Everything starts about hundred years, in 1915, when the New Colorado Gold Prospecting Syndicate, consisting of a Mr Jim Hutchison, his 14 years old son William and two other men had been unsuccessfully prospecting for gold out in the middle of nowhere in South Australia. The young Willie had been left in camp to look after their supplies but disobeyed orders and wandered off to search for water around the foothills of a nearby range. There was a degree of apprehension among the men when he failed to turn up after dark. But a short time later, he strode into camp with a grin on his face. Over his shoulder was slung a sugar bag full of opal. Now this was a very fortuitous find for the young William – not only did he come across the opal, but he also discovered something equally as precious out there – a supply of fresh water. This was on the 1st February 1915 – 8 days later, they pegged the first opal claim. The catalyst for the existence of the future town of Coober Pedy had been discovered. Word of the find spread quickly and by the middle of 1916, miners had moved to the area. Young Willie did not live long enough to see the fruits of his discovery and see what this place was going to become. He drowned five years later while driving cattle across the Georgina River, on the Birdsville Track.
Today in Coober Pedy, the work is secluded. Climatic conditions almost unbearable. Each prospecting gives place to an uninterrupted broom of machines of all kinds and noises coming to populate the emptiness of the land. In an iterative way, men dig white mountains to draw most of the time only a few precious dust. The Australian town of opal is isolated on the edge of the red lands of the Outback. The hamlet experienced the golden age of rock mining in the 60s to 80s, when the price of diesel was cheap. Today, the mining enclave seems totally disaster-stricken. And yet, some of its inhabitants have taken up residence underground, in artifact concretions called dug-out. The population is the guardian of myriad holes like as many thousand stories. It is estimated that around 750,000 to 3 million holes have been dug around the city. The town tries hard to reconvert itself in the tourism by forging a past and hosts from time to time shooting of international films: Until the end of the world, Mad Max: beyond thunderdome, The Werner Herzog’s country where green ants dream, David Twohy’s Pitch Black. Coober Pedy makes a clean sweep of personal past to create a collective story.
The White Man’s Hole is the second chapter in a six chapter project titled ‘Outback Mythologies’. See more of Antoine Bruy’s work at – antoinebruy.com