Austin’s Australian Sister City Wants Their Gemstone Back

“Nobody really understands why it was broken from the necklace.”

By Rhonda Fanning & Laura RiceNovember 19, 2015 9:14 am

The Statue of Liberty was a famous gift to the people of the United States from the people of France. The cherry trees along the Potomac were a gift to Washington from Japan. There’s also one lesser-known gift: the city of Adelaide, Australia gave a large opal to its sister city of Austin, Texas.

Both cities were founded in 1839 and both are Capital cities located along rivers.

Over the years, the sizable opal, mounted as a broach, has been worn occasionally by the wives of Austin mayors to special events. In Austin, the broach isn’t being worn by anyone, it has been relegated to a safety deposit box. When that became public knowledge, the city of Adelaide decided to ask for it back.

Thursday, the Austin city council will take up a resolution to discuss returning the opal.

Lady Mayoress Genevieve Theseira-Haese, whose title was bestowed by the lord mayor of Adelaide to assist him in his civic duties and work with the community, speaks to the Standard from Austin’s sister city in Australia. She says that the opal and the “Lady Mayoress” title are deeply intertwined.

Theseira-Haese says the opal was given as gift from a former lord mayor to his wife to denote love and duty. According to The Advertiser, the gem was the showpiece for an 18-karat yellow gold necklace with diamonds commissioned by former Lord Mayor James Bowen for his wife Natalie, to match the chain lord mayors wear on special occasions.

The couple’s successors in the role, Arthur John Watson and his wife Diana, had the gem removed from the necklace and then presented it as a gift to Austin, perhaps, Theseira-Haese says, because of political tensions in Adelaide or the superstition that opals bring bad luck.

“Nobody really understands why it [the opal] was broken from the necklace,” she says. “It was given, because at the time, it was said that the mayoress didn’t like to use an opal, but it still hasn’t answered why it was sent as a gift. We wondered where it went, actually, and then we found out. And that’s when a council member just mooted, ‘It would be a lovely gesture if we could bring it back, if Austin didn’t mind.’ We had found out that it was in a safe.”

According to the Austin American-Statesman, former Austin mayor, Lee Cooke’s view is that “outside of the principles that people have all over the world, no matter what culture: When you give something, you don’t ask for it back.” Theseira-Haese says she agrees.

“We’re not asking, we’re gently saying it would be a nice gesture so we can put it back into history as part of the lady mayoress’ stories, which has been missing from town hall,” she says. “There’s nothing written about the work of the lady mayoresses, so that’s what I’m trying to collect: 175 years of the work that was done to inspire future generations.”

As for the gift Austin gave to the city of Adelaide on July 1983 in exchange for the opal, Theseira-Haese says the limited edition bronze cast of a longhorn bull is “sitting in the lord mayor’s office.”

“So I’ve said that if the opal doesn’t come back, I will put the bull next to the necklace on display,” the lord mayoress says.

As for future cultural exchanges, Theseira-Haese says “there’s a big interest” with Adelaide’s city leaders to visit Austin, with the possibility of inviting Australia’s young entrepreneurs as well.

“We’ve both got a lot in common festivals, music, the arts, and we thought we’d like to host visitors from sister cities and give them privileges when they come visit,” Theseira-Haese says.