Coober Pedy is known as the opal capital of the world, and for its quirky characters — both animal and human.
- Shoes in the outback opal-mining town of Coober Pedy are going missing
- Coober the rescue dog is to blame
- By day he is an opal miner and by night, a shoe thief
So it should come as no surprise to learn that over the past few months, shoes have been disappearing into the night from porches and dugouts littered across the famous landscape.
The question is not who, but rather what, has been stealing them — and it happens to have four paws and a stealthy gait.
“Coober has been night-shifting,” owner Genevieve Smith, 62, said of the one-year-old pooch, who has been collecting things from around the neighbourhood.
“We’ve got three men’s boots and we’ve got one lady’s shoe — a little black ballet one,” she said.
“And big, big lumps of really gnarled wood. He chews them.
“He hasn’t caught a mouse yet, which is unusual. And he hasn’t caught a rabbit, so he’s not that good!”
Ms Smith said the desexed part German shepherd, part kelpie and part dingo had never brought home anything recently alive.
“Anything that he’s brought home has usually been dead for months,” she said.
Then there were the two occasions where he brought home two pieces of pizza and a pig’s trotter.
“We think somebody’s feeding him,” she said.
Other than a food scab, Coober is also known to be a bit of a scaredy-cat, because when he comes across a lizard, he backs away and barks.
But, as far as the shoes go … well, that remains a mystery.
Ms Smith said she had put up a post in a local online community group, but no-one has come to collect their stolen shoes.
An escape artist
Unlike many dogs, Coober lives in the backyard of a dugout with two other dogs.
It is surrounded by a two-metre wall made of rocks and a fence.
Despite this, he has an innate ability to climb the unclimbable.
“We can’t contain him, he just has this natural ability.”
She thinks Coober may have developed the skill when he was a camp dog in Alice Springs.
“We believe it’s inbred in them — they’re camp dogs and they’re really really smart,” Ms Smith said.
“They have this instinct or intuition about hunting and they seem to gather things like they do in town camps.”
At just eight weeks old, Coober was picked up from a rescue shelter in Alice Springs by Ms Smith’s daughter.
Ms Smith and 70-year-old Des Roffey chose him specifically via a FaceTime call.
He was to be their next rescue dog, after their beloved canine Alice passed away.
“We had to do the tick and the flea stuff and then the worming.”
Since becoming a part of the family, which includes two other dogs called Nene and Jamal, Coober has developed a special connection with Mr Roffey.
Coober the opal miner
It might be a good thing that Coober has so much energy, as it means he gets to go with Mr Roffey to the dugout he’s building across town at Tomcat Hill.
It also allows him to go opal mining with Mr Roffey, who is retired, but self-employed as an opal miner.
“Coober comes with me most days and Jamal comes sometimes,” Mr Roffey said.
“They want to do everything you do, and they just love getting into the car and going for a ride getting up there and going mining.
“He likes to get right up the front and he likes to lay beside the machine.”
Mr Roffey is aware of the risks that a dog could fall into a mineshaft, but said the way he mines was safer than digging straight down.
“The more times you take them out, the more they get used to the country,” he said.
“You’ve got to call them back and keep them close.
“Where we build the dugout, you come in at ground level and you go into the side of the hill and where we’re mining with the tunnelling machine it’s the same sort of thing.
The pair have a unique relationship that Mr Roffey is very grateful for — even if it means waking up every morning to a new “gift” of some sort that Coober has dragged in from the opal-rich land.