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Fear and loathing in Coober Pedy


Every country is like a particular type of person. America is like a belligerent adolescent boy, Canada is like an intelligent thirty-five-year-old woman. Australia is like Jack Nicholson. It comes right up to you and laughs very hard in your face in a highly threatening manner. In fact it’s not so much a country as such, more a sort of thin crust of semi-demented civilization caked around the edge of a vast, raw wilderness, full of heat and dust and hopping things.

Tell most Australians that you like their country and they will give you a dry laugh and say, “Well it’s the last place left now, isn’t it?” which is the sort of worrying thing that Australians say. You don’t quite know what they mean but it worries you in case they’re right.

Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt: Hitchiking the galaxy one last time

Day 17:

It is hard to find enough peace to work when the roller coaster never stops. In Coober Pedy, we found it hard to get onto stories. The general notion was the people like to stick to themselves and don’t necessarily want to put themselves out there. We could have gone on a touristy mining tour, but we are after real stories with real people, so that would go against our creed, I think. Still, we got an interview with “Princess” Leah at the local council. She was a great source of information, and although a bit reluctant to put herself on camera, in front of an audience of work mates, she did a fantastic job.

In other, backdated news from the opal capital of the world, we really got to experience Coober Pedy as described by our friendly waiter at the Desert Cave Hotel the first night. It is indeed a “freaky little town.”

The night after my last blog, we were out doing a photo shoot with Dida. Her current project involves painting with torches at night. It was necessarily quite late. We were only about 500 metres from our campsite, across the desert and the motorway, over by a big mining truck that welcomes you to Coober Pedy.

At approximately 2am, we were heading back to camp. We were on foot and carrying three cameras, four chairs, two laptops,one tripod and a number of bags. As we’re crossing the motorway, four local bikers rode past on two bikes, shouting obscenities at us. The only words I recognized were “you motherfuckeeers!”

The bikes stopped a few hundred meters up the road, spun around and came charging through the sand towards us. Behind me Ben yelped, “I think we better run, guys..!” I turned, to see him grab all the stuff he could carry, dashing towards the fence between us and the campsite. The rest of us followed as fast as we could. Behind it was our safety zone.

the bikers were gaining rapidly, and split up as if trying to box us in. The one to our left was coming in at high speed. To my right, Eirik threw some chairs over the fence and started climbing. To my left, Dida was struggling to negotiate the rather tall obstacle. I was working out how to get my gear over without damaging it. I threw my laptop through the steel pickets and it came siding back. I threw it again, and stepped down to give Dida a hand getting over. In the corner of my eye, I saw Ben screaming. His face twisted with fear: “Get over that fence, Steinar, GET OVER THAT FENCE!”

In one rapid motion, he grabbed Dida and sent her flying over the fence, following himself, half a second later. I shrugged, jumped over, and we were all clear. Phew! Eirik marched straight into his tent, pulled the zipper, and said nothing until the next day. The rest of us stayed up a couple of hours, unable to sleep due to the adrenaline rush.

Overreaction? Regardless, the terror we felt was very real. I think, a cross between Deliverance and Mad Max.

Interesting first impression of the outback, no doubt. In Roxby Downs we were almost run down by drunken bogans swerving between our tents in a car at four in the morning. Two days later we get chased by motorcycles.

Selective mentions, yes. There have been an array of wonderful things happening as well. We have now spent three days in Yulara, at the Ayers Rock resort. This morning we finally had a break from the torrential rain and thunderstorms, and I finally got to see the sun rise over Uluru, at five a.m.

What a stunning rock it is.

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One Response to “Fear and loathing in Coober Pedy”

  1. j.c.b says:

    as a coober pedy resident i find this story a load of bullshit having lived here for over 25 years i have never read such shit as this

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