SOUTH AUSTRALIA, 5722 Grid Reference: 30.27.90 S / 137.9.20 E
Andamooka is an quirky outback town with a rather colourful history and where adversity is just another word.
Scratch beneath the dusty surface of this unspoilt and historic mining town and just like the opal it is famous for, you’ll find its true colours shining.
You go to, not through Andamooka, and although the roads leading to this small opal mining township are now well sealed and all weather, this was not always the case.
The town’s isolated location was first sighted by explorer, John MacDouall Stuart in 1858, marked and named as one of the several waterholes in the region. Subsequently Andamooka Station was established, taking out a pastoral lease in 1872 which encompassed the area.
Our remote township, which lies inside the station boundaries arose in the 1933 following the discovery of opal in the area by the boundary riders in 1930. Eighty years on, the town is celebrating the fourth generation of the first settlers whose journeys began post World War I, so their stories continue today.
As an example of the cultural mix, the first formal newsletter in August, 1978 was published in three languages, English, Hungarian and Yugoslavian. Many Andamookans today are direct descendants of the tough individuals that braved the harsh desert elements following barely discernible outback tracks in all types of early model vehicles, or in some cases braving the elements on foot, all carting in the bare necessities to dig the unforgiving landscape they claimed.
During the 60’s the population swelled to a peak of over 2000. Once known as ‘the last frontier’ because of its self- governance which defied regulation by ‘outsiders’, Andamooka has had more than its share of colourful characters and intriguing stories which underpin the national and global significance of the township’s unique history and heritage.
Woven into the history is the symbiotic relationship between the miners and the indigenous peoples that nomadically frequented the area up to the 1970s and who benefited from ‘noodling’ the heaps and selling back opal to miners in order to purchase supplies from the township. At peak the indigenous population was around 100 of the 300 residents in 1959 and they were very much a part of Andamooka’s early history.
Andamooka is a wonderful story of migrant integration and mixed cultures being thrown together in an isolated and desolate environment, of freedoms and conflicts, of boom and bust, of hardships and bonanzas, and the town that the community built from the desert sand up through sheer determination and a willingness to support one- another, despite their background or beliefs and a desperate lack of resources.
As a consequence, Andamooka is known for its‘ great act of defiance attitude, resilience to adversity, its’ adaptability …. and also for its big heart.
Today much of the township remains as it was since the discovery of opal here in 1930, focussed around the opal industry. The style of construction used in the residences and facilities is unique to Andamooka and each opal field in Australia has a distinctive method of extracting the gemstone and hence the equipment innovation and style of machinery is unique to Andamooka. With increasing international demand and new methods of presenting opal in jewellery design, opal is enjoying a revival. High quality stones from Andamooka are in great demand, if not in ready supply.
With increasing international demand and new methods of presenting opal in jewellery design, opal is enjoying a revival. High quality stones from Andamooka are in great demand, if not in ready supply.
Andamooka opals were once in good supply but they are elusive in this region unlike the more predictable higher bearing ground at Coober Pedy some 400kms north-west. The saying goes around here that ‘if you want to find opal, you got to shift dirt’, which is expensive with modern day machinery, so supply is getting more difficult and more expensive and there are less miners working claims which are generally larger than the 50x50m claims mined originally.
Generally, Andamooka opal miners are a pretty congenial bunch and as long as visitors are mindful of not entering or fossicking on claims uninvited, many are happy to show visitors around their operations and to show them where to fossick. (Check the Visitors Guide to Fossicking)
Although the opal boom of the 60s is over and the population has swelled and waned with the mining booms of Olympic Dam, the pioneer spirit of the town lives on.
When Olympic Dam was at its peak between 2006 and 2011 the town experienced a large influx of ‘out-of- towners’ and the culture of the township altered. Nowadays, as a surprising consequence to the recent downsizing of Olympic Dam, a copper and uranium mine located 35 kilometres to the North West, the fortitude of the community has lifted in the character of the pioneers that built the town, rallying to revive their culture and advance the town as a unique visitor destination built around its’ rich opal heritage and individuality.
According to visitor feedback, Andamooka is different to most outback towns because here they can enjoy a step back in time to the 60s and beyond when hospitality was at a handshake. Visitors appreciate that Andamookans’ are a fiercely independent community who have worked hard building the town in this isolated environment, mostly as volunteers and willingly sharing their earnings to build their homes, facilities and services.
The resulting unique buildings, some made from the barest materials, many with distinctive stone features impregnated with opal, and others transported in from places such as Woomera, Leigh Creek and Maralinga, each have a tale to tell. Many Andamooka homes have grown from a single rough metal clad room to deceivingly spacious residences whose flamboyant interiors contrast with their often ramshackle exteriors.
With tourism in mind the community, led by the Andamooka Progress and Opal Miners Association, have been busy developing the caravan and camping ground and other visitor facilities, as well as restoring and creating historic displays. A new arts development program is set to enliven the town revitalising and exposing many talents across a range of genres that are hidden within the town. For those seeking more adventure, Andamooka is located a short distance from the shores of Lake Torrens, which is a hauntingly beautiful salt lake of great significance to indigenous peoples, and this together with the nearby historic settlement of Farina, offers inspiring day trip options to visitors.
Local business has got behind this revival. The renowned Tuckabox Hotel with its unique stone façade has enjoyed renovations and an Underground Opal Museum has been built beneath the Post Office. The museum houses an amazing display of Andamooka opal and other precious stones with visitors having the opportunity to watch traditional opal cutting demonstrations. The Dine-a-mite Cafe serves take away food at the Community Hall, and quality accommodation options include the increasingly popular caravan and camping ground, the Bottle House Motel and family friendly short stay shacks.
The annual calendar of events is being developed to offer a raft of Andamooka style events including long weekends of traditional activities and special events including the annual Camp Oven Cook-Out in August. Andamooka’s legends and stories are being compiled and these will be shared from time to time through a series of historic exhibits in the Community Hall.
Like many other outback towns, Andamooka has floods, wild flowers, dust-storms, warm sunny winters, brilliant sunrises and sunsets, magnificent starry nights, prolific birdlife and striking landscapes. It has been described by many as a photographer’s paradise.
But as numerous visitors to Andamooka will tell you, what really sets Andamooka apart is, the people. Welcoming and laid back, there is a strong heartbeat within this rather unconventional outback town.