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Excerpts from the DCCP Agenda for the February 21  Meeting

From Steve Staines, Outback Tourism Project Development Officer 

Sunrise Nursery 

The OTPDO has been assisting a potential New Enterprise Assistance Scheme (NEIS) client.  The NEIS program aims to help eligible unemployed start their own businesses. The Sunrise Nursery will be established to finance the further development of the Coober Pedy Wildlife Park and the establishment of a Devonshire tea room overlooking the wildlife park. 

Coober Pedy Glendi 

The OTPDO has been working with representatives from the Coober Pedy Greek Community on an initiative aimed at boosting visitor numbers to the Coober Pedy Glendi as well as promoting Coober Pedy at the Adelaide Glendi. The initiative will involve the Coober Pedy Greek Community Club Inc. hiring a tent at the Adelaide Glendi to promote Coober Pedy and the Coober Pedy Glendi. The initiative will also involve the transportation of mullock from the opal fields to the tent site to create a noodling area. This will give the area a distinctive Coober Pedy feel and will make a unique display, thereby attracting increased attention. Tourism Traineeships Paul Brock, Business SA will travel to Coober Pedy in early March to engage the following trainees:   

Oasis Caravan Park – Caravan Park Operations Trainee  

Discount Opal House - Tourism/Retail Trainee  

NRDB – Tourism/Administration Trainee

Old Timers Mine – Tourism/Retail Trainee

  The OTPDO will continue to work with Business SA and Coober Pedy businesses to ensure maximum outcomes from this project.   


The 2006 Coober Pedy Opal Festival will be held over the Easter Weekend in April during which a street parade will be held on Saturday 15th April 2006, commencing at 1.00 pm in Hutchison Street, necessitating the temporary road closure of Hutchison Street between Umoona Road and Giles Street. 


Council is in receipt of correspondence from Mr Robin Walker, President, Coober Pedy Football Club, requesting consideration by Council for approval to use the Coober Pedy town oval for the purposes of training twice a week and holding four home and away games during the 2006 season. The games will be held on the following dates: 06/05/2006 Round 2 03/06/2006 Round 6 24/06/2006 Round 9 29/07/2006 Round 13 Mr Walker’s letter also requests that the Woomera & Districts Football League retain gate takings as it did in 2005. He has also requested the use of the portable toilet facilities and line-marking of the oval for each of the four games to be played in Coober Pedy. In 2005 Council approved the above and waived the costs associated with toilet hire and line-marking of the oval and it would seem appropriate to do so again in 2006.



Electricity Fuel Price Meeting 

Report to Council from Damien Clark, Manager Finance and Administration 

As you would be aware Council has been incurring all of the price increases in fuel for the last 18 months since enGen took over Electricity Generation in Coober Pedy.

To give you an overview as to the increases we have incurred over the past 12 months I provide the following details of the difference in price per kWh from contact signing to today.

 Contract Signed December 2003 - 71.2 cents per kWh.

Account from January 2006 - 105.8 cents per kWh.

This is nearly a 50% increase in fuel price over 18 months. 

This is such an issue for us because the fuel component makes up about 75% of each account.   We have been talking to Energy SA for about 12 months about this issue. The State Government wanted to see what fuel prices would do and whether it is going to be a long term issue. As we all know now it appears to be a long term issue. 

You will note in the Budget review documents that the fuel increase of nearly $600,000 has led to Council’s position of being over budget.   In the past 8 months Energy SA has given assurances that they would find money for Council in order for it not to be in deficit.   At the moment the fuel price increase has been financed be the LGFA line of credit ($1.5M). At this stage Council will run out of money between June and August this year.

 I will be in Adelaide on Monday 20th February to meet with Mr John Clark, Energy SA, to discuss the advice given by Treasury to Energy SA and Council. 

I will provide a verbal report at the Council meeting on any outcomes of my discussion with Mr Clark.


Archived copy

Dugout Construction - an appraisal

By Gary D. Atkins

"Alternative Housing" and "Country Comfort" magazines are about home construction and lifestyle in environments where timber and rainfall and ground rock are reliable and predictable in supply, in areas within maybe 100 Km from provincial or capital cities, with bitumen road access for most of the journey.

But what about being over 500 km of dirt road from the nearest provincial city, virtually no local timber supply, unpredictable and very low rainfall, scorching heat for about 6 months of the year, no local sand for concreting and virtually no local feral animals for meat, minimal soil for vegetable or fruit growing, no reticulated water supply.

