The Surreal Beauty of the Australian Outback

In her project, Rough & Cut, Abigail Varney offers a vivid perspective on the opal mining town of Coober Pedy and its desert surroundings.

Rough & Cut offers a vivid perspective on the opal mining town of Coober Pedy, Australia and its desert surroundings. Infamous for its underground dugouts and rolling hills shaped by the opal trade, the town’s isolation is palpable throughout the photographs, which is suffused with a strange dreamlike quality. Residential signifiers are less apparent; the landscape of rocky outcrops and quarries replaces the suburban skyline familiar to city people.

These quiet chaotic scenes are of apparent bleak desolation, but underneath inhabitants enjoy a cohesive, idiosyncratic spirit. The remaining resilient miners still carry hope of fortune, but the trade is slow and the rich history and thriving global community is now but a toured story for travelling guests. Rough & Cut is a stage for engaging our imagination of the unsettling surreal beauty and unpredictability of the Australian outback.

Words and Pictures by Abigail Varney.


Abigail Varney is a documentary photographer based in Melbourne, Australia. Her work predominately evolves from her connection to mood, environments and colour. After graduating from Photography Studies College in Melbourne in 2013, she completed an internship with Mary Ellen Mark in New York City.

Her long-term project in Coober Pedy (2014 - 2017) was displayed at Sydney’s Parliament House, featured at Head On Photo Festival Sydney and announced as the Landscape Winner at the Centre for Contemporary Photography in Melbourne.

Follow her on PHmuseum and Instagram.


This feature is part of Story of the Week, a selection of relevant projects from our community handpicked by the PHmuseum curators.

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