Spark of Opal by Mavis Thorpe Clark

Melbourne: Lansdowne, 1968.
173 pages; hard-cover; 22cm; 7 b/w illus by Genevieve Melrose.

More publishing information

Award

  • The German edition won a place on the Deutscher Jugendbuchpreis (German Children's Book Award) in 1971.

About the story

"For eight years, Mike and May Watson and their two children, 15-year-old Liz and 13-year-old Bill, have lived in a dug-out home in an Australian opal-mining town. Big strikes are being made on the opal field and Mike has a hunch that he is about to find his "parcel," the one that will make them rich, but time is running out. At the end of the year the Watsons must move to Adelaide and live with Grandma Birch so that Liz can go to high school.

For Bill, leaving the Opal Town means losing his best friend Steve, his dog Potch and the free life he loves. For Liz, it means abandoning the Aboriginal girl, Kathy, who depends on her. In a desperate attempt to find a different solution to the family's problems, the young people embark on a dangerous plan."

- Spark of Opal (1973) blurb.

Background

Mavis Thorpe Clark visited Coober Pedy in 1960, 1963 and 1966 with Harold Darwin, "The Library Man". She returned in 1967 with her brother Bob Clark and again in 1968 with daughter Ronda, gathering and confirming details which would furnish several books, including Spark of Opal and Opal Mining. And Mavis, never the "tourist", made the most of each visit:

"Our accommodation in Coober Pedy (in 1967 with brother Bob) was a tin shed, the size of a garage, set in isolation in the middle of a stony hill at the back of the town. There was no roof on the little room up the hill and the warped tin door of this edifice always stood 6 inches open, refusing to fasten closer. We separated our stretcher beds with a grey blanket hung from the roof so that if I wanted to read by the kerosene lamp at night and Bob wanted to sleep, he could do so comfortably…"

- Trust the Dream (1999) page 196.

"There is no more beautiful or colourful precious stone than opal. The fires within the green or milky body are live fires. They flash and twist and turn, never repeating the same movement. It does not take much mining success to hook a man or a woman on opal. But in those days, opal mining did take strength, stamina and a tolerance to the scarcity of water; this scarcity permitting only a few inches in a baby's bathtub to clean not only the body but the body's dirty clothes. The water ration was severe that year of 1967; 22 gallons per person per fortnight at 60 cents a gallon was delivered into your own petrol drum… For several months, each having taken out a Miner's Right which cost 50 cents, we toiled, dug holes, let off gelignite…"

- Trust the Dream (1999) page 197.

"…it was now decided by Bob that the box of 100 sticks of gelignite would be placed under my bed because beneath it was the most empty floor space available. I did not object. I did not doubt that my brother, as an amateur gem hunter, knew the vagaries of gelignite. But it seems that an amateur gem hunter is not an opal miner. For nights I slept with that box of gelignite under my body, until someone told us what gelignite could do if it sweated…"

- Trust the Dream (1999) page 198.

"Many holes were dug; there was much sweat and toil. We learnt from our experiences about the ways of mining opal; but only enough colour was found to lure us on."

- Trust the Dream (1999) page 199.

Excerpt

"Liz took the six-inch fuse-lighter - like a thin brown cigar - from her brother's hand and set to work, not even jumping when the first fuse hissed alight. Once the first fuse was a-smoulder there was no time to waste. They had just the amount of time that the first fuse took to burn down to the detonator in which to ignite all the rest, get clear, and be hauled to the top."

- Spark of Opal (1968) page 134.

See also Inspiration for Spark of Opal

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Cover illustration: three teenagers pack gellignite into a box.

Cover of 1968 edition of Spark of Opal.

Illustration: several aboriginal adults and children digging in the mullock heaps.

"The Aborigines of this area made their income by noodling. It was the women mostly who noodled the dumps for the bits of opal that the miner missed."
Spark of Opal (1968) page 35.

Illustration: Cover illustration: Carl and the boys assess the quality of the opal.

"Carl was sitting at his bench now. In front of him was the small parcel of stones which they had carried from Eldorado in their pockets."
Spark of Opal (1968) page 58.