Hutchison Street – Bolshevic Gully Walk

Originally known as Bolshevic Gully, present day Hutchison Street has seen many changes in 100 years. At each of the numbered points, you can read a brief description of the changes and developments that have taken place.

Starting where you are now at Desert Cave 1, walk south taking in 2, 3, 4 and 5 then cross the street to 6 and continue through the numbers walking north to the Drive-In 12. Now cross the street again and walk south to read about 13 and 14 which the returns you to the starting point.

Bolshevic Gully Walk

Bolshevic Gully

Coober Pedy’s CBD, where the Desert Cave now stands, was known for much of the town’s history as Bolshevik Gully. Vin Wake told this story of the origin of the name in his book Opal Men:

“During the great 1919-20 strike of miners at Broken Hill, some of the unemployed went to Coober Pedy to fill in time. During this period many staunch Labour men regarded Russia as their spiritual home (The workers’ only Fatherland) and were of the opinion that the real cure for industrial troubles was to ‘take over the mines and factories, like the Bolsheviks did in Russia.’ This led to the men from Broken Hill being known as ‘the Bolsheviks.’

One day Tom Brady, a man from Broken Hill, bought a parcel of opal from Carl Wendt, who then had a few drinks. The whiskey went to his head and he became convinced that Tom had defrauded him. He picked up his rifle and headed for Tom’s dugout, announcing that he intended to shoot him.

Fortunately, a man whom he met on the way managed to calm him and led him home. As they walked away, Tom Brady informed everyone within hearing that there were ‘too many of these bloody Bolsheviks around here.’

Ever since that day the shallow valley at Coober Pedy has been known as Bolshevik Gully.”

Bolshevic Gully Walk

1. Desert Cave

 

Jacob Santing was Coober Pedy’s link with the outside world from the 1920’s for the next 25 years. He brought mail, groceries and passengers from Kingoonya every week and had a store against the hill on this site, staffed by others.

Bert and Ethel Wilson took over the premises in the late 1940’s, building a new house, store and post office. “Ma” Wilson as she was affectionately referred to, is another legend in Coober Pedy’s history, for besides having 10 children, she ran the Store, Post Office, maintained the Flying Doctor radio and medicine chest, as well as buying and cutting opal.

In the early 1960’s Pastor Fred Traeger owned the property and built the Mission Store and later some motel accommodation, which John Andrea purchased and further developed in the late 1960’s as the Minos Restaurant. With other partners, Andrea built the first Desert Cave Motel, which was sold to the Coro Family enterprise in 1976. The underground complex that we see today was the dream of Umberto (Bob) Coro but it was fulfilled by his son Robert who designed, helped build and now manages the luxury underground hotel. Sadly Umberto was killed in a car accident in 1986, before the opening of the Desert Cave in 1988.

Bolshevic Gully Walk

2. T.A.F.E.

The Lutheran Church Hall

In the 1950’s, this site was occupied by a one roomed dugout in the low hill behind the present day T.A.F.E. building.

Some years after the arrival of Lutheran Pastor Fred Traeger and his wife Gertie to Coober Pedy in 1959, the property was purchased by the church, then a volunteer party travelled to Coober Pedy to build the iron walled 51 feet x 26 feet hall in 1964. Another building was later transported from Maralinga to the church site to cater for the activities offered for families and young people.

Over the years the Hall served the community well.

In 1972, the first pre-school was opened in the Hall until one was built on the school grounds.

After Cyclone Tracey hit Darwin in 1974, when it’s victims were evacuating south on the Stuart Highway, a 24 hour relief centre was run at the Hall which was filled with free food and donations.

When Mick Lucas & Sons Supermarket burned down in 1981, they traded as usual from the Hall for the next 5 months until they were able to rebuild.

In 1983, T.A.F.E. moved into the Hall and after buying the property, the decision was made that a purpose built construction was needed. In 1991, all old buildings were removed and excavation completed for the new rammed earth construction. Many courses, both vocational and general interest were offered and the centre was a busy learning and social hub. With declining numbers of T.A.F.E. courses, the front office has now been taken over by PIRSA.

Bolshevic Gully Walk

3. Wear-house Arcade

Coober Pedy Store / Continental store

The original building which included an oil fired brick bakers oven was constructed in 1963 by Italian builders who later wanted to go mining, selling out to Gordon and Rhonda Traeger in 1965. The business then became the Coober Pedy Store selling meat, fruit and vegetables, groceries, clothes, some hardware and fuel.

Traegers employed a baker, truck driver to transport the weekly supplies and other workers in the store. At the time, some miners only came in on Saturdays (mail day) and would fill a wooden tea chest with continental loaves of bread which was known far and wide for its excellence.

