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The Appalachia Issue

Sound Underground

I took some time off after compulsory military service in Greece about 34 years ago and came to visit my uncle in Coober Pedy. He told me how easy it was to find opal.
November 1, 2006, 12:00am

I took some time off after compulsory military service in Greece about 34 years ago and came to visit my uncle in Coober Pedy. He told me how easy it was to find opal. I thought I would simply find my fortune and return to Greece within a year. I learnt that you can plan some things in life, but not everything. I definitely got the opal fever, which is strange because I didn’t actually find that much opal.

In my first year here I found $16,000 worth, which could have bought you a good house in Melbourne at that time. I spent most of that money going back to Greece though and then coming back to CP where I thought I’d find plenty more. I was wrong though and that was the biggest money I ever found. From then on I’ve been trying to find enough to survive on. I always had business in mind. I opened a small shop about 28 years ago called the Opal Gallery and then three years after that, this place came up for public tender and I was the lucky tenderer. This is the largest underground dugout in town; 8,000 tourists pass through each year. We have the museum and a cinema where you can watch a movie about the history of the place.

A few of my friends made millions and millions of dollars and even though they don’t live here anymore, they will come back and spend time here every year. It might sound weird to you coming from Melbourne. You think we are nuts, and we are to a certain extent, but this is a lovely place. What you see are the negative things: the dust and the old sheds. The most positive thing here is the people of this place. We have really strong connections between us and the friendships last a lifetime.

The boom time of CP happened in the 70s and there was a period of four or five years where thousands of people came from all over the world. People now don’t want to work as hard as we did back then. We each had three buckets, a generator and some explosives and we really worked to find opal. We don’t have the young generation coming into CP now—all the opal fields in Australia are suffering the same.

You have to be a specific kind of individual to go mining. You form partnerships and you have to spend money to make money. If you don’t find opal, you spend all your money for nothing. There is a bit of a gambling streak to a miner. This place has a bad reputation for gambling, but it’s not just here. Pokies are the worst thing to happen to Australia generally. 21% of the world’s gambling machines are in Australia even though we have practically none of the world’s population. It’s an addiction, and the gambling tycoons and the government are making so much money that they’ll never do anything about it. I don’t blame the people of CP, I blame the government that put the machines here.

There are some other things that could also affect this area: water and fuel prices. By the looks of it water will be a problem for all of Australia and not just the inland areas. We are very far from any water source, and what we drink has to be pumped from 24km away and treated, but we are lucky that it’s very good quality. I’m not an expert in the warming of the earth globally, but I hope we have some rains and I hope that we see some more greenery.

YANNI ATHANASIADIS