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COOBER PEDY OPAL MINE, UNDERGROUND POST OFFICE, SOUTH AUSTRALIA

The cover has an orange ½d KGV Head stamp as well as the purple 1½d KGVI definitve stamp postmarked COOBER PEDY/ 26 NO 36/ S.A and it was addressed to a Mr. L. Franklin, Brokes Street, Inglewood, Taranaki, New Zealand.  At the bottom L.H.S. the post master has printed has printed a ms. From/ Coober Pedy/ The Only Underground/ Dug Out/ Post Office/ In The World/ A.P. North, Postmaster (Figure 1).

There was also a printed insert which had a message that was the same as the manuscript on the front of the cover (Figure 2).

A post office was first established at Stuart’s Range Opal Fields on 18 th September 1920. The office was under the control of J.J. Fitzgerald. Mails were exchanged weekly with Kingoonya via Bon Bon Station, the mail contractor being G.R. Norton.

The Post Office was located underground as protection from the heat but was shifted to a store above the ground in November 1953.

Situated on the main road between Adelaide and Darwin, Coober Pedy attracts many visitors interested in opal mining, cutting and polishing. Most of the population is engaged in mining activities and lives in underground "dug outs" which give protection from wind, dust, heat and flies. Opals were found in Coober Peedy in1915 and by the early 1920's the area was heavily inhabited by miners. The "Olympic Australis", reputed to being one of the largest opals in the world was found at Coober Pedy in 1956.

Files listing postmasters in Coober Pedy only date back to 1962 when Guiseppe Corio was appointed postmaster on the 1st September.

Another filedated 13.9.62 read:

"Coober Pedy is an opal mining town situated 169 miles north of Kingoonya. It is served once weekly by road mail service from Kingoonya. Letter Class articles are also carried once weekly by air from Port Augusta. Telegraph traffic is transmitted by Outpost radio. Telephone facilities are not available,"

Mr. Steedman Sneddon suceeded Mr. Corio on 19th August 1964 and remained Postmaster until June 1966, when Mr Coro again took office.

Money Order and Commonwealth Savings Bank facilities were introduced on 1st March 1968.

Records dated April 1982, state that the Coober Pedy Post Office is a self contained full time service office conducted in a building owned by "Miners Store Pty Ltd". Refurbishing in 1982 included the provision of new private boxes and improved accommodation.

A letter from the State Philatelic Officer, Australia Post, Adelaide 16 August 1985 to a stamp dealer’s office in Melbourne states that this cover "is not an ‘official’ envelope used by Australia Post (or the then Postmaster General Department. It appears to be a souvenir envelope developed by the [Coober Pedy] postmaster......The Declaration of Secrecy’ signed by A P North confirms he was the Postmaster and his appointment commenced on 24 December 1936, succeeding Mrs R J Rogers and he remained postmaster, Coober Pedy until 1January 1941 when William Henry Oliver was appointed."

Another insert, this one was from A. W. White, Inspector, 8/7/20:

1. The Subject was about Stuart’s Range Opal Field and it was sent to the Deputy Postmaster-General: "Since the submission of my report dated 18/6/20, the residents of the opal fields have held a meeting regarding the name of the of proposed post office at that place, Stuart’s Range, being unsuitable owing to its similarity to Stewart’s Range in the South-eastern district.

2. At the meeting above-mentioned the following names were submitted in their order of preference - Coober Pedy, an aboriginal term meaning ‘white man living in a hole’; Opal Range; Hutchinson; Gemville.

3. As it will take some time for the question of the name to be finalised it is suggested that the Lands Department be approached as to whether there is any objection to the adoption of the name of Coober Pedy, Opal Range, Hutchinson or Gemville in their order of preference as the name of the post office proposed to be established at Stuart’s Range Opal Fields, 114 miles west of William Creek and 170 miles north of Kingoonya.

4. A decision regarding the name will facilitate the opening of the post office when the matter of the mail service has been finalised.

5. I recommend action be taken accordingly".

Another source of information was Martin Walker’s book ‘ Post, Telegraph and Telephone Offices of South Australia and the Northern Territory’ 2004, page 86. The entry in the book was divided into two parts, and of interest there was a small amount of additional history about the post office (Figure 3).

Of greater interest was the picture of a workman, which was inscribed A,P. North (lower left) as well as ‘Bank’ (top left) and sign-posted ‘Post Office’ (top right) (Figure 4).

As already mentioned underground living was common in Coober Pedy and there were fine pictures of an underground church for the Australian Serbian community, the Comfort Inn., and a kitchen in a private house (Figures 5, 6 & 7).

Australia’s biggest and best known opal town dates back to 1915 when a teenager (William Hutchinson, whose surname was once considered as the future name for the town) stumbled on the "Surface Opal Nobbies" while gold prospecting with his father. The first mining claim was pegged on 9th February 1915. Today there are many opal producing fields in and around Coober Pedy, all in a radius of 50 km of the town.

Many of the dugouts are elaborate with all modern conveniences and sustain an all year temperature of 25 degrees Celsius. During the height of summer temperatures can reach into the 50's outside whilst in winter the temperatures can fall below 10 degrees. Most of the year it is glorious weather--one day beautiful perfect the next, averaging mid 20's. The annual rainfall is only 110 mm making water as precious as the opal that is mined. People have found opal whilst walking around, kicking stones over, or noodling (fossiking) in the disused mining dumps. An example of a rough Coober Pedy opal is seen in Figure 8.

The map shows Coober Pedy, South Australia (seen at the point of the red arrow), and Adelaide, the capital of the State is seen at the lower right (Figure 9).

The town is situated at the edge of the Stuart Range on a treeless plain, which is covered with only sparse scrub and thousands of working and abandoned mines as far as the eye can see. This desolate landscape was obviously why Coober Pedy was chosen for the shooting of many feature movies. These include: Mad Max one, two and three; Beyond Thunderdome; Mars The Red Planet; Pitch Black; Down & Under; and others.

 

 
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