By 1969, the store had changed hands and in 1971, then belonging to the Moustrides family, suffered a disastrous fuel fire at the rear of the property.

At one time named “The Continental Store”, the site is now occupied by an opal shop “Opalios”, a clothing store “The Wearhouse Arcade”, the opal shop “Seven Stones” and the Greek restaurant “Tom and Mary’s”.

Bolshevic Gully Walk

4. Empty Lot

Community Hall / Bank / Volunteer Fire Shed / Traces Restaurant

On July 23rd, 2013, a fire broke out in the 2nd storey of the Multicultural Forum which resulted in the demolition of the restaurant, opal shops, hairdresser’s salon, a Greek coffee shop and private residences as well as the old bank building where the fire started. Hence the empty lot in the middle of town.

In 1959 the Progress Association raffled a motor car to raise money to build the Community Hall. The 60’ x 20’ unlined and partially concreted corrugated iron shed was built with volunteer labour. In 1960, Coober Pedy’s first teachers Geoff Byrnes and Anatoli Waniarcha, used it as their classroom. School started with 21 Aboriginal students aged 5 to 15, all classified as grade 1. No furniture had arrived so they used packing cases for the first week. Their main teaching aid was a battery-powered record player.There were no boundary fences, so apart from two long-drop toilets, Brewster’s shop and the Miners Store, the school yard went on forever.

Across the empty lot, is the old volunteer fire building. Incredibly, given Coober Pedy’s history of major fires, Albert McCormack and Bob Amorosi had to fight to overcome state government opposition to the formation of a fire service. They acquired a Bedford truck. Bob put a tank on the back, painted it red and converted it to the town’s first purpose-fitted fire appliance with emergency lights, a pump, running boards, a water cannon, a spot light and roll-out hoses. More often, however, earthmoving equipment was used to fight fires as water was always in short supply until 1987 when the reverse osmosis desalination plant was built.

Bolshevic Gully Walk

5. Opal Inn

The Opal Store or General Store / The Miners Store / Opal Inn Motel and Hotel

Following the establishment of The Opal Store in the early 1950’s by Bert Wilson and Ron Gough at this location, a short time later it was taken over by George Marks and Nan Field. As well as being a combined general store, petrol station and post office, the Bush Church Aid Flying Doctor consulted in the rooms at the back of the store, a monthly service that began in Coober Pedy in 1946.

In April 1960, Beppi Coro came to Coober Pedy followed in July by his brother Attilio, to go mining at the 8 Mile. Within 3 weeks they found opal worth £3,000.

In 1960, with a population of about 180 people, Coober Pedy was on the brink of change. The Coros bought the Opal store which at the time specialised in indestructible groceries- tinned milk, tinned fruit and veg, tinned fish and meat, potatoes, onions, tea, sugar etc. The Coros extended the store, rebuilt the rickety veranda, installed refrigeration and, in 1961, bought a truck. The Miners Store and Miners Transport were up and running with Beppi running the store and Attilio managing the transport.

In 1962, at 11.30 on a Friday night, the store burned to the ground. By Sunday afternoon, the Coros were back in business with a shed built of old galvanised iron and a truck-load of goods from Port Augusta. Attilio was a concreter and bricklayer by trade and Umberto (Bob), another brother, was a builder. They designed and built a new store, double the size of the old one and with better refrigeration so they could now offer luxuries like ice cream and fresh milk. A new refrigerated semi-trailer was bought and a weekly trip replaced the old Kingoonya run.

The present Miners Store was built at site 7 in 1973.

In 1966 the Coro brothers built the Opal Inn Motel, managed by Umberto, directly south of the Miners store, then the Opal Inn Hotel in 1969. Sadly in 1975, history repeated itself when the Opal Inn burned down, but the family found the courage to rebuild and a bigger and better hotel/motel complex reopened in 1977.

Bolshevic Gully Walk

6. Empty Building

Jack and Edna Brewster with customers in 1950

The Coober Pedy Supplies (CPS) supermarket owned by Greek partners Jack, Kon and Dimo operated from this building until the early 1990’s. Before that, it was Roufos supermarket and before that, from 1950, it was Jack and Edna Brewster’s store. This store “stood out like Bleak House on the very top of the plateau.” At night, when the sound of an approaching car could be heard for miles, Mrs Brewster would go out with a lantern to flag them down. As Edna was a very short woman, the only thing the driver would see after the lantern was the top of her head and a pair of eyes peering in the window.

In 1988 Tom and Mary Kiossis opened their Tom & Marys Greek Taverna next to the CPS. For 22 years their restaurant was an outback legend, featured in Food Lovers Guide to Australia and praised by visiting celebrities who delighted in discovering Mediterranean cuisine in the desert. In 2004 Tom & Mary’s moved across the road to its present location where the current owners maintain the traditional menu.

