Australia’s subterranean oasis

Coober Pedy is at the centre of Australia’s opal mining industry. Now, 60% of its residents live underground, and the town is becoming a leader in sustainable living.

Nothing about the Australian town of Coober Pedy is for the faint of heart – it’s blisteringly hot, located in the country’s remote Outback interior and is usually covered in a thin veil of red dust from local opal mines. But rather than move to a cooler, more hospitable climate, residents have gotten creative, building a subterranean community in old mines and creating everything from dug-out homes to churches. Today, around 60% of Coober Pedy’s 3,500 locals live underground. 

Coober Pedy’s origins lie underground, too. About 100 years ago, a teenager discovered a piece of opal in the area. From there, miners flocked to the region, and soon enough, the town of Coober Pedy – the world’s largest source for opals – was born. In its heyday in the 1970s and 80s, the town was home to more than 1,000 miners. Today, there are only about 100.

Lately, though, the underground town has been attracting attention for a new reason: its hybrid energy project. Harnessing the area’s sunny, windy weather, Coober Pedy’s renewable energy plant generates 70% of the energy needed to power the town.

In a place where temperatures are known to climb to 53°C in the summer, cleaner sources of energy provide welcome relief from the smoke and heat of the diesel fuel formerly used to power the town. At the centre of the opal mining industry for decades, Coober Pedy is now drawing new residents for its ability to self-sustain, too.

(Video by Clare Richardson & Henning Goll, text by Emily Cavanagh)

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