Andamooka is a town approximately 600 km north of Adelaide in the Far North of South Australia. Andamooka is the largest town administered by the Outback Communities Authority instead of a local government area. It is in the state electoral district of Giles and the federal Division of Grey.
The name is derived from a salt lake, named from the Aboriginal 'Andemorka', by which the locality was known to Europeans as early as 1866, well before opal was discovered. The meaning is uncertain. At that time (1866) it was also known as 'Swinden's Country', after Charles Swinden of Riverton, the leader of the small horseback party which discovered it in 1857. They described it as a tract of 'generally sterile country, but having some patches of good pastoral land'. It was those meagre prospects which attracted pastoralists, resulting in the foundation of Andamooka Station, which for the next half century was the only industry.
Opal was discovered there in 1930, and the town developed out of the scattered miners' camps which established in the area. An Andamooka Opal Fields Post Office was not opened until 13 January 1947, and was renamed Andamooka in 1990. The road into Andamooka was sealed in the 1990s, but the remaining roads in the town are still unsealed.
A number of historic buildings in the town are heritage-listed: the Andamooka Historic Precinct (containing Frank Albertoni's House, Bob Cutzow's Dugout, Tom Brady's Dugout, Mrs Perry's Kitchen and Andy Absalom's House) and Dick Clark's Residence are both listed on the South Australian Heritage Register.
There are numerous opal fields in Andamooka district, one of the principal outliers being White Dam. The original pick and shovel shaft miners, many of whom were the bush characters and social outcasts who gave the settlement a 'Wild West' reputation, were gradually displaced from the 1960s and 70s by the arrival of miners using bulldozers which made deep cuts to reach the respective opal levels, from where horizontal drives could easily be made to fully exploit the level. The several opal levels at Andamooka are not as deep as other fields such as Coober Pedy and Lightning Ridge. However, while the opal may be easier to reach, it is generally scarcer and poorer in quality. Those factors always made this gemfield attractive to smaller prospectors with limited capital. Nevertheless, some remarkable gems have been mined, including the Andamooka Opal which was discovered in and named after Andamooka.
The earliest miners occupied rough dugouts driven into the side of a hill. The underground portions provided excellent insulation against the extremes of outside temperature. Being unsurveyed, occupancy was determined by tenuous Miners' Right. That situation deterred capital investment and so in the 1970s Andamooka was essentially a declining shanty town. Civic affairs, such as they were, were organised by a citizens' progress association. Their limited activities mainly related to electricity generation and supply, and maintaining the dirt airstrip in case the Flying Doctor was needed. All roads were unsealed tracks, while the main street was a dry rocky creek bed (unless there was a rare thunderstorm). There were few government agencies. Until a police station was opened in 1966, the police made routine weekly visits from Woomera, a mostly military town that supported the Woomera Test Range and Joint Defense Facility Nurrungar. Unless there was an emergency in between these visits, the isolated settlement was self-policing. An establishment named the Tucker Box, which was a licensed restaurant, was the social hub. The Andamooka Co-Op Ltd supplied groceries and fuel.
In the 1980s, with an influx of work through the advent and development of the nearby mine at Olympic Dam, more houses were built and transported in. Many of the town's houses came from the demobilisation of Woomera. A transformation then took place. Not many people still live in the traditional dugout style houses of old, although remnants of the town's past remain in the main street, with the cottages of old miners dug into the side of the hill in the main street still standing.
In the 2011 census, the town had a population of 592 people, up from 528 in the 2006 census. Of these, 55.2% were male and 44.8% were female. Their median age was 42 years, five years older than the national median of 37. Children under 15 made up 20.1% of the population, and people aged 65 years and over made up 15.5%. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people made up 3.5% of the population. Most (68.6%) were born in Australia; the next most common countries of birth were England 4.0%, and Germany 2.7%. The most common religious affiliation was "No Religion" 27.7%, followed by Catholic 19.6%, and Anglican 10.3%.
Its main industry was mining. Since the establishment of the nearby Olympic Dam copper-uranium mine and the town of Roxby Downs in the 1980s, some residents of Andamooka are now employed in the mine or in Roxby Downs, and many others are retired.
Until recently, Andamooka townsfolk had to rely on water supplies trucked in from Roxby Downs, or above ground cisterns for the limited rainfall of the region. A pipeline to the township has since been built, although water still has to be trucked to the town's water tanks.
The 1979 film The Last of the Knucklemen filmed its exterior shots in and around Andamooka. The "Andamooka Opal" was presented to Queen Elizabeth II on the occasion of her first visit to Australia in 1954. This opal, once cut, weighed in at 203 carats (40.6 g).
Andamooka was also referenced in the Max Brooks novel, World War Z.The Andamooka Opal, presented to Queen Elizabeth II in 1954, also known as the Queen's Opal.
The Addyman Plesiosaur, "the finest known opalised skeleton on Earth".
Annual rainfall is extremely low, even by Australian standards, with the average in the region just 160 mm per year. The climate is very arid, with daytime temperatures in summer regularly topping 40 °C (104 °F) and night temperatures in winter often dropping close to zero (32 °F).