Sunset on the rooftop of the underground hotel.

We hit the road to Broken Hill — Day 9

Riley Riley

So . . . like many Aussies our overseas holiday was cancelled because of the COVID pandemic.

What to do? Where to go? Like the rest of Australia we’ve decided to hit the road in search of a little adventure — to break the boredom at home.

Our destination is outback Broken Hill and we’re driving a bright orange Citroen C5 Aircross (beep if you see us).

Reckon we won’t see another car like this one out there.

Day Nine. Still in White Cliffs, an opal mining town about 255km north-east of Broken Hill.

Blessed relief. It’s just 28 degrees when we venture out for an early morning swim.

Who would have thought that 28 degrees, even 3o something, could ever feel so good?

Can’t raise the bloke to book a tour of the town, so we grab a map and decide to do it ourselves.

White Cliffs has only about 100 residents, if you don’t count the “winteries” who come when the heat is not so bad — so it’s unlikely we’ll get lost.

The towns of White Cliffs and Coober Pedy in South Australia are the only two places in Australia where most of the residents live underground.

People live in “dugouts”, the remains of old mines, dug into the sides of hills, lined and converted to homes, where the temperature varies only a few degrees.

They’re cool in summer and warm in winter.

Most of the winteries hold a mining lease and come in the winter months when the weather is cooler.

They come in search of opal and they all share the same dream — that one day they’ll strike it rich.

It’s still feasible, according to Graeme Dowton, one of two remaining commercial miners, who runs Red Earth Opal Mine Tours.

The Downton family has been mining here since 1974.

White Cliffs has been producing opal since 1884, with the industry peaking in 1902.

Most prized finds are unique opal pineapples, three-dimensional crystal balls of which only about 200 are thought to exist in the world.

After taking an underground tour of a working mine, hearing the stories about some of the gems that have been found and talking to Graeme, it’s easy to see how opal mining could become addictive.

Before the day is out, we’re hooked, wandering like dazed cattle through the discarded mounds of dirt that litter the surface in search of a glint of opal.

At the height of the opal rush, more than 50,000 mines dotted the White Cliffs and the surrounding countryside, each lease just a few metres wide.

There’s plenty of other things to see and do in town too, such as a must-see visit to the White House.

The underground home is the work of artist Cree Marshall and partner, former shearer Lindsay White.

It might not sound much on paper, but the multi-level-24-room home is a latter day Aladdin’s Cave, each room delivering a surprise.

Entering the living room for the first time Lindsay explains the ingenious art works that decorate the house all consist of recycled items.

Cree comes up with the ideas, he says, and he helps her turn them into reality.

Lindsay hopes he’ll live long enough to finish the job,

Another fascinatiing attraction is the solar power station, an early attempt at usig the Sun’s energy to power a town.

Constructed by a team from Australian National University, the station consisted of 14, five-metre parabolic dishes, each covered by more than 2000 mirrors.

The dishes used the sun’s energy to boil water to create steam to power a generator.

As successful as it was the project was decommissioned in December, 2004, with the development of new technology.

More to come tomorrow.


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