The Underground Town of White Cliff, Australia

Many of the residents of White Cliff, Australia live underground, and used mining equipment to dig extensive homes in the hillside to avoid the intense heat outside. Outside, the thermometer is often over 100 F in summer, although it once almost hit 122 F. But inside these submerged homes, it hovers between 68 and 72 F.

White Cliffs was once an opal mining mecca. Now, a handful of people still try to eke a living from the glittering gemstones, while others depend on the tourists who come to stay in underground accommodations.

From above, the mining pit craters look like clusters of alien seeds or eggs, white against the red earth.

The opal mining settlement was part of a successful land title claim granted to the local Barkandji people by the Federal Court in 2015. Before the Barkandji were granted native title, many dugout dwellers had hoped to be given the opportunity to own their homes outright. The residents don’t currently own their own homes, but must agree to a perpetual lease with conditions some say are unreasonable.

The last census had a population of 156. Many of the 121 dugouts are now substantial structures with three to four bedrooms and all the conveniences of an above-ground dwelling.

“Underground building is very slow and difficult,” one resident said. “There’s nothing easy about it. Everything has got to be hand-cut and crafted and shaped underground. Probably half the dugouts are yet to be fully developed and made into beautiful homes.”

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