Cooper Pedy is a small opal mining town on the Stuart Highway in the north of South Australia. It is about 850km north of South Australia's capital, Adelaide. Despite many of Coober Pedy's 1,700 residents living in dug outs and underground, they have two cemeteries; the "First Cemetery" and the "Boot Hill" cemetery. The latter holds most interests for tourist and grey nomads due to the local characters buried in it and the many quirky headstones.
The First Cemetery came about in 1921 after the death of Coober Pedy's first opal miner, James Conly. The site also includes many aboriginal burial including Billy (Pepper) Crombie, a film industry identity.
The First Cemetery was closed to burials in 1975, when a new cemetery that became known as "Boot Hill" was opened.
An account of James Conly's Burial
As proper boards for a coffin were not procurable we requisitioned and old wood dray from which we fashioned a decent looking box. When the corpse was enclosed we found that the box was too heavy for men to carrry especially as it was raining, a rare thing on the field.
The horse, who had only recently been broken into harness, started to jib when we hooked him on. So we took the horse out and five or six of us hauled the coffin through the mud and slush to the cemetery. Then to cap it all we found that the grave was too short and too narrow. Waiting there in the pouring rain until the grave was made big enough our tempers becam frayed.
As we had neither prayer book nor bible, and none of us was conversant with the prayer for the dead, "Old Bill", the classifier and valuer who had known Jim for years, said the following prayer:
"Oh, good lord, today we put in this grave what is left of one of the best blooming mates a man could wish to have. He was a straight goer, and we hope you will give him a good spin. If he is not among the angels, then neither me nor my mates want to go there. Thank you, oh lord."
Then as we were leaving, after filling the grave, "Old Bill" with tears running down his wrinkled face, looked round and muttered, "Goodbye Jim, old pal, it won't be long till more of us are pegging our claims on the Golden Shore"
Boot Hill Cemetery, Coober Pedy, SA
Opened in the mid 1970s, it has become renowned for a grave dedicated to a cat, a headstone with a beer keg on top, one shaped like a castle – and, a very simple resting place for Coober Pedy’s most eccentric resident.
Currently there are about 200 burials in "Boot Hill"
"Tiger Jarvis" is buried there. According to local folk lore, Tiger was a 16 year-old-cat whose owner, Lionel (Bob) Jarvis, adored the cat so much that when it died its body was frozen until Mr Jarvis was ready to be buried next to them. Bob Jarvis l died around 2009 at 92 years.
Boot Hill's big attraction is the grave of Karl Kratz. He died at the sadly young age of 52. When he found out he didn’t have much longer to live he wanted to ensure everyone celebrated his life properly once he’d gone. The epitaph, welded into the beer keg that serves as a headstone, reads "Have a drink on me". If the locals are to be believed Karl is buried in a coffin fashioned from corrugated iron.
Coober Pedy's oldest recorded resident is also buried in Boot Hill. The local paper reported his 100th birthday party in July 2009 telling of how his friends and family came from around the country and telegrams arrived from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and the then Governor-General Quentin Bryce, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Leader of the Opposition Malcolm Turnbull. Apparently, Mr Ferrall read them all without his glasses and had a beer! Cliff Ferrall lived until 102 years of age.
- Coober Pedia - Opal Capital
- The Quirky Gravestones of Coober Pedy Cemetery
- Exploroz dot com
- Slideshow Presentation of Coober Pedy
- Daily Motion (Karl Kratz' Beer Keg Headstone)
- South Australian Family History
- From Boyangs and Boomerangs by M.J. O'Reilly