Ross Coghill’s Return To Andamooka Opal Field in 2017

Ross Coghill’s Return to Andamooka

Ross Coghill has kindly written of his trips to Andamooka in the 1960’s and these are presented in earlier posts. In 2017 Ross decided to return to Andamooka to see how things had changed since his earlier visits. This post is Ross’s impressions of Andamooka and is presented in his own words.

Ross Coghill’s Story

“My return to Andamooka to give myself an 80th birthday present has come and gone.We, John and I headed off a month earlier than expected. It was a good move as we beat the heat. I was going alone ,however my daughter’s partner, John, decided to come with me. Just as well he did as I would not have made it without him. It was a 4314 kms return trip from Ballina in NSW.

We were amazed at the number of animals roaming the sides of the roads. Wild goats in their hundreds yet only one dead one, although there were dozens of dead kangaroos. We were unlucky enough to hit one and it did quite a lot of damage to the car. Apart from that we had a very good trip.

Arriving at Pimba we decided to have a feed but once we got into the restaurant we decided against it as there were about 100 people inside. There were buses, trucks, cars and even some horses in the car park. Pimba is the junction for the Alice Springs to Darwin Highway.

When we arrived at Andamooka I was shocked at the changes that had happened for the worse. First we went to find (Dad’s) Ben’s hut, well anyway what was left of it. It had been partly demolished and what was left was covered in vines and bushes . The old bridge was smashed up and tossed in a heap. It was very sad. I guess my expectations were set a bit high.

John was amazed as he had never seen an opal mining town before. He couldn’t get the fact that the mines went right up to the back door of the living quarters and that old machinery was just dumped everywhere. We decided to take photos to show the families back home.We had a camera and a phone camera and took dozens of photos. These modern cameras amaze me. I reckon if I used my old Brownie Box camera (which I still have) we would have gone through a dozen rolls of film. I have mentioned this because it has a lot to do with the end of this story.

As this was our first day we decided to book into a motel. We did this at the Post Office Motel. It was very comfortable and we can recommend it. Peter Taubers and Margot Duke run the Post Office and Motel along with a huge shop full of opal and souvenirs. It also has a museum so if you get to Andamooka spend a couple of hours and you will learn all about the place.

The next day we had breakfast at The TuckerBox Pub and met up with a few people that knew Ben or knew of him. They have a beaut photo of Ben and his cabin on the wall in the pub.

It was decided that we would head home today. I had satisfied myself that I had achieved what I wanted to do.

As we drove out of town the feeling of longing had gone. I realised that this would be the last time I would see Andamooka.

Settling in back home it was time to get the cameras out and show the changes to Andamooka. SHOCK. HORROR. As I clicked from frame to frame there was nothing. Not one photo came out so I grabbed the camera and sure enough there was not one photo on my phone. I can’t explain the missing photos. Maybe it was Andamooka telling me that she didn’t want me to remember her as she is today. It is better to remember her when the town was a buzz and to remember Ben’s cabin with his garden and Sturt Desert Peas, his bridge with the sign “No swimming, Danger sharks”, and the sign ” Cabins to let ” as they stood out proudly to welcome visitors.

These are the memories I will keep although I won’t forget her as she is today. I will ponder on how my photos all disappeared.

It was a wonderful experience having been there and a time in my life I will cherish forever. Goodbye Andamooka ”

Footnote from Ross

This is  plea I am making to all car drivers. Please look out for fatigue. I consider myself a good driver and have held my license since I was 17. I drove an ambulance for 5 years and have never had an accident. On the trip I drove for the first 3 hours and was feeling fine talking to John. Then the next thing I remember was John grabbing the steering wheel and pulling me onto the road-side. I couldn’t understand why. ” Pull over, stop the car and hop out” he said. He then explained that I had dozed off for a a milli second. That’s all it takes. Lucky we were in the bush and there was very little traffic.

I am pointing out that the passenger should keep an eye on the driver and at the slightest sign of tiredness ask the driver to stop, pull over and get out of the car for a walk around and spell for a half hour or so. It really shook me up so there will be no more long driving spells for me ”

Footnote from Johno

Thanks for the story Ross. I guess this happens to all of us when we return to a place where we had fond memories and things have changed. Maybe it is better to keep the memories and not go back and see the changes.

Andamooka must have been an amazing town in it’s heyday but it would have been a hard place to live in. Perpetual dust, hot summer days with very little home comforts would have been hard to live with but there was always the hope that you could strike opal. Today that hope has almost faded away. There are a few stalwart miners trying their luck but most of the likely ground has been mined. Let’s hope some one makes a new find.

Andamooka is now almost a suburb of Roxby Downs and some workers live here and commute to Roxby for work. There are others who live here because they love the place. For tourists it is a wonderful place. There is history in the old buildings and there are amazing characters still living here. There is no other town quite like Andamooka and it is still worth a visit.



Johno is a retired Engineer who has enjoyed a lifelong passion for Australian Opal.

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