Leura author Julian Leatherdale’s latest novel, Opal Dragonfly, is inspired by Elizabeth Bay House and the other grand villas of Sydney’s Woolloomooloo.
It’s September 1851. Sydney is a city of secrets and gossip. Seventeen-year-old Isobel Macleod is determined to save her father because she loves him. But when she dares to trespass in a forbidden male world, she will be plunged into social disgrace. A wave of ill fortune threatens to swallow up her family and their stately home, Rosemount Hall, the finest house in the colony on the foreshores of Sydney Harbour.
Is Isobel to blame for her family’s fate or does the cause lie further in the past?
When Isobel was four, Major Macleod returned from an expedition with two “souvenirs”: an Aboriginal girl who became her friend and two opals fashioned into a dragonfly brooch for her mother. When Isobel inherits this unlucky heirloom, she wonders if the terrible dreams it summons are a curse or a gift.
Inspired in part by the story of the brilliant and arrogant Sir Thomas Mitchell, Surveyor-General of NSW, Leatherdale was fascinated that such a high-profile colonial official challenged a public enemy to what has been called the last gentleman’s duel with pistols in Sydney in 1851.
“I wondered how this might affect such a man’s young daughter, especially if she witnessed, in person, her father facing almost certain death,” said Leatherdale. “This duel appeared to me as a collision of the separate male and female spheres in the mid-19th century and the germ of an idea for a father-daughter story of complicated emotions.”
Opal Dragonfly tells the bittersweet story of an ambitious family’s fall from grace and a brave young woman’s struggle to find her true self.
Leatherdale’s first love was theatre. On graduation he wrote lyrics for four comedy cabarets and a two-act musical. In 2017, he wrote the short play A Life in Ten Meals for the theatre project Breaking Bread. He discovered a passion for popular history as a staff writer, researcher and photo editor for Time-Life’s Australians At War series. He later researched and co-wrote two Film Australia-ABC documentaries Return to Sandakan and The Forgotten Force and was an image researcher at the State Library of NSW.
He lives in Leura with his wife, novelist Claire Corbett, and their two children.
His first novel, Palace of Tears, was published by Allen & Unwin in 2015 and HarperCollins Germany in 2016.
Opal Dragonfly will be launched at The Carrington Hotel on the evening of March 23.