Whereas most alternative lifestylers make the choice to leave the city and its conveniences because of the rat race and go to a place where they know they can survive under the conditions, my choice to leave the city was not to get away from the rat race but to follow where I believed the Lord was leading me, not knowing how I would survive in the new environment other than by trusting in Him.

And so I came to Coober Pedy in January 1983, in the middle of the harsh outback Australian summer.

I got an annual lease on a block of land in the town. Someone before me had worked a bulldozer to push faces on the east and south sides of a small hill on the block.

No electricity, no water, no phone, no home.

Just a Ford station wagon to sleep in, and a pick, a shovel and a steel rim wheelbarrow to build with.

I started my home by scratching the outline of a doorway in the east face, and began hitting at the ground with the pick. Sticking to it in spare time after work it took me about two months to dig a drive long and wide enough to lay out my bedroll, so that I didn't have to sleep in the Ford anymore.

The ground I was working in was called sandstone by everyone, but it was not sandstone. It was more like chalk, soft enough to scratch with your fingernail, but holding together enough so that a strong blow with the pick only knocked out a piece about the size of a golf ball. After a while I got more used to "reading the ground" and was able to strike the pick along weaknesses in the ground and got bigger pieces out.

Experienced miners used to laugh at me banging away with my pick. They used electric or compressed air powered jackpicks, and explosives, and tunnelling machines, having left their early days of hand picks behind. But that was OK, the pick was all that I had, and I had to make use of what I had and could afford. The great thing about going so slow was being forced to learn to read the ground and learning to make the most of every blow with the pick.

I found a tin bucket that I used to fill and carry to the barrow that I 'parked' outside the little drive. Whatever quantity of ground that I broke out with the pick made 3 to 4 times the volume of the solid ground. I wheeled it away and tipped it, constructing an elevated level at the base of the face, sloping away from the face.

It was amazing the difference in temperature in that little drive from the outside temperature, even without any barrier at the entrance to keep out the hot air.

Each morning wakened by daylight I would roll up my bedroll and start picking away at the end of the "bedroom". At nightfall I cleared away the last of the broken sandstone on the sandstone floor and lay down my swag, or bedroll, for the night. I did all cooking and washing out in the open with the dust and heat and flies. I burnt timber off cuts from the town rubbish dump to cook food and heat water. The flies attacked all the time, all day. While using the pick you didn't have time to put the pick down and brush away the flies - you just flicked your head from side to side to get rid of them, or else you tried to blow them away with your breath. One problem with that was if a fly was crawling into your eye and you blew hard upwards to try to get rid of it, you finished up blowing all the fine dust that had settled on your cheeks into your eyes. The other problem was when shaving and a fly settled on your nose and began its inevitable journey towards your eyes and you flicked your head to dislodge the fly, you ran the risk of slicing a chunk of skin off with the razor as well as the whiskers.

Months passed and I had dug a drive straight in about three bedroll lengths. So I started going off to one side and eventually dug out enough to be able to leave my swag on the floor instead of rolling it up to make room to work with the pick.

All this time I had no door. Then I scrounged one from an abandoned house. But how to fix it to the sandstone? I finished up doing it thus: carefully with a chisel I dug an opening in the wall about 30cm in from the edge of the face, measuring just a fraction under 75x50 mm, and about 20cm deep. Then I belted a tight fitting piece of 75x50 timber into the hole with a hammer. I did two of these, one high, one low, on one side, and two more on the other side. To the ends sticking out of the wall I nailed the door frame, and hung the door. Before I was able to afford cement for making mortar I used screwed up newspaper sheets to fill in the gaps between the door/window frames and the rough sandstone surface. You could spend a lot of time smoothing off the rough sandstone if you really wanted to - the tool I used was an adze that I made by welding an axe head at right angles to a piece of galvanised water pipe.

Later on I found a simpler way to fix timber to sandstone - I drilled a hole through the timber, diameter slightly smaller that a piece of steel rod. Then I belted the steel rod (pointed) through the hole and straight into the sandstone.

It was great have a door to be able to keep out the hot air. But dark. So I planned to cut a hole in the door and put in a piece of glass. But I couldn't find any glass so I had to leave the door open a bit to let in light. 

As time went by I had enough money to buy a generator and a jackpick. Although still working as hard, progress was much greater with the electric jackpick.

