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The Black Opal

Language - English
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Description Katharine Susannah Prichard was born in 1883 to Australian parents then living in Fiji, but she grew up in Tasmania, lived for a while in both Melbourne and London before finally settling in Western Australia. She was one of the co-founders of the Communist Party of Australia in 1921, and her status as a communist and a female writer led to her being frequently under surveillance and harassment by the Australian police and other government authorities. She wrote The Black Opal in 1921, and the novel focuses on the very close-knit opal-mining community living and working on Fallen Star Ridge, a fictitious location set in New South Wales, Australia. Life is hard for the miners as their fortunes rise and fall with the amounts and quality of black opal they can uncover. Black opal is a beautiful mineral with fiery gleams of color, much valued for jewelry. Finding productive seams of such opal is a matter of both hard work and good luck. The novel is a well-drawn study of the relationships of the people living on the Ridge, and the two main characters are portrayed with clarity: Michael Brady, an older man much respected by the other miners for this knowledge and ethical approach, and Sophie Rouminof, a beautiful teenage girl who is the darling of the camp but who abruptly runs away to America after being disappointed in love. Despite the difficulties the individual miners face, there is a community spirit and an agreement on basic values and principles of behavior at the Ridge. But this community of shared endeavor is eventually jeopardized by the influence of outsiders, in particular an American who wishes to buy up the individual mines, operate them under a company structure, and simply pay the miners a salary. This conflict between capitalism and honest manual labour becomes one of the most important themes of the work.
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