Cooper Pedy – South Australia
Opal was first found in Coober Pedy on 1 February 1915. Since then, Coober Pedy has been supplying the world with the majority of gem quality opal.
Coober Pedy today relies as much on tourism as the opal mining industry to provide the community with employment and sustainability.
Coober Pedy has evolved into one of the most unique places in Australia and perhaps the world. It’s a cosmopolitan town with a population of 3,500 and over 45 different nationalities.
Between April and October the weather is very pleasant. Typical of a semi desert climate, the days (16 to 20° C) are mild to warm but the desert nights are cold. From November to March the weather warms up and summer temperatures can range from 35° C to the 45° C in the shade, with occasional dust storms. The annual rainfall in the area is minimal at around 175 mm (5 inches) per annum and can fall during any time of the year.
For thousands of years Aboriginal people walked across this area. Because of the desert environment, these people were nomadic hunters and gatherers who travelled constantly in search of food and water supplies as well as to attend traditional ceremonies.
In January 1915, the New Colorado Prospecting Syndicate, consisting of Jim Hutchison and his 14 year old son William, PJ Winch and M McKenzie had unsuccessfully been searching for gold south of Coober Pedy. The men had set up camp and were searching for water when young Willie found pieces of opal on the surface of the ground. This was on the 1st February 1915 and 8 days later the first opal claim was pegged.
Coober Pedy was originally known as the Stuart Range Opal Field, named after John McDouall Stuart, who in 1858 was the first European explorer in the area. In 1920 it was re-named Coober Pedy, an anglicised version of Aboriginal words “kupa piti”, commonly assumed to mean “white man in a hole”.