'You can’t eat opals’: Providing assistance in Coober Pedy

19 Mar 2024

Rose Temple has lived in Coober Pedy for over 35 years. In her role as a Financial Capability Worker with Uniting Country SA, Rose has seen the growing impacts of the housing shortage and financial hardship, compounded by a shrinking number of services and the tyranny of distance.   

Coober Pedy is 950 km North west from Adelaide in the Stuart Highway.  

Despite the promise of cheap housing that lured many people who cashed in their super during the pandemic, Rose says Coober Pedy isn’t an easy place to live.  

“The doctor and dentist are fly in and out, and the closest vet is 600 kilometres away. 

“There’s no public transport, no postal service and we don’t have a bank. That makes it hard for older people who still have bank books and a lot of our Aboriginal Elders who, didn’t use a key card but relied on face to face interactions at the bank because the bank tellers knew them.” 

With limited employment prospects, rates of financial hardship in Coober Pedy are high. 

“Unemployment here is extremely high and the cost of living pressures take their toll,” Rose explains.  

“Groceries are more expensive because of the transport cost, land rates are almost as high as Adelaide as is the cost of power. 

“The weather has been 50 degrees here for the past two months,” Rose says. 

“If you don’t live underground, your quarterly electricity bill is around $3,000 - $4,000 or even higher if you have an old air conditioner that’s less efficient. 

Providing support how and when it’s needed most

In her role at Uniting Country SA, Rose is an advocate for people experiencing financial hardship. She advocates on behalf of her clients for payment plans for utilities and district council bills, helps them apply for no interest loans, and works with them to develop financial budgets.  

Still, there is often a gap that needs filling.   

“Wyatt have been fantastic in being flexible and responding to individual needs in our community,” Rose says.  

“Here in Coober Pedy, you have to pay a power connection bond of $335 before the power company will connect your electricity and for many people, it’s an expense they can’t afford on top of all the other moving expenses. Living without electricity, especially in a place that gets this hot, isn’t viable.”  

When applying for debt relief, many of Rose’s clients have been disadvantaged by the removal of all banking services in the township. To provide evidence of their low-income status, applicants are required to provide three months of bank statements, but many of Rose’s clients do not have access to online banking.  

“Recently I helped an older client who had received funds from an insurance claim. He had previously done all his banking at the branch here in town before it closed and didn’t have a bank card – it was all done with a bank passport in person. 

“Even when I tried to help him set up online banking it turns out he had to go all the way to Port Augusta where the nearest branch is because you have to show ID to be able to open an online account. That’s more than 500 kilometres away.”

Wyatt has also helped provide funds for the purchase of white goods such as refrigerators and for car repairs which Rose says can make an enormous difference in the lives of people who are under extreme financial stress.  

“It can be the difference between them actually being able to get to work and keep their job,” she explains.  

“South Australia is very lucky to have The Wyatt Trust. They’ll always try and find a way to help.” 

Despite the many challenges of living in a remote location like Coober Pedy, Rose wouldn’t have it any other way. 

“I love the Coober Pedy lifestyle,” she says. “I live underground and I wouldn’t want to live in a house anymore. It’s a very homely and multicultural community here too. 

“I’m always saying to the old fellas, ‘Sell your opals – you can’t eat them!’ but I know they’re not going to leave Coober Pedy either.  

“I do have hope that things will get better. We’ve got a strong community group that’s working together for a better future. You’ve always got to have hope.” 

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