'Stella Haven, district nurse at Chichurkna, Central Australia, is relieving at Worree when she hears that her fiancée, Harry Innes manager of Chichurkna Station, has disappeared after his friend, George Freyer, is found seriously injured at the foot of the Monk, the 1,200-foot rock peak which dominates Chichurkna township. Still unconscious, Freyer has been taken to the hospital and placed under the care of Dr. Reuben Gill and his wife, Marcia, who is Stella's foster-sister. On the 350-mile train journey from Worree to Chichurkna, Stella encounters a strange black, who late at night surreptitiously boards the train at the Bad Hills, twenty miles from its destination, and tells her that a fantail she has just heard whistling in the cutting is the soul of George Freyer, who at that moment has died. In the darkness, Stella has the feeling the black could be Tim Arkaringa, a native stockboy, who had been brought up by the Havens. According to Aboriginal superstition, the fantail or chichurkna, is the whistling bird of death.
At Chichurkna railway station, Stella is met by Superintendant Ambrose Mahon, who tells her that Freyer has been stabbed in his hospital bed by an unknown assailant, and that Innes is still missing. This is the third mysterious tragedy associated with the Monk, as both Jonas and Amy Haven, Marcia's mother and father, and the foster-parents of Stella, had crashed to their death from the top of the peak. The Monk is a sacred repository of the blacks' tjurunga, which are reputed to be hidden in caves under the overhang. These caves have never been seen by white men, except perhaps by Jonas Haven, who, according to a vague district rumour, had concealed a quantity of stolen opals somewhere on the mountain. It is for these opals that Harry Innes and George Freyer were searching when the latest disaster occurred...' (Publisher's abstract)