Tamara Merino Bloch

2015 - 2016

South Australia, Australia

It is a hot day in the desolated Simpson Desert. A man walks through the tunnels of his underground house with a torch in his hand. He lives twenty-five meters under the red soil, where he has been finding opal for over twenty years. It was an old mine that he transformed into a roof over his head: a home that promise to have plenty of opal in the walls. “I got my own bank if I want to get a shovel out”. Says Martin Faeggetter, an English miner.

Coober Pedy, which derives from the aboriginal name Kupa-Piti or, white man hole, is a town located in the middle of the Australian outback and is isolated 850 kilometers out of the nearest big city. Coober Pedy inhabits a subterranean culture, in which the majority of the population goes after the great wealth of opal. This is an unconventional town where most of social and personal life takes place under the vast and lonely land itself.

Since 1915 Coober Pedy has been mined for its Opal, a valuable gemstone worth millions. With more than seventy opal fields, Coober Pedy is the largest Opal mining area in the world. Among a population of 1695 habitants, Coober Pedy offers a home to forty-five different nationalities of immigrants, ex-prisoners, and veterans of the World War who have decided to escape their past lives and take refuge in underground houses called dugouts.

Each year, mining work has been decreasing on all fronts. There are less miners working on the fields and young people don’t want to commit to it because of the eminent danger and its unstable source of income. It is a crazy and unusual life; they could be millionaire any day or they could not find anything for years.

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  • Gabriele Gouellain, a German immigrant, waits in the kitchen for her husband to return from mining. According to the Coober Pedy district council, about 60 percent of the town's residents are originally from Europe, having migrated to the area after World War II. Coober Pedy, Australia 2015.

  • Trucks, cars and junk from old machinery decorate Coober Pedy´s landscape, waiting to be used as spare parts. Coober Pedy, Australia 2016.

  • An unexpected storm hits Coober Pedy at the beginning of 2016, dropping the equivalent of half the amount of water that would fall in a full year in only two days. Miners need to wait for the ground to dry in order to go back to work. Coober Pedy, Australia 2016.

  • Joe Rossetto, an Italian immigrant, lives underground and operates a subterranean museum that holds his private collection of stones, fossils, opal, and antiques found in the desert around Coober Pedy. Coober Pedy, Australia 2015.

  • Italian immigrant, Tony Tramaglino, dreams of carving a luxurious house and underground museum out of this space. Coober Pedy, Australia 2016.

  • Underground Orthodox Church built in 1993 by the Serbian community. Every Sunday the monk offers service. Coober Pedy, Australia 2015.

  • An oil painting showing piles of dirt made by a drilling machine hangs on the wall of an underground house. Coober Pedy, Australia 2016.

  • Costa and Peter, Greek miners, are prospecting an opal field. Extremely high daytime temperatures force them to work at dusk.

  • Aerial view of the mining fields. Coober Pedy is the largest opal mining location in the world. Coober Pedy, Australia 2015.

  • Front door of an underground house called dogout. Every dugout needs to have ventilation shafts in order to recycle the air inside the underground house.
    Coober Pedy, November 2015.

  • Opal is one of the most valuable gemstones in the world. Its price varies between one and ten million dollars, depending on its type, color and weight. Coober Pedy, Australia 2016.

  • Peter Broadbear searches with a black light UV torch the opal pieces that miners have left behind on the opal fields. Coober Pedy, Australia 2016.

  • Goran Dakovic, a miner from the former Yugoslavia, searches for any trace of opal on the wall. He works with a circular tunneling machine, allowing him to potentially have access to more Opal. Coober Pedy, Australia 2016.

  • Drilling machines used to mine oil create mounds of dirt on the surface. Over two million shafts have been excavated for prospection and extraction of opal. Coober Pedy, Australia 2015.