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Grub's Up

Of the 4,500 or so people living in Coober Pedy, approximately 600 are Greek which means it's probably the only bit of desert in the world where you can get a killer lamb gyros with tzatziki and a side of three different types of saganaki.

Peter Ikonomopoulos


Photo by Alex Sturrock
 



Of the 4,500 or so people living in Coober Pedy, approximately 600 are Greek which means it’s probably the only bit of desert in the world where you can get a killer lamb gyros with tzatziki and a side of three different types of saganaki. From what we could tell, there are two main restaurants in town, Emma and Tom’s and John’s Pizza Bar. Peter from the pizza place is, demographically on the money—Greek, and when we arrived, Peter’s friend, Simon, told us a story about him, which Pete kind of denied, but not quite vehemently enough for us to take his side.

Simon told us that on an ordinary morning in 2004 he was woken up at 6:30am by a huge noise, which sounded like someone trying to kick his front door in. He grabbed one of his ninja swords [ookaaayyy!] and went outside to look around but saw nothing. When he heard a second explosion, he put two and two together and turned on the TV to confirm that Greece had just won the European Cup. In fact, The explosion he heard had been caused by a full bag of nitro, which killed birds within a 30-meter radius, broke a few windows at the Croatian Club, and prematurely woke up the entire town. Whether it was Peter or not, the fact that it happened was a sign of the times. Since then, it has become infinitely more difficult to get explosives in Coober Pedy. These days you need a license and even if you manage that, the ‘party police’ aka the Mines Department perform regular checks to make sure that everything is locked up properly. If you have them in your car then you have to drive around with a big sign saying “Explosives” on it. What Simon was talking about were essentially the glory days of CP.


’m originally from Adelaide but have lived here for seven years. I was only going to come for two years to help my family run this shop and to make some money. There are not too many restaurants here so we do really well. The way I see it, there’s always work anywhere if you want it. Some of the people here don’t seem to want to work though. I guess maybe the dole office is paying them too well. It’s very laid back here; too laid back if you ask me. There’s not too much to do. You can’t go to a nightclub or go to the beach or anything like that but you get used to it and it’s a good life.

I work 24/7 and in between I go over the road to the only underground bar in the world and mingle with locals and tourists. I’ve never been mining but I have been noodling. The younger generation in Coober Pedy aren’t interested in mining; they’re not really interested in anything.

The opal market is not in the best shape, mainly because people are spending all their money on essential things like fuel and spending less on things like jewellery. Fuel prices were really high a while back but it didn’t stop people coming through CP, which surprised me. Luckily they’re a bit better now. It’s like cigarettes: people will keep buying them regardless of how expensive they are, they’ll just complain more.

What really gets to me is how tight with money some of the tourists are. The English tourists aren’t too bad but some from places like Eastern Europe are really stingy. I’m not in a rush to go back to Greece but it’ll definitely happen at some point. I love living here, but when you’re young and you’ve experienced the night life—in say Adelaide—and then you’re smack bang here with nothing to do, it takes a bit of getting used to.

PETER IKONOMOPOULOS