Coober Pedy Mining History
Coober Pedy is on the Stuart Highway in South Australia, about 850 kilometers north of Adelaide. Coober Pedy is known as the “Opal Capital of the World”. The town’s population is about 2,000 people and it is located in the far north of the state.
Traditional Owners of Coober Pedy
For Millenia, nomadic Aboriginal people traveled seasonally, following food sources, their presence being determined by the availability of water.
The New Colorado Prospecting Syndicate
In February 1915, after 14 weeks of unsuccessful prospecting for gold, members of the New Colorado Prospecting Syndicate first discovered opal. Since there was no surface water and an extreme isolation in what was initially referred to as the Stuart Range Opal Field, the number of miners was relatively low, but by 1920, when there had been a steady increase in rain, the number of miners reached a few hundred.
An underground water tank, a store and a post office were established and a store, Post Office and underground water tank were planned, which became a reality in 19 It was decided in 1920 that the name of the opal field should be ‘Coober Pedy’, an aboriginal term for ‘white man in a hole’.
The number of miners on the field continued to fluctuate, as it still does to this day, dependent on the market demand and price of opal. During the depression, prices plummeted and production almost came to a standstill, a state which continued during WW ll.
Typical of Coober Pedy’s history of boom and bust, in late 1945, Tottie Kendall an Aboriginal woman and her partner Charlie Bryant made a sensational find of opal at the 8 Mile which resulted in a rush to the field and a renewal of interest generally.
It was the late 1960s that saw the start of the growth in Coober Pedy, which continued during the 1970s and 80s, both due to an increase in the demand for opals as well as because a large number of European migrants migrated here in search of a better life.
It was also at this time that opal mining started to develop into a multi-million dollar industry, resulting in Coober Pedy becoming a mining town of the 21st century as well as the onset of mechanization on the field. This continued unabated throughout the 1970’s, 1980’s and 1990’s.
Coober Pedy Today
There has been a decline in prospecting activity and a decline in the number of active miners in the mining industry over the last 10-20 years, which have adversely affected the industry’s health. The ongoing development of Coober Pedy in 2019 will be influenced more and more by the increasing role that tourism plays through and to the town, as well as its status as a major regional centre in the Outback region.