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Austin's Australian Sister City Might Want Its Opal Back

Miguel Gutierrez Jr./KUT News
This opal, originally part of a ceremonial necklace commissioned by a former Lord Mayor of Adelaide, Australia, now resides in a safety deposit box in Austin.

Adelaide, the capital city of the state of South Australia, was designated in 1983 as one of Austin's sister cities. That's why, 32 years ago this Saturday, Adelaide officials gifted a $50,000 opal to Austin — a gift that the Australian city now wants back.

Adelaide newspaper The Advertiser reported back in May that the opal, which was worth $10,000 at the time, was “donated” to Austin as a result of an Adelaidian feud. Papers from the area report “mysterious” circumstances surrounding the gift. 

Adelaide officials asked their city archival team to find out what had ever happened to the stone, originally part of a ceremonial necklace commissioned by former Lord Mayor James Bowen of Adelaide for his wife. But in 1983, reports the Adelaide paper the Herald-Sun, a “fierce internal row” among council officials there, including Bowen and his successor, former Lord Mayor Arthur John Watson, led to the gem's “removal,” and it was subsequently presented to Austin during a sister city-related ceremony.

In 1983, Adelaide paper the Herald-Sun reports, a fierce internal row among council officials there, including two former Lord Mayors, led to the gem's 'removal,' and it was subsequently presented to Austin.

The Adelaide archival team dug up documents on the stone's history, which revealed that the opal resides here in Austin. But, apparently to the surprise of the Australian sister citizens, Austin hasn't put the opal up for public display. David Green of the City of Austin confirms that the opal lies in a safety deposit box in the city's treasury department.

Another former Lord Mayor of Adelaide, Steve Condous, told the Herald-Sun that he hopes Austin willingly returns the opal.

“What...good is that having it in storage? It means then you can’t see it," Condous told the paper. "We are dealing with really good Texans. They are very friendly, decent people.”

At this point, however, Green says Austin city officials have heard about the reports, but haven't heard anything directly from officials down under.

"It’s just a matter of wait-and-see. All we can confirm now is that we have it, it’s safe, it was gifted to us in 1983 — and that’s about it at this point," Green says.

Adelaide Councillor Anne Moran said she would formally ask the Austin City Council, via letter, for the opal’s return. Austin officials still have not heard anything from Adelaide. KUT reached out to Adelaide City Council but had not received a response at the time of publication. 

Austin will celebrate the 50th anniversary of its Sister Cities Program, a chapter of the Sister Cities International organization, this year. The program allows cities to pair together for cultural and business exchanges. The list of Austin's sister cities, of which there are 13, includes Antalya, Turkey; Lima, Peru; Xishuangbanna, China; the London Borough of Hackney, United Kingdom; and of course Adelaide, Australia.

For what it’s worth, the majority of the four commenters on the Herald-Sun’s online post about the gem seemed to agree that it was best to just let sleeping dogs lie and leave the opal in Austin. 

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