Trip to Central Australia

Reply Thu 17 Dec, 2009 07:23 am
Goodness....I happened across this thread...and I felt bad, because it has so many hits, and I never continued it!!!

I'll gather my thoughts and put down what I recall.

Also, if people are interested, I now HAVE been to Coober Pedy...3 times (though for work, so I never had time to do anything remotely touristy) and I have been out to the APY lands twice, so I will write about that, to the extent that I can. (Because I was there for work, most stuff is off limits.)
Reply Thu 17 Dec, 2009 07:30 am
Yes, more please!
Reply Thu 17 Dec, 2009 07:34 am
Reply Thu 17 Dec, 2009 08:11 am
I might talk about Coober/the Lands, first ,because they are more recent.

Coober Pedy is an opal mining town. That's why it's there. Opals.

Here's how Wikipedia opens its entry:

Coober Pedy is a town in northern South Australia, 846 kilometres north of Adelaide on the Stuart Highway. At the 2006 census its population was 1,916 (1,084 males, 832 females, including 268 indigenous Australians).[1] The town is known as the opal capital of the world because of the quantity of precious opals that are mined there. It is also famous for most of the residents living below ground, mostly in old mines refurbished, due to the scorching daytime heat. The name 'Coober Pedy' comes from the local Aboriginal term kupa-piti, which means 'boys' waterhole'


White people got interested in the place in 1915, because we coulde make money.

Lots of people live in dugouts, because of the extreme heat. Wiki calls them caves, but they aren't, they're bloody dugouts!!

They can be very elaborate and comfortable.

Often, modern ones are not completely underground, but dug into a hill, with normal front door and front windows.

They are great for the heat, and the walls are fascinating, but they tend to be kind of musty and dusty...bad for people with hayfever.

We stayed in a dugout motel last time I was there, so I can attest to this in person. More of that motel later!

It is desert and heat out there. It's real outback.

Flying in is fascinating. There is a daily service to and from Adelaide, in a prop plane that seats about 28, I think. It is a tourist mecca, so the plane can be very full. It seems to attract Germans above all else...though apparently it is also big with Japanese. Lots of signs are multi-lingual for this reason.

The plane is generally filled with Adelaide professionals, flying in to drive off to remote communities to deliver various services.

There are also generally lots of eager looking tourists, lots of them hardened back-packers, with mighty thews and khaki-ish ensembles, with ginormous and battered packs.

Other tourists have huge suitcases (especially the Germans, again)...to the great irritation of those trying to pack them into the weeny cargo hold. (They do that out of earshot in Adelaide, but oh boy, you can hear them in Coober!

There is also a sprinkling of hardy Coober Pedy-ites, some of them battered, eremitic looking chaps with long beards and very forbidding miens. These are the opal miners.

There are also always groups of Aboriginal people...some from remote communities. The older women from these communities are generally dressed in the colourful, flowing rayon skirts and shirts that can be bought cheaply from the local stores. Younger women are often in jeans and jackets, like any travelling young woman. The men favour country and western looking shirts and jeans and boots.

It's about one and a half hours, depending on wind and weather, and whether the plane takes off on time.

It's funny! You are directed to get to the airport at sparrow's fart...just as though you are to queue endlessly in international check in. (I got there late once, of which more anon.)

You then go to the wee Rex area, tucked away in the corner of check in.

Because others were paying for my ticket, I generally arrived very early, terrified of missing the plane and wasting their money!

So...you wander through a normal airport...then make your way to your gate.

Then, you have to go way down to the bottom and hike out across the concrete to your plane. Sometimes a reasonable hike. Or..you get in one of those dinky little airport buses, and toodle off to your plane.

Up some flimsy and very bad for arthritic knees stairs....and off you go.

Flying in is said to resemble a lunar landscape.

Me? I saw ant nests.

Thousands and thousands of ant nests. Some obviously made by giant inch ants.....down to wee little sugar ants.

And these ants don't give a good goddam about territory.....lots of their nests are very close to each other...gradually getting farthe and farther away from each other, as you move out from the centre of activity.

See? Ant nests!!! Before rain:



As you can see, it's less than an inch away from Adelaide, as the crow flies:


Here's a great painting of the approach to the place:


Wiki article:


More anon.

0 Replies
Reply Thu 24 Dec, 2009 04:07 am
I think she got distracted.
Reply Thu 24 Dec, 2009 06:10 am
Thanks to this showing up on the NEW POSTS dad, I found the whole thing.

