Opals - That is what Coober Pedy is all about - and now tourism, but the mining is what created the town and still is it major industry. Even today, town only exists because of opals. Without them there would be no tourism.
|Will there be more behind here?|
|Opals may be in this seam|
|Lots of mining taking place here|
Some of these mounds will be available for noodling
|Not much of a platform for working|
In the old days all this work was done by hand. It would take two men two weeks to drill the shaft. Today that takes about one hour. And of course the work in the shafts is much easier, too. However, one downside to this method is that approximately 20% of the opals are sucked to the surface. This leads to a process called noodling where people, including non-miners, in some areas are able to sift through the rubble to try to find opals in this detritus. One lady tourist found a piece worth $5000 a couple of years ago doing just this. We spent about half an hour trying our hand at noodling joined by a small family. Let’s just say we did not have the luck she did. Today, some miners have developed a set of machinery to automate noodling using black light to illuminate the stones, but the majority of noodling is still done by individuals.
|Pictures show the danger of these fragile shafts|
All mining is dangerous work, but in Coober Pedy the danger is increased by the more than 250,000 mine shafts already dug and the crumbly nature of the rock. No one is allowed to be on any claim not their own which as much a safety measure as anything else. Signs all over town show the dangers of being near open shafts. Still, people fall down the shafts every year and have to be rescue if they survive the fall which isn’t likely. Miners are required to report any area they feel is dangerous. The area will be inspected and cordoned off if deemed too dangerous to work. Better to be alive and poor than the alternative.
|Some mining is now done on the top - no tunneling|
Opal mining is perhaps the only mining that has not been taken over by the large companies. There just isn’t any good way for them to industrialize the process, so it is still a place where any individual with some startup cash can have his or her own mine. Moreover, the law prohibits claims of over 165 square feet which have to be mined by you and/or your spouse. No third parties allowed. There is space for you if you a looking for some adventure.
Many who come to visit end up staying either because of the lure of the opals or just because it is a great small town. Linda saw a House Hunters episode filmed in Coober Pedy recently of a young family just looking for a nice place to raise kids.