It takes a lot to stand out as odd in Coober Pedy. It is, after all, a town where most of the population live underground and there’s a massive Hollywood spaceship crashed on the main street, but a man called Crocodile Harry managed it. And, even though he is sadly no longer with us, his home, Crocodile Harry’s Underground Nest, with it’s amazing decor is still one of the town’s must-see, and quirkiest, sights.
The Amazing Story of Crocodile Harry
I can’t write anything about Harry that hasn’t been written already – but so you’re up to speed the legend goes as follows.
Crocodile Harry’s real name was Arvid Blumenthal (or Arvids Blumenthal or Arvid Van Blumenthal, depending who you talk to) and he was Latvian; possibly a Baron!
He arrived in Coober Pedy in 1975 with a past story that he’d been a crocodile hunter up in the Northern Territory. Seems he’d once nearly come a cropper at the bitey end of a scaly one but managed to kill it.
When he realised he could make good money for the corpse he made a bit of a business of it.
When he stopped croc hunting though he ended up in Coober Pedy and decided to settle and try opal mining and apparently, was rather good at it.
He also became a bit of a man about town and his bra collection and signatures of lady visitors were just the start of the quirky decor that makes the Crocodile’s Nest a sight to behold today.
You want strange sculptures, it’s got them. You want nick nacks, flags from other countries, bits of old shark and pictures and paintings galore, they are here.
It’s now hard to tell what is original and what has been added by visitors to the dugout over the years but it makes one of those truly unique places to visit that Differentville was made to cover – so to say I was a bit happy wandering around Crocodile Harry’s home is an understatement.
Another understatement might be that Harry was a boob man.
Not only is one room full of those discarded bras, reportedly from his past ladies, but sculptures carved into the walls inside and outside the home also tend to be of the curvy variety.
At least one of them is apparently of ex-wife Marta who also contributed to some of the art in the dugout.
There Was a Mrs Arvid Blumenthal?
Yes, yes there was!
Legendary Lothario, Crocodile Harry was married – but even this is a fabulous tale.
Harry first met Marta by letter.
A picture of him shirtless appeared in a German magazine and women started writing to him. Marta was one of them and, despite being married at the time, she left her husband and moved to Coober Pedy to live with Harry!
They were interviewed by the Australian Woman’s Weekly back in 1981, and photographed by the big crocodile sculpture that’s still in the dugout today.
Rumour has it that at one point, Tina Turner’s bra was here at Harry’s – donated rather than acquired by other means, when Turner, and the rest of the Mad Max: Beyond the Thunderdome crew filmed at Crocodile Harry’s.
You can spend at least an hour poking around the cave-like rooms of Crocodile’s Harry’s nest spotting tiny details – there’s also cars and a few other artefacts outside that you shouldn’t miss.
Is Crocodile Harry Still With Us?
Harry died in 2006 at the age of 81 and I still can’t believe, considering going to his house was one of things I most wanted to do in Coober Pedy, that I missed Harry’s final resting place in the town.
He’s buried in Boothill Graveyard, a place full of graves shaped like castles or beer kegs, and considering the decor at the Nest, you’d think his grave would also have at least a touch of quirk about it – but no, it’s just a simple wooden cross and I totally missed it.
Thankfully other people didn’t so, here, thanks to the miracle of stock photography is what you’re looking for if you go to Boothill, which you should because it’s cool.
Click the link above to see more pictures of the fascinating graves – trust me, you’re going to want to read about the cat.
The Legend Lives On
While Harry is gone though, he’s not forgotten. And my favourite part of the Arvid Blumenthal story takes us far from Coober Pedy to prove it.
Back in Harry’s home town of Dundaga in Latvia, close to the castle that brings many tourists to the town, there’s a 2-tonne statue of a saltwater crocodile that baffles a lot of those same tourists. It’s for Harry.
The Visit Dundaga tourist board, explains that’s its a tribute to ‘devoted to the strong men of Dundaga and a reminder about the adventures of the former Dundaga resident Arvīds Blūmentāls who was a traveller and a crocodile hunter in Australia.’
There is also a permanent exhibit to Harry inside the castle itself.
When I posted my pictures on Harry’s on to Facebook, the sheer amount of people who had visited the nest was bizarre – including a few ladies who had met Harry himself. None of them would admit to leaving a bra though.
How to Visit Crocodile Harry’s Underground Nest
Its official address is Seventeen Mile Road – no, number, just drive down it and you’ll find it!
It is a dirt road for a fair few kilometres so expect dust. A lot of dust – and drive slowly, no-one needs to lose a windscreen or axle.
There’s a small donation box as you enter the dugout which allows visitors even when the site isn’t officially manned.
It costs $7 to get in and is open from 8 am to 8.30 pm.
We went first thing in the morning slightly off-season and had the place to ourselves – it could get pretty crowded in there if there are too many people in there.
So, there you have it, the Legend of Crocodile Harry and hopefully enough pictures of his fabulous underground home to entice you to visit – trust me,I haven’t shown you everything.
If you’re looking for more cool things to do in Coober Pedy, click on the link to see what else we recommend you do in this fantastic quirky town.