An opal that has been declared to be the most precious ever discovered will be going on display in South Australia next month. Named the Virgin Opal, it was discovered in Cooper Pedy (which I visited on my first trip to Australia — detailed in my book and posted about here.) I saw some pretty astonishing opals while traveling in Australia (for example, these), but am pleased to learn that Australia still has some surprises hidden away.
In this video, the text is simply read by a computer, but it does give a great view of this remarkable gemstone.
I don’t actually play golf. That’s a sport that belonged to my dad and brother. Their passion and skill, however, led to my having an appreciation of the game and of the courses on which it is played. I used to walk the course with my dad, and I’d often watch tournaments with him. So even without having played more than three times in my life, I do understand what makes a great course — and what makes a crazy course. While I know for a fact that there are many splendid courses in Australia, and some great golfers, I have of late learned that there are also a few really outlandish courses — as one would expect in Australia. I imagine it is only because I never considered a golf holiday in Oz that I never heard of them until now, but simply because of what they reflect of the Australian personality — especially humor and determination — I thought they were worth passing along, now that I do know about them.
The lunar landscape of Coober Pedy in South Australia is home to the 18-hole, 72-par course of the Opal Fields Golf Club. There is no grass at all, just sand and rock, and the “greens” are simply oiled sand, to make them smooth. One golfing site relates: “The grassless fairways create a lot of roll and the oiled sand greens create a surprisingly smooth putt.”
The longest course in the world is also in South Australia — or, rather, starts in South Australia. The 848-mile Nullarbor Links actually stretches across a couple of states and takes about four days to play. But at least there is grass — some of the time.
Hope this gives a few of you golfers out there something to add to your bucket lists.
The next stop in our northward journey was Coober Pedy, were we would spend the night. Fortunately, we had most of the afternoon to explore this remarkable town. Sometimes called the opal capital of the world, Coober Pedy is indeed a mining town, and many of the not quite 2,000 people who make this there home are occupied by mining opals, cutting opals, creating opal jewelry, selling opals, and often all of the above.
The thing that makes Coober Pedy remarkable is the way in which people live—pretty much all underground. Unlike the mud dugouts of Burra, these are rock-walled homes that are often quite spacious and comfortable. But they are underground. If you look at the photo below, which is of the bustling center of town, you’ll see that there are electrical wires and water tanks, but not much sign of buildings. Homes, stores, and even a church are carved into the tan rock. In some cases, digging out your home can pay off in more than just a place to live, because veins of opal run all through the area, and finding it wherever you dig is a possibility.
Aside from avoiding the expense of having to ship in building materials, this approach to creating living spaces has the added advantage of helping folks avoid the heat. Summers can be brutal here, but the temperature is considerably cooler underground. We were delighted that our accommodations were also underground.
Worth noting in the photo below is that the lovely mares’ tale clouds from earlier in the day had come together in a soft, billowing, ominous covering of clouds. It was hard to imagine rain in the outback, but we thought we just might see some.
Coober Pedy crossroads