Stone Sky Gold Mountain by Miranda Riwoe

1. First lines 2. Published 2020 University of Queensland Press. 3. Maytown General Store. Source: State Library of Queensland [No known copyright restrictions] 4. Maytown Palmer Goldfield. Source: Queensland State Archives [CC BY 2.0] via Flickr 5. Portrait of a Chinese man in Cooktown [No known copyright restrictions] via Flickr Background: Parchment vintage paper via Needpix

Ying and Lai Yue are working on the goldfields at Palmer River, north Queensland in 1877. They have left China to make money to help the family that remains behind. Life is hard and they are starving, so they leave the diggings and go to nearby Maytown where they both find work. Ying makes friends with a young white woman, Meriem who is shunned by the townspeople. Meanwhile, Lai Yue is working as a shepherd at an outlying sheep station, and he is haunted by the girl he was to marry in China, and who had died in a landslide.


“Sunbirds whirr among the drooping leaves; a honey sucker, as sombre as a monk, lands on a branch, watches her for several seconds and then swoops off.”

“Sullivan’s face is smudgy from too much drink and his stomach folds complacently over his belt.”

My opinion:

Beautiful descriptive writing and fascinating historical details that have obviously been thoroughly researched, didn’t translate to an absorbing story for me.

The opinion of others:
  • Australian Book Review: Riwoe masterfully wields the interiority of marginalised characters to destabilise dominant colonial narratives. Riwoe’s depth of research is evident in her intricate descriptions of late-1800s Queensland.
  • Readings: “The writing here is subtle and the subject matter is beautifully researched. Historical fiction often struggles to gain broad appeal but Riwoe adeptly weaves together a compelling narrative while highlighting an aspect of colonial Australian history that is not often seen from the point of view of the displaced.”
  • Judges’ comment (Queensland Literary Awards): “An impressive and accomplished work of literary fiction, Riwoe’s prose is lucidly crisp, poetic and a pleasure to read. An engaging tale of outsiders, the novel explores a lesser known story of the many Chinese migrants who settled in Queensland, and the intense discrimination and hardships they suffered.”
Historical background:

Gold discoveries at Palmer River, North Queensland in 1873 attracted more than 20,000 miners, including 18,000 Chinese people. Located about 200 kilometres from Cooktown, the town of Maytown was the centre of the Palmer River goldfields in the 1870s.


2020 Winner Fiction Book of the Year Queensland Literary Awards; 2020 Shortlisted Queensland Premier’s Award for a work of State Significance Queensland Literary Awards

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