The Opal Desert

The Opal Desert

Di Morrissey, Macmillan

The Opal Desert tells the story of three women who are at turning points of their lives: Kerrie, whose time-consuming, demanding husband has just died; Shirley, a recluse in a dugout, who intends to stay there and Anna, who has to make decisions about her athletic career.

The story is set in the Australian outback where the women meet.

My favourite parts of the book are the background in which the characters are set, the information about fossilised opals and dinosaurs, the stories the characters listen to about mysterious disappearances, the types of jewellery made with opals, the history of the outback towns the characters visit and the descriptions of the desert scenery and the accommodation that the community builds for themselves.

For example, “As she looked across the little town and the plains beyond, she committed the primary colours that burnt on her retina to memory — deep blue sky and white clouds; russet red rocks; soft deep green trees; the flash of scarlet flowers; the golden light; the soft-looking, tufted balls of grasses.”

The community live in dugouts; scooped out areas underground which began as mines and are then expanded into homes, after the opal has been cleared out. When they want more room they dig one out.

The different people Kerrie visits have decorated their dugouts to match their personalities; clean and whitewashed or made with blood-red mud; filled with papers or with creativity. Even their furniture sounds fascinating.

I expect there to be an increase in outback tourism after the publication of The Opal Desert.

Katy Gerner

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