The underground house: A 1960s opal mine-conversion

Welcome to the first episode of our new series, A Place Less Ordinary, where we explore incredible Australian homes that are anything but regular – and the extraordinary owners who create them.

From a rotating home that moves with the sun to a floating home, to a bubble-shaped abode and everything in between, this series will take you inside homes you never thought possible.

This week we tour the very special home of Irene Spillmann and Michael Farkas who have been living in underground houses in South Australia’s Coober Pedy for well over 20 years.

Irene and Michael adore their underground life. Picture: Good Cop Bad Cop

Beating the heat, underground

While green roofs are becoming a common way to take advantage of the temperature-stabilizing qualities of plants and the earth, underground homes are less common… unless you visit the remote town of Coober Pedy, where underground living is embraced.

The underground spaces (or “dugouts”) are a perfect way for the residents to escape the sweltering days and freezing nights of the central Australian desert.

The front of the Coober Pedy dugout house. Picture: Good Cop Bad Cop

From the outset, it sounds like Irene and Michael’s home, which started out as an opal mine in the 1960s, could really test anyone who suffers from claustrophobia.

On closer inspection, however, the space is actually airy and comfortable.

In fact, there’s a constant 22°C despite the extreme desert temperatures, say the pair who own three underground homes in the area, including spaces that can be hired out by travelers.

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A cool and comfortable bedroom. Picture: Good Cop Bad Cop

Michael insists that building these types of homes is a smart way to help to reduce the impact our homes have on the environment:

“People should build down, not up. The underground temperature is the perfect temperature.”

Creating a home under the earth

First forged by a bulldozer and explosives, then later a tunnel-digger, the home takes advantage of the ancient rocks that used to be part of an inland sea to form its walls.

With the clever use of glass and air shafts, the pair have managed to create a sustainable space that feels earthy, airy and inviting.

The walls, which were all carved and crafted with great care, each have their own personality, says Michael, which gives each room its own unique texture and feel.

Irene explains that when you’re building underground you don’t need to be constrained by using square shapes, instead, you can build whatever shaped room you like.

Taking in the view is much easier when you’re at a cool temperature of 22°C. Picture: Good Cop Bad Cop

Originally published as The underground house: A 1960s opal mine-conversion by Erinna Giblin. Author at