Andamooka - The strange and wonderful opal mining town in the desert!
Of all the opal mining towns in Australia there can few that are wilder or more disorganised than Andamooka. There it is in the middle of the desert only a few kilometres from Lake Torrens and 30 km along what was once a very ordinary dirt road (it is now beautiful bitumen) from Roxby Downs, 113 km from the Stuart Highway, 286 km from Port Augusta and 592 km from Adelaide. Only 76 m above sea level it is a town driven by one economic imperative - the desire to dig a fortune out of the unforgiving desert soils. Everything else is unimportant.
A decade ago the entrance to Andamooka used to be hilarious.
After battling over 30 km of dirt road the visitor, to their horror, would reach a main street which was actually worse than the road they have just travelled along.
Today all this has changed as the place has acquired a certain level of civic pride which makes for a more organised and neat entrance and main street. All around are cones of white soil where miners, like gophers, have been burrowing for gems. Given that the annual rainfall is only 203 mm it is hardly surprising that residents wanting a bit of garden have to battle against the forces of nature.
Opals were first found at Andamooka in 1920 and since then there have been periodic great finds including the famous 'Andamooka' opal which was presented to Queen Elizabeth in 1954. Since then mining has continued in a rather chaotic fashion.
This is the ultimate temporary settlement. The town is full of stray dogs and strange miners. There are no gardens, the roads (an unwanted necessity) are constructed by some hasty grading, and the predominant building materials are corrugated iron, fibro, breeze blocks, and bits of rock. Like Coober Pedy and White Cliffs some homes have been built underground to protect against the extremes of temperature which are common in the desert.
It is by any measure an extraordinary place which should not be missed. A true adventure back in time which makes other opal towns (with the exception of Yowah in Queensland) seem sophisticated and urbane by comparison.
(Source: Sydney Morning Herald - author unknown - whoever you are - thank you for this contribution !)
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