By ROD MOSS
Though Gregory was the most garrulous at Whitegate, older brother, Edward Arranye Pengarte Johnson was his senior. Several months elapsed after Elizabeth Johnson’s death before asking her father, Arranye, if it was okay to take photographs for a painting of her funeral, Funeral at Santa Teresa. It was the first of scores of Arrernte funerals I’d attend, though most were in town.
As I drove the poorly cambered dirt road Jude Johnson voiced concerns that, as at other funerals, it might be an occasion to settle differences; a fight perhaps that might topple someone into the grave on top of the casket. Despite zipped windows dust invaded the car as many others were making the 85 kilometre trip.
At Santa Teresa / Ltyentye Apurte (beefwood trees) grief spread among the community’s 650. The subdued atmosphere was palpable. Unctuous sermonising and howling dogs apart, all was respectfully quiet.
Until then I’d not realised the extent of the family and the time required to gather people from far and wide, in some cases, the breadth of the continent. This, in addition to raising the revenue to cover Centre Funeral Service’s costs from Alice Springs.
I needed to set the scene in the appropriate tableau and drove back to Santa Teresa with eldest daughter, Ronja, to photograph the graveyard with the flat tableland to the northwest. With dramatic instinct, she grabbed a bunch of plastic flowers from a grave inside the gate to place on Lizzie’s actual grave. You see her holding these in the painting.
Lenny Drover looks on from the left while Joany McCormack despairs. Arranye removed his shirt and donned a red headband to mark the gravity of the occasion. Jude Johnson accompanies Ronja with Robbie Hayes and Michael Stewart on the shovels.
PAINTING: Funeral at Santa Teresa, 1993.