Collage of Mintabie.

There's a good change you've heard of Coober Pedy in South Australia. You probably know that many of the residents live underground to escape from the harsh sun and desert like conditions and that it's considered the Opal capital of the world. 270 kilometres northwest lies the tiny settlement of Mintabie and there is a good chance you've never heard of the place.

Mintabie is small by anyones standards. This is a settlement populated by less than two hundred hardened opal miners who face a daily battle to survive. We're not talking about surviving the environment and working conditions but the battle of bureaucratic existence faced by the residents of Mintabie every day.

Mintabie sits next to a lake that is part of a natural basin. It's been filled only twice in the last 15 years. The opal that is mined here, in Cobber Pedy and Andamooka constitutes 80% of the worlds supply. Opal was discovered in Mintabie around 1920 by a well digger named Larry O'Toole. The opal that comes from here has a black hue and Mintabie miners originally denied that their opal had been won from the Mintabie fields. Opal that didn't resemble the finds from the Coober Pedy fields were treated with suspicion and attracted a lower value.

Things didn't really begin to take off in Mintabie until after World War 1 when heavy machinery was able to be used to mine the difficult terrain. Water has always been a problem for the tiny town. Combined with intolerable living conditions and that fact that the traditional manual methods of prospecting were too arduous and largely unsuccessful meant Mintabie was a little slow joining the colonial rush in digging up the new continent.

The 1970's saw a Croation hopeful discover a huge seam of opal at Mintabie and begin the biggest rush yet. At one time Mintabie had a population of 2000 people.

Mintabie lies in the lands of the Pitjantjatjara people - the ancient central desert aborigines. The Pitjantjatjara call themselves the 'Anangu' and in 1981 they were granted inalienable freehold title to these lands. Part of the handover conditions were that Mintabie was leased back to the crown in order for the town to continue.

As it stands in 2012 if you wish to live in Mintabie you do so under the following conditions -

  • You undergo a police check and apply for a permit to live there.
  • You accept that the water supply is inadequate, possibly toxic and necessity causes it to be turned of at 8pm in order to preserve the dwindling supply.
  • You are not permitted to drink any alcohol your own home.
  • You will be unable to buy food products with an unacceptably high ratio of sugar.
  • Your visitors or visitors to the town are required to obtain a permit before entering the town.
  • You are unable to obtain credit from a Mintabie business.

Australia for everyone? - We don't think so.

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