that the most motley audience would gather in a bar, almost all of them were emigrants, they spoke English somehow. And they understand each other without problems, because the interest is common & nbsp; – disgrace.

The Mugris family emigrated to Australia from Greece in 1953, when Jim was still a baby. His parents decided to try their luck at Coober Pedy. Then there were only 250 miners here. And when Jim grew up and got involved in the profession, the mine was already flourishing: about a thousand people worked in Coober Pedy.

— The life of a prospector is an everyday intrigue. Today you are a beggar, and tomorrow you can become a millionaire. And this is not a ghostly dream, but a reality that gives you the strength to climb into the hole again and again with a tool in your hands,” Jim says. “In 1981, I cut out a hefty block of rock, completely covered with precious opals. Having sold it, I bought mining equipment, a house and an airplane. And I respected my work even more, because it was opals that gave me the opportunity to fly. And in general, they gave me everything that I didn’t even dare to dream about.

— Wasn’t it dangerous to suddenly get rich like that? Surely there were envious people …

“Anything happened then at the mine – both robberies and murders. In the middle of the last century, dynamite was in use. And it was used not only for the extraction of opals, but also in neighboring disassemblies. Arranging an “accidental” collapse in the mine was not a problem.

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