Then I started on the south face and dug rooms for a kitchen, a bathroom, lounge room and bedroom. I added a verandah and put in windows. The hill above the verandah was covered with stones that shed rain off the hill, but without a verandah the bare sandstone above the kitchen window would have been washed away because the sandstone absorbs moisture and being soft, it wears away quickly. If you drop a piece into a glass of water you can see streams of water bubbles rising from it. Get close and you can hear a kind of singing sound as the water gets sucked into the sandstone and displaces the air. It's as if the dry rock that has spent eternity in the dry desert is so happy to get wet it has to sing to express its joy. Leave it there for a few days and it will become a shapeless sludge at the bottom of the glass.

Electrical wiring can be laid in narrow, shallow 'trenches' dug with the pick, and covered them with plaster. Power points can be fixed to the sandstone with nails. Any plumbing drains can be laid in trenches in the floor and floor slabs of concrete can be laid over them. Toilets can be 'long drops', just a shaft drilled by a drilling contractor, 3 feet radius and anything up to 60 feet deep. Walls and ceilings can be sealed with varnish or paint. That needs to be done soon after digging because high humidity after rainy weather gets absorbed by the sandstone surface, and when dry weather comes, the surface flakes off.

The temperature in a dugout is very moderate, depending on how big the rooms are, how far they are beneath the surface, how much area is taken up with windows, if there is a verandah or not. Most of my rooms are right next to the face, with windows for natural light. I have one room that is dug at the rear of the kitchen and it is also lower, reached by 14 steps. In this room the maximum temperature in summer does not go above 25 degrees C, while the outside temperature can get up to 55. In winter it doesn't get below 19 but outside it may get to zero degrees. There is no need for artificial heating in winter or cooling in summer in that room.

Ventilation can be by open windows. In some dugouts ventilation is by air shafts, where drills were used above the rooms on hilltops that are reasonably flat to place a truck mounted drill on. If you want to add a TV or stereo or aquarium, no need to build another room - dig a hole in the wall and put the stuff in there.

Experience tells you how wide to make a room, depending on the ground. Some ground will take wider spans than other. Doming helps with wider spans.

In 1983 when I started my 'dugout', as it is known locally, there was no local government in Coober Pedy. Which meant there were no permissions required, no need to submit building plans, no regulations for building dugouts. Now, 23 years later, with local government, things have changed, and all regulations and permissions are in force.

My dugout is a bit of a rarity in Coober Pedy because it is one that was started by hand with a pick. In a lot of the early dugouts explosives were used, and more recently tunnelling machines have been used.

The ideal way to build a dugout is to use a bulldozer to push a face on a hill and then to use a tunnelling machine into the face and make all rooms on the one level. Semi-dugouts are OK - just use an excavator or backhoe to dig a hole on flat ground and then fit a stairway and a floor and build above the hole. Use the underground room as a bedroom for summer. A third method is to tunnel into the side of a bulldozer cut.

It's best to site a dugout on the east or south side of a hill, to avoid exposure to the long, hot, afternoon summer sunshine.


Historical anecdotes say that soldiers returning from WW1 trench warfare dug holes in the hillsides in the Stuart Range where the present township of Coober Pedy is sited, in the first days of settlement by people of European descent, to escape the intense summer heat. Digging was done with picks and explosives. 'Dugouts', as they are called, were of only a room or two, with dirt floors and no windows.

Well over a half century since then, local dugout building expertise has reached a sophistication comparable with any modern housing style, which included underground saunas, billiard rooms, pianos, and carpets, and tiled bathrooms. A well ventilated dugout with large rooms sited on the east or south side of a hill could house a large family, and have no need for any artificial heating in summer or cooling in winter. Each owner builder learnt from the other how to construct beautiful underground dwellings. During all this time there was no local government, and thus no building regulations etc. Many lovely underground homes were secured in tenure by a simple annual 'occupation lease', administered by the South Australian State Government Lands Department. An official from the capital city, Adelaide, would visit the town at various times and if he considered the lessee had constructed something of a reasonably permanent nature, he would give permission for the lease to be converted into a freehold property, ownership passing totally into the hands of the former leaseholder upon payment of the required fee.

When local government commenced in Coober Pedy things changed a lot. The District Council of Coober Pedy suddenly found itself under the jurisdiction of the State Local Government Department. This meant, among other things, that all building had to be controlled by the Council. This was no great problem in the case of conventional above ground dwellings and business premises, because building regulations from 'down south' could easily be adopted. But when it came to sub surface habitation, in other words "dugout", there was no known set of regulations that could be applied.

This was a case of local knowledge being the only body of knowledge that could be drawn upon to formulate a set of regulations that could be administered by a local authority under the control of a state authority.

