The story starts about hundred years ago, in 1915, when the New Colorado Gold Prospecting Syndicate—consisting of a Mr. Jim Hutchison, his 14-year-old son William, and two other men—had been unsuccessfully prospecting for gold out in the middle of nowhere in southern Australia.
One day, 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 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 a sugar bag full of opals.
Now, this was a very fortuitous find for the young William—not only did he come across opal, but he also discovered something equally as precious out there—a supply of fresh water. This was on February 1st, 1915. Eight days later, they pegged the first opal claim: the catalyst for the existence of the future town of Coober Pedy had been discovered.
The town of Coober Pedy takes its name from the aborigines’ words “Kupa Piti,” which translates to “boys’ water.” However, it is commonly assumed to mean “white man in a hole.”
Word of the find spread quickly, and by the middle of 1916, miners from all over had moved to the area. Young Willie did not live long enough to see the fruits of his discovery and witness what this place was going to become—he drowned five years later while driving cattle across the Georgina River, on the Birdsville Track.
“The White Man’s Hole” is the second chapter of a project titled “Outback Mythologies” consisting of six chapters, all of which take place in the Australian Outback. Two chapters out of six have been produced so far.
If you enjoyed this article, you might like these previous features: Terra Firma, inspiring landscapes from across the world with a stunning shot of Australia; Namikake, another Exposure Award winner that features dream-like landscapes from Japan; and Shepherds, a series on a shepherd community in Slovenia whose traditions are changing after 500 years due to modernization.