Behind the white corrugated fence lies the empty ground left after the Acropolis Restaurant, “one of South Australia's most convivial venues,” was destroyed by four sticks of explosive and four 50-litre cans of fuel at 5am on June 11th 1990. For 25 years the Acropolis was the place to meet. The high number of teachers and nurses who became station manager’s wives was attributed to the Acropolis where station men came to check out the new women in town.

Bolshevic Gully Walk

7. The Miners Store

 

The Miners Store opened at this location following its construction in 1973, its prior history recorded at site 5.

Over the years there have been many alterations and renovations to the store but it has remained a Coro family enterprise with Linda and Michael jointly managing the business following their Father’s death in 1998. It continues to be the hub around which the town revolves

Bolshevic Gully Walk

8. Church of Saints Peter and Paul

Catholic Church of Saints Peter and Paul 1967
Photo: Vin Wake

In 1964, the Catholic Church hierarchy recognised the need for a dugout church, resulting in the purchase of this block for £300. Fr Frank Cresp took up residence in late 1965 and slowly, with voluntary labour, the hand dug church took shape in what was literally, “One tree hill”. So instead of a spire, the church only had a tree sprouting from its roof.

Bishop Gallagher officially opened the church in June 1967 and it was said 200 people crammed inside on that day. For 10 years, it was a House of Worship for other religions, until the opening of the Catacomb Church.

Originally holding 50 people, extensions were made with a tunnelling machine, making the church in the shape of a cross, and doubling its size. Porches were constructed and the stained glass window added. After a church bell was obtained, the Opal Inn donated the bell tower. Also at this time, the dugout Presbytery adjoining the church was upgraded by the addition of an above ground kitchen, shower, toilet, laundry, carport and guests room, all completed and opened in 1984 by Bishop Peter de Campo. Take the time to see inside and appreciate this much loved House of God.

Bolshevic Gully Walk

9. Mobil

formerly Red Sands Restaurant (upstairs)

Coober Pedy’s reputation as a “wild west” town was established in the 1980’s. The opal market was expanding. Buyers were taking everything the miners could dig up. Locally developed mining machines meant continuous mining with little down time. Explosives and diesel were relatively cheap. Money flowed. In the morning the cleaners in the bars would find ripped up money all over the floor. Drinkers used to have competitions to see who could rip up the most money. They used to light their cigarettes with $50 notes.

The restaurant above the Mobil (Maria’s / Porky’s / Red Sands) was the scene of the wildest exploits, partly because the stairs and balcony inspired feats of derring-do. Guns, knives, explosives were all part of the social scene in those days. Alcohol, women and ethnic feuds added to the mix. Volunteer emergency workers tell the liveliest stories. They were sober and they were the ones who had to bandage, calm, stabilise and shift wounded patrons on stretchers down the narrow stairs to the ambulance and hospital. One time someone went through the plate glass window and got badly cut up. He was a big man and out of his mind with anger and drink. Even 6 police couldn’t hold him still. They had to wait until he bled out enough to weaken before the ambulance officer could bandage him and strap him to a stretcher.

During the filming of Mad Max, each evening at dusk, a caravan of Thunderdome workers rattled back into Coober Pedy where the company bunked overnight. A sign on the wall at Porky`s set the tone for the town: “Patrons, check guns and explosives at the bar.”

Bolshevic Gully Walk

10. IGA Supermarket

formerly Lucas’ 7 Day supermarket

Lucas' Discount House 1976
Photo: Peter Caust

This site was bought as an undeveloped property by Mick Lucas in 1973 where he built a bigger shop than where he was trading from before which was opposite the Opal Inn.

The new supermarket “Discount House”, was totally destroyed by fire on the Race weekend in October 1981. Lucas’ dilemma was that their truck was already loaded with the next week’s supplies so the decision was made to keep on trading and leave all orders as they stood. A dairy company loaded up fridges which were taken to Coober Pedy for perishables and the store operated out of the Lutheran Hall, on the present site of T.A.F.E., and from the back of trucks for the next 5 months until the shop was rebuilt.

Lucas’ finally traded under the name of Lucas’ 7 Day Supermarket until they sold out to Tim Carter and his family in 2011, the business then becoming Carter’s IGA.

Bolshevic Gully Walk

11. Drug & Alcohol Centre

The Tractor Shed

 

The Tractor Shed was named for Bob Amorosi’s Komatsu D355A, the biggest bulldozer in the world in 1972. They needed a special trailer to load the 50-ton machine at the docks in Adelaide and transport it over the unsealed road to Coober Pedy. The trip took 4 days. On their arrival, the main street was lined with cars and people who escorted them to the Italian Club where a huge party was on to celebrate its arrival and to bless it. Rev. Father Hackett christened the bulldozer ‘Lucy’ after Bob’s youngest child. Her name was later welded on to the hungry plate at the top of the blade. A bottle of champagne was cracked on the dozer and Father Hackett prayed, “Lord, send a mighty blessing on this mighty machine. Protect it and all those who work on it from all harm.”

