As a little girl, I used to stare at my grandma’s opal ring as it shimmered, danced, metamorphosed and captivated its unwary audience. This was no ring to be ignored. It was an accomplished seducer and would giggly coyly in the light, but once it had the attention of an admirer – it laughed out loud and changed colour.
For this was the famous Australian black opal. Heavy, precious and poignant with memories of past journeys, wars, and impossible love, this ring symbolized my family’s cross culture across the globe, from the grime of London East End to the hot, brutish, searing heat of the Australian bush.
The story below has been pieced together from journals and my grandmother’s diary when she returned to trace her Australian roots some thirty odd years ago, and from there brought back a symbol of her birthright - a tiny piece of Australian earth once buried deep below a hard baked crust.
It begins with Maurice Isaacs, born in
Here in the Southern Hemisphere was a city larger than most European capitals. In just a decade, the population had doubled, racing to half-a-million. While
Maurice eventually found work in a shoe factory and learnt the trade, taking a young Jewish Dutch girl as his wife, Frances. They were poor but respectable, working hard by day, and earning extra cash at home making boots and shoes. Eventually they set up their own factory and by all accounts, became wealthy after years of hard graft.
The three innocents were soon immersed in the jaws of The Great War, which was to engulf the world, and steal the lives of millions.
Like other terrible battles whose names reverberate in history, the word Gallipoli still holds sway and evokes a sense of awe and sadness. Some two hundred thousand allied troups were killed here. Of the three young lads that had run away from home to fight, Sam was the only one to make it out alive. Seeing his brother die first and then his best friend take a bullet standing next to him, Sam stumbled out and took leave, heading to
Sam had lost his brother, his best friend, his mother and sister all in the space of a few years. He changed his surname from Isaacs to King – George’s name. Perhaps this was in memory of his friend, perhaps it was to hide his “Jewishness”, and it served both purposes. The young solider found respite in Castle Street in London’s East End at the home of his father’s sister, Miriam Weinstein and her refugee Polish husband. They had three children, two daughters and a son.
Esther, the middle daughter, was a feisty attractive redhead and was to become the love of Sam’s life. However, Esther and Sam were first cousins. Despite family protestations and Sam returning to fight the remainder of the war, they eventually married. In 1918, as battles still raged in
Esther did her best to bear the heat, the bone brittle dryness of the land and the rowdiness of the clients but about 18 months later, and mother to a little baby girl - my grandmother Frances, she succumbed to what was described as a bout of brain fever. Sam decided to bring his English rose home. The voyage was hard, long, troubled, and sickly. Esther, it seems, was barely kept alive by an energetic and determined ship’s doctor.
They returned to the hustle and bustle of the city. Sam, educated, erudite, in love but without a real trade, continually pined for
From across the oceans and from different continents, it seemed neither could be totally content in the other’s world but to be together, it was a necessary price to pay. They had met in war from different ends of the globe, had survived frontline battles, were first cousins and bound together by love, blood and ancestry. They lived out the remainder of their lives in
I vaguely recall the excitement and expectation when my grandmother Frances journeyed back to
Throughout the years I have since heard stories about my fiery great grandmother whom I am said to take after, her loving educated husband from
The ring I now wear. The Opal is our family. It is both