It’s a hot day in the desolate Simpson Desert. A man walks through the tunnels of his underground house with a flashlight in his hand. He lives eighty feet under the red soil, where he has spent more than twenty years, digging for opal. Once an old mine, he has transformed it into a roof over his head; a home that brings promises of opal in the earth behind its walls. “I’ve got my own bank, if I want to get a shovel out,” says Martin Faggetter, an English miner.
The town of Coober Pedy takes its name from the aboriginal term Kupa-Piti, which translates to “white man hole.” The town is located in an isolated corner of the southern Australian outback, a full 530 miles away from the nearest city. This is an unconventional town, where most of its social and personal life takes place under the vast and lonely land itself. Today, the people of Coober Pedy live out their days underground, as they dig in search of the opal deposits found there.
Since 1915, the people of Coober Pedy have mined for opal, a valuable gemstone worth millions of dollars. With more than seventy opal fields, Coober Pedy is the largest opal mining area in the world. Among a population of 1,695 inhabitants, Coober Pedy residents represent a collection of immigrants from 45 different countries, ex-prisoners, and World War II veterans who have decided to escape their past lives and take refuge in their underground homes, which they call dugouts.
Each year, mining opportunities in Coober Pedy are fading away. There are fewer miners working in the fields today. The inherent dangers and unstable incomes that come with the job have produced a younger generation that does not want to commit to the mining lifestyle.