Australian outback pastor finds opals light his way

Thu Nov 27, 2008 10:56pm EST
 
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By Cecile Lefort

SYDNEY (Reuters Life!) - After Deane Clee ventured to Coober Pedy in the Australian desert to run a church, he struggled to eke out a living until he found himself drawn to the outback town's main passion -- opal.

Business opportunities are limited in Coober Pedy, a unique desert town where half the 3,500 residents live underground in "dugouts" or mud caves to escape the summer heat as temperatures can soar to 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit).

So in a bid to finance his missionary activities in the outback, Clee and his wife Valerie decided to turn an abandoned mine next to his underground church into an underground motel -- striking opal, a semi-precious stone, as they dug.

"The miners missed them by just a couple of inches. There was no indication there would be there," said Clee's daughter Deborah who now helps run the motel with her parents.

Clee gave up an accountancy business in Adelaide to move to Coober Pedy about 25 years ago to care for a growing spiritual community called the Revival Fellowship, a Christian Pentecostal denomination based in Australia.

But his motel, opened six years ago, is more of a shrine to opals and a showcase for Coober Pedy, which calls itself the "opal capital of the world," situated 846 kms (526 miles) north of Adelaide on the way to Alice Springs.

The town was established in 1915 after some men prospecting for gold discovered opal, a semi-precious stone born from fossilized silica. Today, over 90 percent of the world's opal production comes from Australia.

Over the past century, hordes of prospectors have headed to Coober Pedy to seek their fortune, with the town's lunar landscape now dotted with thousands of mine shafts spread over about 40 kms.   Continued...

 
<p>A tourist searches for opals at the mining town of Coober Pedy October 30, 2008. Business opportunities are limited in Coober Pedy, a unique desert town where half the 3,500 residents live underground in "dugouts" or mud caves to escape the summer heat as temperatures can soar to 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit). Picture taken October 30, 2008. REUTERS/Cecile Lefort</p>