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The Opal Dragonfly

Isobel MacLeod is certain her father is about to die. She has overheard discussion to this effect that a duel was to be fought over her Papa’s honour and she feels she should, maybe could stop him doing such a dreadful thing. She carefully plans her actions and when she hears her father getting dressed and leaving the house she quickly dresses into her brothers clothing, setting off to try and save her father.

The first shot, a delope, is fired; the second is to be fired when Isobel, in a burst of righteous fury runs to her father, just as the second bullet grazes his head.

On that day the first steps to Isobel’s fall from grace, becoming an outcast in her wealthy and privileged life, were cast. As a member of the fashionable and wealthy sector of Sydney, with the family home, Rosemount, high on the hill at Woolloomooloo, interfering in what was considered a male concern was unforgivable.

But is this just another one of the misfortunes that have befallen the family over the many years since the day when her father returned with a young aboriginal girl Ballendella and two opals set in the gold surround of a dragonfly broach, as a gift for her mother to mark their 30th wedding anniversary.

Ballendella became her friend and was bought up as a member of the family until she simply disappeared one day. Isobel’s mother died when she was 13 years old, passing on to Isobel the Opal Dragonfly. Unfortunately the terrible dreams that seem to come with the broach are as much of a curse as they are a blessing, colouring the days of Isabel’s life, dreams which played a part in her disgrace and fall from society.

From that time on the family seemed to be plagued with much ill fortune, with Isobel’s older sister Ann becoming somewhat more unstable, the death of her brother and her older sisters  marrying and moving away, one to England and one not far from Rosemount. Isabel’s disgrace simply added to the ill-fortune.

Charles an artist engaged to work with Isabel on the watercolours and artworks encourages her to fall in love with him, eventually asking for her hand in marriage, which is given by her father. This move into a slightly more impoverished way of life, once again sets off a train of events that will see the family bought to the brink of ruin, financially and socially, Isabel faced with severe poverty, notoriety and hardship and finally and sadly accepting the massive imperfections of the people who she once considered her family.

Based on the historic event known and referred to as ‘ the last gentleman’s duel in Sydney in 1851’ , a duel which was fought between Sir Thomas Mitchell (1792-1855) and Stuart Donaldson in Sydney on 27 September 1851 in which each fired three shots. Donaldson later went on to become Premier of New South Wales in 1856.

Julian Leatherdale has taken this slice of early history and beautifully woven it into a tale which is one of complexity, families and the balance of power, which is fleeting at best.

AuthorJulian Leatherdale
PublisherAllen and Unwin
DistributorAllen and Unwin
ReleasedMarch 2018