Coober Pedy: inside the Australian town where people live underground

Could subterranean homes be an answer to rising global temperatures and increasingly inhospitable conditions?

A family in 1989 enjoy life in their underground home
An Australian family at home in Coober Pedy in 1989
(Image credit: Dirck Halstead/Liaison via GettyImages)

In the dry, desolate landscape of the Australian Outback 500 miles north of Adelaide stands Coober Pedy, a seemingly unremarkable town of 2,500 people. But all is not what it seems here.

That is because 60% of the population live underground in this opal-mining centre, the name of which comes from an indigenous Australian term that roughly translates as “white man in a hole”. There are still 70 opal fields operating in the area but many of the old shafts and tunnels have been converted over time into living quarters. And as the number of subterranean dwellers has increased so churches, a hair salon, a bookshop and even a pool room have also been built.

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Rebekah Evans joined The Week as newsletter editor in 2023 and has written on subjects ranging from Ukraine and Afghanistan to fast fashion and "brotox". She started her career at Reach plc, where she cut her teeth on news, before pivoting into personal finance at the height of the pandemic and cost-of-living crisis. Social affairs is another of her passions, and she has interviewed people from across the world and from all walks of life. Rebekah completed an NCTJ with the Press Association and has written for publications including The Guardian, The Week magazine, the Press Association and local newspapers.