“In A Hole In The Ground…”

In the desert, no one can hear you dream.

The town of Coober Pedy is built on the dreams and hopes of ordinary men and women. Their unique lifestyle in the face of the stark, harsh reality of this ancient land inspired insights into the way of living well.

And dust was my companion, and thirst caked all our words.
Unearthing nearly nothing, we swarmed like carrion birds.
Some for fortune, some for greed, some for want, some for need;
but you could only find yourself that way
— The Church

It’s late afternoon and the sun is low on the horizon, casting a golden glow over the pinks and reds of the desert. We’ve arrived in Coober Pedy in South Australia and weave around the few streets searching for our accommodation for the evening: a ‘dugout’ home.


The landscape of this town looks almost apocalyptic: rusting machinery and small heaps of sandy rubble interspersed with rooftops, disused water tanks, TV antennae, and ventilation shafts.

Our dugout is quite gorgeous. The space is carved into the side of a small hill, with a typical front entrance and windows. It’s furnished like any modest, modern city apartment with unobtrusive downlights and bespoke looking furniture.

My partner (who is from California originally) keeps making comments about cave-ins, and I have to keep reminding her that this isn’t San Francisco. Her innate wariness about quake-proof engineering cant shut off.


Here I stand in the middle of the land
— Hoodoo Gurus

Coober Pedy is a town in the South Australian desert, about 8–9 hours NW of Adelaide. It’s renowned worldwide for its opals, which has attracted prospectors since the first discovery this precious gem in 1915.

Its population is only around 2000, and yet is probably the most multicultural town in Australia. I was told there are at present 47 different nationalities represented, which make up around 60% of the total population. This doesn’t include the 17% of local indigenous population.

This area was the traditional country of the Antakirinja and Muntunjarra peoples, and was named after the sacred Red Mulga tree. The landscape definitely has a desolate other-worldliness to it, and it’s a testament to the ingenuity of these people that they were able to thrive throughout this whole region.

The region was formed millions of years ago after the drying up of an inland sea, with scholars now thinking that the opals were formed from the resulting acidification of the land. There are numerous Dreamtimestories about the precious gem, with its glittering shards of rainbow light beneath the exterior translucent white.

Other than the nearby Breakaways – which was a sacred men’s site – the landscape is flat and featureless. And it’s this starkness which makes the land so mysterious and beautiful.

So let me go upon my way, born of a light
— Radiohead

Standing on this land and soaking in the atmosphere, I could get a sense of something numinous; like witnessing the infinitude of the universe itself, the openness inviting possibilities of what could come into being.

What would it be like to live here? I wondered. A local guide told me how in the 60’s and 70’s there was no power or water, and living here was tough for everyone – let alone spending your days digging for the hope of striking a rich opal vein.

Out here, it gets above 40°C in the summer. The tradition of the dugout began merely when miners set up camp in the entrances to their mining claims. The town itself grew from a collection of mines-cum-dwellings; it only became declared a ‘commons’ with the formation of the local council in the early 80’s, which is when mining was stopped within the town boundaries.

But people continued to dig into the earth to create their homes, some inadvertently finding the opals they were searching for as they added a new room to their underground dwellings.

How many folk had ventured out to this harsh land, seeking fortune and adventure?

How many had been escaping from other people, other lands, other lives?

Does the outback call to us in our own Dreaming? Do those wide, empty horizons beckon to something within us that yearns for the space for what may be possible?

Gazing at the rising moon as the sun set behind me, I meditated on these questions. The last five months I’ve been slowly shedding layers of an old life: my career, my identity, and all the hopes and dreams that were associated with that. Venturing deep into the heart of this country and into the bosom of ancient, deep Dreaming has helped heal the pain of loss, but also stirred the wind of something new. I’m still not certain what that is, but I can feel that the seeds have fallen into the soil of my soul and will slowly germinate over the winter.

I mused at the poetry of living underground, like a seed awaiting the spring to grow the new life that will eventually bear fruit. I’ve been told stories of local characters who did exactly that – how their search for a shiny precious gem deep in the heart of an ancient desert either led to finding what they were looking for… or didn’t.

This land will break you if you’re not careful. Umoona – the ancient name given to this land by the indigenous tribes – meant ‘long life’. The Taoist Alchemists knew how the search for immortality could end prematurely if you did not follow the operations correctly. The true power of Alchemy lies in the challenge of surrendering to change.

In a smile I saw a single eagle in the sky;
wheeling, soaring, gliding high
— Pink Floyd

Something about being out here brought me perspective. The small horizons of the city is not just noisy; we can’t see far because of all the objects surrounding us (kind of like visual noise).

Out here, it’s not just silent; we are presented with a bigger picture. There is something of intrinsic value I find in the simplicity of the outback: a reminder that life will always find a way to flourish, and that the easiest way to survive is to remain present, to adapt, and follow the Tao, the natural Way.

[//]:# (!steemitworldmap -29.003715 lat 134.762337 long “In A Hole In The Ground…” d3scr)

Originally published by Petah Raven on .
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Exported from Medium on August 1, 2018.


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