The Opal Miner’s Daughter by Fiona McArthur

Reviewed by Wendy Lipke

When I first read the title of this book, I envisaged a young girl growing up in the opal fields with her middle-aged father. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The opal miner in Fiona McArthur’s story is a mature woman who, unlike her husband, couldn’t settle for life in retirement in front of the TV. Having attended several classes, she undertook a road trip that ended in Lightning Ridge with her own opal claim. Her daughter is a specialist doctor in Sydney who decided to take on a short-term locum position in the Ridge so she could talk her mother into returning home. What occurs is the basis of this storyline.

Following the advice given to all writers to write about what they know, this author draws on her experiences as a rural midwife. Through the detailed descriptions in her writing, she transports her readers to the destination of her characters where they become shadows to the main players. Soon they are invested in the lives of the key town folk. Individual chapters are allocated to some of the main characters to progress the story through the eyes and thoughts of these key residents.

The New South Wales town of Lightning Ridge with its quirky advertising, artesian baths, brilliant evening sky and messy white mounds, becomes very familiar to the reader. This is not just the setting for two people who meet and fall in love. It forms the basis, rather, of a story about outback towns in Australia and some of the hurdles the residents face in accessing the medical help they often need. This is a story about the location as well as the individuals. It considers the time of retirement, about the needs of individuals at this time in their lives, and about long-term relationships.

Small towns are characterised by the resilience, friendliness and caring support of their residents. Lightning Ridge is no different. The contrast between life in Sydney and this outback town shines through. As an opal town Lightning Ridge has its unique characters and these add humour to the story. This is a town of big hearts and rough exteriors. There is drama and fear but also lots of love in its various forms.

No real character is perfect and each of the players in this story appears real. Their worries and fears soon become evident to other residents in the town who rally around with support. This is particularly evident with their dealings with a young woman with an unplanned pregnancy and another who feels unworthy because of a medical condition. The local doctor, who to those first meeting him appears like a Thor character, also has his demons. ‘The face that turned to her could have been carved from one of those gravel boulders outside her mother’s house’ (107). As in most places, mental health issues take little time to surface.

The Opal miner’s daughter, Riley, was firmly settled in Sydney as a fertility specialist. When she decided to follow her mother, she convinced her business partner that in the four weeks she was taking she could offer an infertility clinic in tandem with the local GP position. Little did she realise just how much this was needed.

The two young doctors, to the locals, seemed like superheroes, a theme which popped up throughout this story. Riley was ‘like an Amazon woman, tall and unafraid of anything’ (308), except in her personal life.

I thoroughly enjoy this author’s writing. What I find intriguing is that, although the story has a happy ending, there are still some unresolved issues which keep the reader’s mind actively imagining how these aspects would play out. It is not a book which once put down is forgotten.

Fiona McArthur was awarded the Australian Ruby Award for Contemporary Romantic Fiction in 2020 and the NSW Excellence in Midwifery Award in 2015. She has now written nine Romantic Fiction books and one non-fiction book Aussie Midwives.

The Opal Miner’s Daughter


By Fiona McArthur

Penguin Books

ISBN: 978-1-76104- 068- 9

$32.99; 386pp


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