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The Appalachia Issue

Unlucky Miner

I've lived in Coober Pedy for 28 years now, although it was never my plan. In 1977, I decided to move to Perth but didn't get any further than CP.
Κείμενο David Westneat

I’ve lived in Coober Pedy for 28 years now, although it was never my plan. In 1977, I decided to move to Perth but didn’t get any further than CP. I didn’t come here to go mining, just to visit a friend on my way through to WA. When I first arrived, we had a big party and my mate started telling everyone that I was staying for three or four weeks and that I could fix their cars if they needed. I kicked him under the table and told him to shut up but by that point he had already got me three weeks worth of work that I couldn’t say no to. Those three weeks fixing cars turned into three months and the next thing I knew I had my own workshop here. About eighteen months after that, one of my Croatian friends told me he had lost his mining partner and was going to have to go home to Adelaide if he didn’t find another. He asked me to go mining in the mornings, but I said no as I had zero interest. He kept on and on and eventually, mainly to shut him up, I said ok, as long as I could stop as soon as he found another partner. After five months, he found a new partner, and, as agreed, I went back to the workshop. I stepped in the door, looked at the spanners and engines and stuff and I walked straight back out locking the doors behind me forever. I never went back to the workshop again full-time. That’s how addictive opal is. Mining hasn’t been kind to me and I’ve gone broke four times. Here’s an example of the state of the industry. In 1970 there were 5,500 people here with 4,000 strong young opal miners spanning 54 nationalities and it cost $2.50 for a box of detonators. Today there’s about 4,000 people here of 45 nationalities, 400 tired old miners and it costs $90 for a box of detonators. It’s totally different now and it’s really affected a lot of people. I reckon there have only been five multimillion-dollar opal finds in the whole history of CP and there’s probably no more than half a dozen miners making a living full time opal mining. Most of the miners who stay will go into tourism, hospitality or government to get a steady income. Ironically, I’m the Secretary of the Coober Pedy Miners Association which is a non-profit community organisation representing the miners here. I’m starting a tour guide company now though, which includes a tour of a working mine. Even this is pretty tough as there are six other tour operators in the town. The problem with mining is that most miners blow any money they make back under the ground. Mining is like gambling with Mother Nature. Mind you, I still believe there’s a multimillion-dollar run of opal out there with my name on it. I can even give you a formula. If you follow it then you’re guaranteed to find opal within ten years. I won’t go into it now but it’s what keeps me going. DAVID WESTNEAT