Fascinating Deb.
0 Replies
Reply Thu 24 Dec, 2009 07:04 am
dadpad wrote:

I think she got distracted.

She did!!!

Anyhoo, I can't report al that much much on Coober, because I was always there to work, and generally only saw what was between my motel and whatever venue I was working in. I generally only stayed there before heading out to the APY Lands, or overnight when we got back.

There's one main street...with two supermarkets and such and a bunch of opal/tourist shops, pubs and such.

Thursday is truck day...when the big trucks arrive from Adelaide with "fresh" produce and other supplies. EVERYONE shops in town on Thursday.

Fresh food is a damn problem. It costs heaps to transport, and deteriorates in transit. By the time you get to the remote communities!!! Oy veh!!! A lettuce (wilted) can cost over $5. This means that it is much cheaper to buy crap and get lots of crap calories than it is to eat healthily. And we speak of folk (on the communities) with very little money, in general. But it's also a major problem for the well paid professionals serving the communities.

People in Coober can grow stuff...IF they can pay for the water. It is treated bore water...but it costs a heap.

Ditto in remote communities....but that's a big if.

When we travelled out to remote communities, my hosts had huge four wheel drives, with fridges...we would buy up in Coober, and my colleagues would also each have made a main meal, and we would eat from our own stuff rather than buy from local stores.

The last time I went up, I was there longer...but again nose to the grindstone...our full day there we did 4 separate lots of training, and didn't finish until after 9.00 pm.

I can say that Coober has a great golf club!! (because that was our main training venue)

The greens and the fairways (do I have that right?) are all local dirt. It sits sort of on a rise, and the club house has panoramic windows overlooking the town, the diggings and the desert.

The day we were there there was a magnificent storm, and it was all we could do to focus, as we watched the roiling black clouds approach, the lightning flash, and felt the thunder reverberate through our guts.

And the RAIN!!!! Oh my, how wonderful!

The club has a reciprocal agreement with St Andrew's Golf Club in Scotland, so membership of the Coober Pedy Golf Club allows you to chase little white balls and whack 'em on those august greens.

Given the Oz propensity to travel great distances without a thought, I wonder if St Andrews has a lot of visitors?

The course:

Reply Thu 24 Dec, 2009 11:42 am
I generally only stayed there before heading out to the APY Lands
whats an PY land? . Im reading with interest and most of the localisms I unnerstand but this one needs some splaining.
Reply Sat 26 Dec, 2009 02:30 am
APY Lands.
APY Lands
Last Updated Aug 2009
Spanning an area of over 100,000 square kilometres in north-western South Australia, the Anangu, Pitjantjatjara & Yankunytjatjara Lands are home to about 2,500 Anangu people. Umuwa is the administrative centre of the Lands and the site was chosen because it is culturally neutral. It is based centrally to the seven Communities on the Lands.

The Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Council was formed in 1981 by the passing of the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Land Rights Act, 1981 and includes the Pitjantjatjara, Yankunytjatjara and Ngaanyatjarra people who have a long association with the area.

Approximate distance and drive time from Adelaide

• 1200 km north
• 12 hrs drive


• Population 2 230, 49.4% male, 50.6% female
• Median Age 26
• Anangu/Pitjantjatjara/Yankunytjatjara Descent 84.5%
• Size (area) 122 000 square kilometres (26% of South Australia)

(note all figures are from the 2006 ABS Census)

So, these lands were returned to local Aboriginal people in 1981.


I can't say all that much about them, because I am not allowed to divulge stuff I know from work.

Most people cannot access the area, since you have to be either someone with a right to be there (Aboriginal this means generally) or a non-Aboriginal granted a permit.

The idea was for people for whom this was traditional country to be able to live there in a fairly traditional way, if they wished to do so, and maintain their connection to country (intensely sacred and important to traditional Aboriginal folk) and to be self-governing within the constraints of Australian law.

A lot of the settlements are on the sites of old mission stations.

It's been a mixed sort of result.

There are huge problems with violence...said to be huge problems with rape and sexual abuse of children. Also terrible problems with health, work opportunities, educational achievement.

Petrol sniffing has responded a lot to non-sniffable fuel, and the communities decided to ban alcohol. People still sneak a lot of booze in, though, with pretty bad results. Other drugs are abused.

