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Mars Landing

We’re long gone from the dust bowl of Coober Pedy, considered to be the Opal Capital of the World.

But although we crossed the South Australian border more than three weeks ago, this is one Outback town that’s impossible to forget.

Of all the places I’ve ever been, there’s nowhere quite like it. For me, it felt like we’d landed on Mars.

Ugly, brown, eroded land with barely any trees. Just mounds and mounds of debris from decades of mining.

And mixed amongst the dirt are the underground houses the locals call dugouts.

There are even underground churches! (This one is the Serbian Orthodox Church. Yes, we were intrigued too)

More than half of the town lives underground to escape the scorching summer heat that reaches 50 degrees Celsius.

“It is a harsh place to live,” admits Prudie, as we watch a group of ten-year-olds thrash it out on motorbikes at the Coober Pedy Amateur Races.

“But we live at the pool in summertime and I think that’s an awesome lifestyle. We’re constantly swimming, constantly with our friends.

The dugouts are a refuge and we go on holidays that time as well, so you work around it.”

Prudie and her family moved to Coober Pedy for “an adventure” when her husband was offered an outback job by his finance firm.

Ten years and four children later, it’s home.

“For the first two years I used to drive around fascinated, I felt like I was on holidays, Prudie shares.

“There are less restrictions and an open mindset compared to Victoria where I’m from, where everything is so organised and so traditional.

Here, it’s sort of rule-less. It encourages you to be an individual and people are respected for being who they are.

People have so many different beliefs but we all come together because we’re so far away from the rest of our family. Your town becomes your family and they look after you, they really do.”

Most of the town’s locals have flocked from all corners of the world in search of fortune.

As a result, there are over 45 nationalities living in Coober Pedy – crazily multicultural for an Australian country town.

But opal mining’s not what it used to be, according to one miner I meet at the bar.

“I started mining here twenty years ago. Spent it all on fast cars and slow race horses. So I’m trying my luck again,” Mark tells me.

“But opal mining’s changed a lot since I started out. When we first came here you could go mining on one hundred dollars a week. Now you’ve got to find one thousand dollars a week just to go to work. The cost of fuel, explosives, permits, the 9/11 thing, it’s just made it hard.

The best way to actually go mining now is to have a job and make it your hobby,” Mark says.

Why still do it?

“It’s a great way of life. Its like fishing. If you don’t want to catch fish you don’t go out there. That’s like opal mining.

If you’re not looking for it, it’s not going to come to you. Its ninety-five percent luck and five percent hard work.”

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