As the biggest building in town, Tractor Shed was used as a community gathering place through the 1970’s. For three years the Miss Australia quests were held there. Most events were fund raisers of one kind or another. Auctions always made money. People didn’t care about the value of what they were bidding on. They were in it just to outbid the other guy, knowing the money was going to a good cause.

A popular fundraiser was the cream pie throw. Dozens of small sponge cakes topped with mock cream were sold for a dollar. People threw them at the civic leaders of their choice. As the evening wore on the targets started throwing pies back; it became a free-for-all with cream pies flying everywhere. The walls of the shed were covered in mock cream. It was a mess. Bob Amorosi used the new fire truck to hose it all down the following day.

Bolshevic Gully Walk

12. Drive-In

 

Coober Pedy’s Drive-in is one of only seven drive-in theatres still operating in Australia. In 2013, production of movies on 35mm film ceased and the reel to reel projectors became obsolete. The volunteer Drive-in Committee and the District Council raised the money to buy the best digital projector available, a Barco Alchemy DP2K-32B and a secure, climate-controlled shipping container to house it.

In 1959, the Coober Pedy community built a town hall on the now-vacant lot at stop 5. A 15mm projector showed slides using power loaned by George Marks by way of a lead from his store generator. Soon a second projector was purchased by the Progress Association and a 240 volt generator. Two films a week were shown.

Then, in 1964 a group of volunteers decided to build a drive-in theatre. They looked at the drive-in at Andamooka and then travelled to Adelaide to buy tow 35mm projectors. The screen was built with all volunteer labour and a utility was raffled to raise money for materials. The first drive-in opened in 1965 with cone speakers mounted on the projector room.

In the 1970’s Coober Pedy had the highest film turn-over in Australia showing 2 different movies a night on the biggest screen in the country.

Bolshevic Gully Walk

13. Opal Cave

 

The mention of the Opal Cave immediately brings to mind Faye Nayler who arrived in Coober Pedy as a tourist in 1961 and found work as a cook at Brewsters. Wanting more independence, she then opened the Windlass Café with Sue Bernard but it was severely damaged by a tornado like storm within the year.

After trying opal mining, Faye saw that there could be a better future for her in the tourist industry as 7 coaches a month came through Coober Pedy at that time.

She secured the property lease and with some help from friends began the hard work of excavating the showroom so the Opal Cave was born. With her new partner, Ettie Hall, the business boomed and over the years, the Opal Cave grounds catered for a growing number of buses, particularly during school holidays.

After 17 years in the business and a few years of semi-retirement, Faye sold the Opal Cave in 1982 to Lorraine and Dieter Sternberg, Lorraine having been the manageress since 1978. Having seen the growing numbers of buses that were coming through Coober Pedy after the Stuart Highway was sealed, and having 16 buses booked in at one time, the Sternbergs excavated new backpacker accommodation and a new showroom in 1986 which they have developed into an award winning complex.

Bolshevic Gully Walk

14. Umoona Museum & Mine

 

George Burford, Coober Pedy’s unofficial mayor for 20 years, lived and worked in the dugout marked with the Historical Society sign. When 23-year old Burford came to the Stuart Range Opal Fields in 1919, he quickly became a figure of authority in the small community of about 70 residents. He was Justice of the Peace, the Secretary of the Progress Committee the resident magistrate, coroner, field opal buyer, administrator of the Wild Dog Act in Dingo District #7 and the person in charge of distributing relief rations in the Depression Years. The Commonwealth Bank agency and the Shell fuel depot were located at his dugout and the pedal transceiver was the settlement’s link with the Australian Aerial Medical Service at Broken Hill.

George Moroussen was an ‘Afghan’ cameleer. In the 1950’s, he used to deliver water and wood with his horse-drawn cart. When the government tank was low he would cart water from Matheson’s bore 80 miles away.

In 1958 Don Field, an opal buyer and cutter, opened an underground opal shop on the Umoona site, called the “Cave of Gems” as well as housing a bank agency, clothing store, and book exchange.

This was followed by Aladdin’s Cave Opal Shop, “The Largest Underground Showplace of any Opal Field in Australia’, opened in June, 1969 by Eric and Mary Smith.

In 1976, the site was purchased for Umoona Council, the current property owners. In 1984 the business was leased to Yanni Athanasiadis who continues to operate Umoona Opal Mine and Museum.