This was a fact recognised by state government, and it sent a man up from the city, experienced in conventional building regulations. He invited anyone with local dugout building experience, be they owner builders, building contractors, opal miners etc., and convened a meeting in a Coober Pedy motel. Many locals responded. Each one was invited to submit details of their involvement in the building industry, particularly in dugout construction. From this meeting the first details of draft legal requirements for dugout construction were recorded. Following that, a Draft Policy for dugout construction was written. Later it was amended and passed by the Council. (See Coober Pedy News No. 12 -

Round about this time dugout construction was going at such a pace that a couple of miners had changed occupation and taken on dugout building with their tunnelling machines. There was such a demand for dugouts that all the town area blocks with a hill were taken up. Steps were taken to enlarge the town area to include hilly areas adjacent to the existing town area. As soon as this move became known, and before it came into being, speculative miners went to those areas and pegged double mining claims and pushed a face. That way they were complying with the mining requirement of not pushing dirt outside the boundaries of their claims. Then they pulled the pegs of the two claims and pegged another claim where the face was pushed and were able to 'sell' a ready made dugout site. All available area was taken up, and then another extension of the town boundary took place, and that all got taken up too, except for the sites that didn't have a hill for easy face pushing.

At this stage there are no current moves to enlarge the town boundary any further.

Starting with the formation of the District Council of Coober Pedy, the South Australian Local Government Department put pressure on the fledgling council to get control of dugout construction. 

Late in 2002 the Minister for Local Government wrote to the Mayor, Eric Malliotis, stressing the need for a geo-technical engineer to assess dugout development prior to the start of construction. (See Coober Pedy News No 12).

Mr Malliotis realised the prohibitive cost that would be involved for locals, and that local knowledge would be more likely to give an intelligent appraisal of ground being considered for a dugout than a geo-technical engineer from 'down south'.

He fought the Minister and won.

In December 2002 the Council moved to investigate the availability of suitable local people to form a review panel for dugout construction. (See Coober Pedy News No. 22 -

On February 24, 2003, the Council formed its Dugout Construction Advisory Committee and appointed the members as Authorised Officers. See Coober Pedy News No 26 -



The Coober Pedy News is ranked number 6 on Google for 'coober pedy'.


Riba's Underground Camping
Underground Books  

Splash out for the kids

If you can splash, swim, dog-paddle or duck-dive, the Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children needs your help!

Its 2006 Splash for Cash swimathon is aiming to raise $50,000 for children with vision or hearing impairment. Swimming one lap or 100, with pledges from friends and family, will help to make a difference to the lives of these children - and there are fantastic Qantas prizes to be won.

You can choose your own date and place to splash out, but it must happen before 27 March.

If swimming is not your thing, but you still want to make a difference to children’s lives, why not sponsor Tom, a student who attends RIDBC’s Alice Betteridge School?

Tom has impaired vision and hearing, as well as cerebral palsy. He loves to swim, and will splash out for the fifth year in a row at this year’s Splash for Cash.

All funds raised will help RIDBC to assist over 700 children with serious disabilities, and their families. RIDBC relies heavily on community support to continue to make a difference in children's lives.

For more information or to register, call (02) 9871 1233 or visit www.splashfor  Splash for Cash is supported by Qantas, Rotaract and Rotary.


For media inquiries please contact Janet Granger-Wilcox on 9872 0334 or 0409 029 298. More information about the Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children can be found at

In the previous issue of the Coober Pedy News it was reported that the Family First Upper House member, Andrew Evans was to visit Coober Pedy and talk about the lapsing of the Relationships Bill. But the visit was cancelled. 


Excerpts (Cont.)

Report (part of) from Trevor McLeod, CEO

At the meeting held on 18th October 2005 Council resolved that it undertake consultation with the residents of Bartrum Street to ascertain their comments and/or suggestions regarding the request to correct the spelling of that street name to Bartram Street. 

It is well past the closing date for receipt of any comments as requested and to date Council has not received a single comment. 

As indicated in my report presented at that meeting, the Coober Pedy Historical Society supports the correction of the street name to reflect the accuracy of what was originally intended, that being to acknowledge the contribution of the ‘Bartram’ family to the opal mining industry in Coober Pedy. 

 Although the owners and occupiers of Bartrum Street did not respond, there are issues that could be impacted by an official name change and they include but are not limited to re-gazettal of the road, records of State and Local Government authorities, personal records, licences etc etc. In light of the above Mr Bartram advises that he would be satisfied if the street signs were simply corrected.