Australia :: June 1994 - March 1995

Subject: Coober Pedy's dry.
Date: November 1, 1994 03:06

8:00 Coober Pedy, South Australia :: 30 OCT 94

A one-time colleague of mine at BillG's sweatshop loves to tell the story of an experience in Irvine, Texas, on the outskirts of Dallas. While working for a company that would eventually become Microsoft property, Gordon was visiting an IBM site on business. It was after-hours, which in the computing world means sometime after dinner, probably, so Gordon and a couple co-workers were looking for something to do. For Gordon, something to do usually involves beer. I should know, he hired me only after I answered correctly his clutch interview question, "Do you drink?" It was the beginning of a beautiful drinking relationship. But I was getting to Gordon's story. . .

Gordon and buddies are driving along looking for beer, which is much easier in the States than in our Canadian home since Americans sell alcohol in supermarkets and 7-11s -- how civilized! That almost makes up for how meek the beer is. Anyway, it was one of the latter they pulled into and Gordon stepped from the car with the anticipation of a man about to fulfill a basic human need.
Now, 7-11s usually stock beer somewhere near the front of the store, but it wasn't there. Nor was there any in the pop coolers, or by the milk or juice. There wasn't even any warm beer in the center aisles. Don't you hate it when you can't find something in a store, but you know it's there?
Gordon ran another circuit of the aisles with no more luck. Confused, he approached the attendant at cash, a 50ish Texan with one of those full-on drawls.
"Excuse me, sir." Gordon began, "I can't seem to find the beer!?"
The reply came, and imagine the thickest Southern accent possible,
"Son, yer in Uhrvahne; Uhrvahne's dryh."
Gordon leaned forward on the counter. "Well then tell me, how do I get out of 'Uhrvahne'."

I'm telling you this story because last night Katrin, Stan (the car) and I pulled into Coober Pedy and had an experience that reminded me of Gord's. To set the scene, here's what the Lonely Planet guide says about Coober Pedy (population 2000), The self-proclaimed Opal Capitol of the World:

On the Stuart Highway, 860 km north of Adelaide, Coober Pedy is one of the best known outback towns. The name is Aboriginal and means 'white fellow's hole in the ground', which aptly describes the place, as a large portion of the population live in dugouts to shelter from daytime temperatures that can soar over 50 degrees Celsius and cold winter nights.
Coober Pedy is an extremely inhospitable area and the town reflects this; even in the middle of winter it looks dried out and dusty with piles of junk everywhere. This is no attractive little settlement, in fact it's hardly surprising that much of 'Mad Max III' was filmed here—the town looks like the end of the world!

I've heard an Australian say of Coober Pedy, "It's not the asshole of the world, but you can see it from there!" Well, at least you can't smell it too, like you can in Kamloops, BC.

So we're looking for accommodation of some sort within viewing distance of Earth's sphincter and are quickly coming to realize that pitching a tent may be the only reasonable solution. The town has some finely appointed cave dorms with ventilation fans that rumble like an F-16 on takeoff. You can also rent 1/5 of a mobile home, two saggy beds without linen and a fluorescent light for $25.

The camping grounds we're nothing more than leveled piles of mulloch, the earth-waste remaining after all the opals have been extracted from it, but they at least would only cost us $10. And there was one more on the edge of town we hadn't checked out yet. We crossed our fingers, hoped for something softer and pulled in to reception at the NEW Stuart Range Caravan Park!

"You wouldn't happen to have any grass sites?" I asked.

The clerk at reception laughed, "There ain't no grass in Coober Pedy!"

I desperately wanted to reply, "Then tell me, how do I get out of Coober Pedy?" A simple reality held my tongue: 153 kilometers separated the bottom of our tent from the nearest grass, and that was back up the Stuart Highway that we'd just come down.

"So. I see you have powered sites for just $12. We'll take one of those."

At least I didn't have to recharge my camcorder and computer batteries in the loo; power points in campgrounds are provided so the modern man can tote his Norelco, not his Toshiba.

Patrick. -- Responses Sought --

Our nature lies in movement; complete calm is death.
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