“You must visit the Coober Pedy pub” he said with a small knowing smile on his face “it will be an outback Australian experience that you will never forget” – This is what my Grandfather told me before we set out for a quick road trip from Alice Springs to Adelaide… an outback experience you will never forget aye… well why not?!
Coober Pedy is an old spectator mining town, predominately for Opals, where people have just set up camp to dig for the precious gems and never left. Due to the extreme heat and the abundance of holes, the local inhabitants have built their homes underground. There is a surreal transformation between the junk littered streets and the cosy beautiful homes dotted beneath the earth’s surface.
We rocked into town in our Holden (the only way to travel the Australia) just as the afternoon sun began to transform the desert landscape into a sea of yellow and orange broken only by strange contraptions and shacks that dotted the horizon. Driving through the small town with streets angling off in all directions it would be easy to become disoriented if not for the giant winch protruding winch that acts as guide through the maze.
Our hostel was underground (of course), though the building the adorned the surface was decorated with strange memorabilia and neon signs. It was Technically winter being 31 degrees, it was a shocking moment when we got out of the car and thought this was cool to us having left a balmy 47 degrees at Uluru. The owner of the hostel was perfect picture of a Coober Pedyite, being a little wild and eccentric himself, he gave us great advice on what to do and where to go while leading us deep underground to our room… somehow he made us feel safe and not at all like we were about to be murdered in a stone pit.
Spend seven solid hours in a car with some friends across a desert with the most exciting thing being a corner after the first four the friendships will fray a little. No matter there is an easy way to fix that – beer! Checking out our map and taking the hostel owners advice – we decided to hit up the underground pub first.
Walking through the streets we get an idea of what the local populace of Coober Pedy is like first hand – especially at the end of hard day spectating.
Underground again in the pub (still not creepy) we blow off the tension with a friendly game of pool followed by a less friendly game of air hockey… the winner had bragging rights for the rest of the evening… it wasn’t me!
Although the underground pub was fun, it being a tourist attraction was a little overpriced, so we took my grandfather’s advice and started up the hill to the Coober Pedy Pub.
Was I nervous – yes! Bogans with easy access to dynamite – who wouldn’t be!?!
Out the front of the pub there was a small family domestic going on – we sidestepped the fifteen people involved, and stumbled into the pub. Instantly the whole room turned to look at us, just like in a movie, and just like in a movie we walked straight to the bar. Weaving through the chairs and bodies that were littered round the room to give maximum viewing towards the television mounted in the corner with the nights footy game blaring out.
“Hi, Can we order food here?”
“G’day, sure you can, head on into the next room where the dining room area is though” – he never took his eyes off the game but still managed to flash a friendly smile.
We pushed through to the second room to find a much more subdued and quieter atmosphere, a few tables were occupied but most were empty, with tatty yet very clean furniture. Up at the bistro counter I ordered the chicken parmigiana AKA parmy (what you must have in an Australian pub… if you don’t feel like steak that is – and those who doesn’t feel like steak shouldn’t travel Australia…. You will starve) with mash, gravy and veg.
My nerves about being in a place full of alcohol waving bogans vanished suddenly as the serving lady made a couple of jokes flashed a few warm smiles and looked after us like a mother duck does when she shows her ducklings to the water for the first time – best service I have had in years!
Only thing to top the service at the Coober Pedy pub was the size of the parmy that came out – not in my wildest of dreams would I have been able to finish it! For 20 minutes we sat in silence while we tried to stuff the oversized delicious meals into our stomachs. I know that they do it bigger, better and fresher in the country – but this was the first time I believed it.
When the waitress came to clear the plates I had only managed two thirds, the look on her face was one of distress “was there something wrong?” – “No!” I replied hastily and showed her my food pregnant belly. She laughed but looked at me as though I was an alien – what kind of person was I to not be able to finish my parmy!
After a couple more beers we slipped out a little more stealthily than we had entered, dodged a new domestic that was taking place in the middle of the high street and returned to our underground dorm room. I fell asleep cool, full and relaxed. Our little sojourn to the Coober Pedy pub had definitely been worth it – not only for the food but the cultural aspect as well. If you want to get to know real outback Australia you just need to head to the local pub!
Waking up the next morning in pitch blackness, however – was definitely creepy!