It's very difficult to get services out to such remote places, though this is gradually improving. Police numbers are slowly increasing, and police sensitivity slowly developing.

At its worst, Aboriginal culture in such places is said by many to have taken the worst of traditional culture, and the worst of white culture, and blended them into some sort of unholy mix.

All that being said, the glorious country speaks even to me in a way that had me wanting to work there.

Just being near many traditional Aboriginal people is special and lovely in a way I cannot fully describe or understand.

On the journey up you can see camels, brumbies, wild donkeys (all bloody pests!).

At night, when it is dry, the donkeys come to drink the condensation from the air conditioners. They don't sound like donkeys as they fight about it, they roar and bellow like bears! Wakes you the hell up with a start, I can tell you!

The first time I went up, it was very dry...the second time there had been big rains (nearly lost our lives when the driver didn't see a huge wash-out in the road until it was too late!)

That was AMAZING. Every little stunted bush and tree had thrust out new leaves in the most electric of greens. Everything that COULD flower was flowering...in stunning colours. The grass was vibrantly green...the red soil providing an amazing contrast.

The whole country was almost visibly giving off electricity in its intense push to get itself out there to reproduce. You could almost see the vegetation writhing in its stretching and bursting and pushing and clawing to GROW!!!!

Reply Sat 26 Dec, 2009 02:58 am
You're an interesting woman, you know that?
Reply Sat 26 Dec, 2009 03:03 am
What made you say that?

Lots of people go out there!!!

Reply Sat 26 Dec, 2009 04:35 am
And, your are one of them. Hey, I think Mame and her travels are interesting, too.
0 Replies
Reply Sat 26 Dec, 2009 04:54 am
farmerman wrote:

Thanks to this showing up on the NEW POSTS dad, I found the whole thing.

Fascinating Deb.
lad to be of service old chap.

[/quote] whats an APY land? . Im reading with interest and most of the localisms I unnerstand but this one needs some splaining.
For me also. There is very little if any traitional aboriginal culture left in Victoria.
I spent some holiday time at "The Ridge" as a teen so i have some idea of what Coober Pedy looks like.
0 Replies
Reply Sat 26 Dec, 2009 08:11 am
So......most of the communities up there have developed an art centre...many of which have women painting art which is sold all over the world.

I went into a few of them...and it is fascinating to see the stuff being painted and processed.

There is a huge exhibition of art from these places about to happen in Adelaide.

They kind of double as safe places for women, so men generally don't go there...but there is talk of developing similar artistic outlets for men, and a damn good idea it would be, I think.

Traditional people have a sit down ability (like that of many Asian peoples for squatting.)

Obviously their muscles don't stiffen in the same way most white people's do (I used to be happy sitting on the ground for hours, but now it's torture after a while!) because of the constant practice....so the landscape of these communities is dotted with groups of people sitting effortlessly in groups in the shade....looking as comfortable and eternal as rocks.

Amongst the groups is the constant and mysterious to and fro-ing of the hordes of dogs.....many different bloodlines are evident...though there appear to have been some very highly sexed corgis there at some point, and lots of shepherdy and heelery looking dogs...and some rather dingo-esque.

If you are working with an Aboriginal family, you are likely to be sitting in the dust under a tree too.

The kids tend to run around in groups, if not at school (GETTING kids to school is a huge problem)...and the adolescents tend to hang by the store.

Traditional culture tends to see breasts as being for babies, and there is little or no sexual connotation, so young women breast-feed utterly without consciousness or concern whenever their baby is hungry and wherever they are.

Lovely to see.

Traditional male elders are involved in a lot of rituals that no woman is to know anything about.

If a group of males comes through a community on such business, there is a kind of lock down for women, I heard...and initiated men ensure that everyone is safe and the rituals are undisturbed.

There was such a group of men active last time I was up there, but we did not run across them.

Women have their own rituals. If you are accepted by the local women, it is a great honour to be taken out to a woman's camp for a night or two, and have your breasts painted.

One of the new white women workers had just been invited to such an event...but, as she was a very petite and small breasted woman, there was lots of laughter about the likely failure of the canvas she provided to have room enough for the ritual designs!

I had a great time meeting some of the women elders, and heard lots of fascinating stories about their lives, and shared lots of laughter.

