The author of this article is a close friend of Michael and Irene. Behind Michael's big smile lies a somewhat shy man. Irene, on the other hand, is like Swiss banks: a bit secretive. Since it is true that it is difficult to talk about oneself, I have taken the matter into my own hands.


 

 
It all started like that, naturally, simply driven by the need for adventure.

 

Michael, his mother and his brother sold up in Brisbane in 1996 and started the trip with no destination. Only a few month into travelling they ended up in Darwin where unfortunately their mother passed away  Michael and his brother decide to take a break and go on an adventure. Where? Anywhere. The choices are limited from Darwin. West towards Perth? East towards Brisbane? They took the Stuart highway straight south. All because of the CD that was playing in the car's radio: Highway to hell by AC/DC. It was also the perfect opportunity to give their mother, who was watching them from paradise, one last wink. Forced to stop in Coober Pedy to refuel, the place charmed Michael. He quickly integrated and decided to start an opal mine. A job that requires a lot of diverse knowledge, which is not a problem for Michael who knows and can do a lot of things with skill.

Irene, originally from Switzerland, the land of Gruyère, also burns with a need for adventure. In 2001, she breaks her piggy bank—every Swiss person has a piggy bank— , packs her few belonging and her Harley and with a permanent resident visa in her pocked flies on a one way ticket to Perth in Australia.
A few weeks later, her motorcycle arrives. Impatient, she hits the road at full speed, respecting the speed limits, heading for Coober Pedy, a place that has always intrigued her. What she saw and felt upon arrival transforms her dream into a true passion every times.

A few weeks later, Irène started the construction of her first dugout where she still lives. It goes to show that it's wrong to say that the Swiss are slow. The interior design of Irene's dugout has disrupted traditional codes and reinvented underground living space. The natural light that enters is subtly enhanced by artificial lighting, creating a soft and luminous atmosphere. The interior decoration is magical. You can go there fifty times and still discover charming little details. And always with a perfect finish: Swiss quality.

Memories from Michael and Irène's yesteryears.

Michael in front of his Holden Torana (Brisbane 1988)
Michael on his motorbike in his teenager years
Michael mining in 1996
Paul Mick’s brother mining in 1996
For Irène, it was a bit like that, but a thousand times less excessive. Except in her eagerness to work and her need to learn new things.
Irène building the roof on the entrance of her underground home in 2004
Irène building the outdoor long drop toilet 2003

 

 

Coober Pedy Dugout construction

I admire the determination of Irène and Michael  to take on all challenges.
When faced with remarks like 'it's difficult, very complicated or impossible', they simply say ' We'll do it ' and they do.

 :

Having developed a taste for construction and interior design, Michael and Irène decided to open a B&B. The project matured slowly, but they didn't remain idle. Michael continued to work in his mine, and Irène as a tour guide. Sometimes they would leave Coober Pedy together to go work in Alice, or they would head down to the coast to take care of their oyster business. They are hyperactive people who love to realize their ideas.

In the meantime, they were looking for a place to carry out their big project. The choice was difficult and long. They needed a perfect rock, a beautiful view, and not too close to the city center. The quality of the rock was important because it allowed for very large spaces. The color of the rock was also crucial. There's nothing more depressing than going to someone's house where you enter through a narrow, dark brown corridor that makes you feel like you're having a colonoscopy.

One day they came across an old small opal mine in a good location. They inspected the galleries and found that the rock was stronger than concrete and had a perfect color.

The first step was to expand the plan and level the esplanade. Irène took care of that. Driving a bulldozer or operating an excavator is no more complicated for a Swiss than dismantling and reassembling a Rolex.

So, it takes a lot of equipment and fuel to make a B&B underground. But before they started digging, they made dozens and dozens of plans.

We still have our very first sketch

 

 

The essential tools for digging into rock

Tunneling machine

Machines manufactured in Coober Pedy. While they share the same basic principle. No two machines are the same. Each person builds their machine according to their own preferences.

Blower

A huge vacuum cleaner that sucks up the crushed rock through a large hose connected to the tunneling machine. This kind of object doesn't exist anywhere else in the world - a local invention. Local production too, and like the tunneling machines, everyone builds them to their own liking..

 


 

 

And when digging is finished ...

 

One realizes that there is still a huge amount of work to be done, enough to make the most optimistic person feel depressed. But there's no point in mentioning it to Michael, he'll just tell you ' No worries mate, it's almost finished.'

 

Next steps

 

 
Ventilation Shaft


There are few windows in a dugout, it's the very nature of this type of construction. Ventilation shafts are useful in the back rooms.
A somewhat special machine is needed to make these shafts. Once again, it's a local construction. We know how to do everything here. We don't really have a choice. And when you have Michael's philosophy, you don't tell yourself that it will be difficult. Just "we will do it."

A long PVC pipe will be inserted into this long shaft to prevent dust from entering. A dust filter will be placed at the top end of the pipe, and the entire assembly will be covered with a cap to protect against the occasional rain.

 
Water supply system


The installation of water supply and drainage pipes in a dugout is not overly complex, but it does require a good understanding of plumbing. Drainage pipes will be used to evacuate wastewater. Greywater, on the other hand, will be directed to an underground irrigation system that will water the plants directly at the root level. This helps to avoid unnecessary water evaporation and to solve a major problem: the nature of the soil, which tends to reject water, makes infiltration difficult. Even heavy rains have no beneficial effect on the plants, as the water runs off rather than soaking in.


Blackwater, on the other hand, will be directed to a septic tank with a depth of 25 meters. This septic tank was excavated using a machine that is typically used for mining shafts.

AAA3
 
Electrical system


Installing the electrical system, or at least the main network, is not difficult for Michael. He makes sure to do it in complete compliance with the strictest rules. The entire network is buried, just like the water network. An immense concrete slab reinforced with rebar will be poured on the ground.

A5


I had asked Michael how he managed to solve the problem of hidden electrical wires, and he replied with his usual "No worries mate". He then explained his solution, which involved using a special drill made by an opal miner to drill very fine and very deep holes in the rock. These holes allow the electrical wires to pass invisibly from the switch to the ceiling light fixture. Now, how he manages to thread a wire into one hole and make it come out another: mystery??

It's also mysterious to understand how, starting from point A, he manages to make a small 10-meter hole that connects to a hole starting from point B.

I didn't dare to ask the question, for fear that his shy smile would turn into a pitying smile at my foolishness.

The inventor and manufacturer of this drill is Jurgens, and this is how he uses it.

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At this stage...

The interior finishing will begin.

 

We have now reached the final stage, where our dream comes to life: the interior finishing. This is a moment of creative effervescence, where every idea is carefully thought out and implemented. We have taken great care in the making of the furniture, which we have crafted ourselves with passion and dedication.

The result? A warm and unique space in Coober Pedy, where every corner tells a story. Our handmade furniture adds a personal and authentic touch to the whole. We have created this place with love, in the hope of sharing moments of conviviality with our guests. So why not book a room and discover for yourself this little underground paradise?