Reply Sat 26 Dec, 2009 08:24 am
0 Replies
Tai Chi
Reply Sat 26 Dec, 2009 09:23 pm
Enjoying this a lot. Thanks.
0 Replies
Reply Sat 26 Dec, 2009 10:31 pm
Agreeing with Roger, you one hell of a neat babe. Are you involved in providing service to the APY folks?
Are there other treatied lands in OZ?
Do the people have their own police, doctor, and spiritual leaders?

It seems that Oz, Canada, and US have patches of lands that are being set up and run for and by the native peoples. I assume that in OZ, its similarly design based (ie, its a matter of national conscience tht resulted from centuries of abuse and "resolution by force")

It appears that , from your pix there that one could stand on an Unabridged Dictionary and see halfway across a land the size of the UK. I mean it appears as flat as a pizza in that sector. I remember working in a "Laterite province" of another country years ago and it worked oin me , (The red color of the soil as far as I could see). Plants and the sky , when Id see them in distant wadis or arroyos would stand out (as complimemtary colors in a painting). However, when the land was flat and red, Id get really depressed over the featurelesness. Does this bother you in the desert areas?

Are there any gypsum operations or uranium mines in the area near the opal grounds? (they often run together in deposits ).

Sounds like 40 degrees isnt uncommon in that area.

One last thing, where do the weather events in that area come freom(or dont come from as the case may be)?

Sorry to ask stupid questions but this thread, more than the "everything you wanted to know..." seems to be telling me about the map of Oz.
Reply Sun 27 Dec, 2009 05:23 am
The APY lands stretch across three states...Western Australia, the Northern Territory and South Australia.

There are other very large areas returned to native title.

I would imagine most communities have Aboriginal community constables as well as full blown police, some of whom may be Aboriginal.

Doctors and nurses are stationed around the communities, but are in short supply.

Initiated people and elders will tend to be community leaders and spiritual leaders....or just people who are seen as wise.

The land rights do stem from conscience...but also from a massive decision in the Australian High Court, called the Mabo decision, which overturned the concept of terra nullius.

This has led to many land rights cases, many still being decided.



Eddie Mabo was a brave and wonderful man.

The lands generally present a huge dilemma in many cases.

On the one hand, country is crucial, and self-determination very much wanted. The lands are crucial to the people whose spirit is connected with them.

On the other hand, many of these lands have become cess pools of corruption, kinship favouritism and fights...including real physical violence between extended families....abuse, poverty, domestic violence, poor parenting, drug and alcohol abuse, ignorance and poor emotional and physical health, although some seem to run well.

Police are both desperately called for, and fiercely resented; as are welfare and child protection services.

Aboriginal people want decent goods and services, but the cost is enormous and it is very hard to get people out there to work.

Also, white Australia, and Aboriginal Australia in many cases, is at something of a loss to know how to address the enormous problems in some communities.

I have provided training and consultation out there, but there are massive problems in doing so, which I can't really go into, because this is info I have gained from work.

I would like to do more, but my agency has not been funded to do this, and is reluctant to let me go in any regular way because of this.

The land isn't as flat as it looks...there are various ancient ranges (ie very low) and the country is actually stunningly beautiful in all the Aboriginal lands I have been into.

The area around Coober is pretty flat...but there is a small range known as the Breakaways nearby.

I don't know about gypsum.

40 degrees!!! It gets WAAAAY hotter than that!!!

Weather generally come s from the west and north. They get the tail end of the odd monsoon or tropical cyclone, believe it or not!

Reply Sun 27 Dec, 2009 06:40 am
THank you for the details. As I said, I get rather disturbed by areas of red laterite soils and the color and the complements make them pop out even more intensively. Thats why the blues of the skies probably look more intense.

Are the APY lands self administered as sovereign states or are they run by an agency on behalf of the aborigines , like in the US?
Reply Sun 27 Dec, 2009 07:19 am
There is an elected Council.

It must operate within the framework of Australian law, of course.


Related Topics

Beached As Bro - Discussion by dadpad
Oz election thread #3 - Rudd's Labour - Discussion by msolga
Australian music - Discussion by Wilso
Oz Election Thread #6 - Abbott's LNP - Discussion by hingehead
AUstralian Philosophers - Discussion by dadpad
Australia voting system - Discussion by fbaezer
Copyright © 2021 MadLab, LLC :: Terms of Service :: Privacy Policy :: Page generated in 0.03 seconds on 12/07/2021 at 02:52:50