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HomeVolume 28Death followed by ritual body cutting: Biceps, thighs or chest

Death followed by ritual body cutting: Biceps, thighs or chest


When news broke about the death of Harold “Wheelchair” Ross’s daughter the camp soon filled with relatives and the air with the voices of wailing women. Through sobs,”Wheelchair” confided he’d have to go to Mt Isa where she’d lived and burn her belongings.

There followed ritual body cutting; biceps, thighs or chest. Women cropped their hair short and dressed in black. Even Xavier’s “gecko” blaster was mute.

Increasingly, deaths and their rituals were part of my life. We see Gregory exchanging the customary soft touching of hands with Eileen, former partner of “Wheelchair”. Theodora Johnson stands behind “Wheelchair”. Nearby stands Melita Johnson. Janet and Joany MacCormack sit on the ground.

At their side is Patrick Hayes senior with hand to mouth. On the distant ground, mid composition, sits Arranye. Joseph “Malde” Johnson and Bernard Neal are propped on chairs. Peter “Yungi” Johnson has his back to the viewer. Earl Hayes, Narissa Presley and Patrick junior lean against “Wheelchair’s” shed.

Following custom, the shed in which the deceased had once visited, was smoked and dismantled, the materials recycled to another campsite.

The smoking entailed the families forming a line and passing through the shed waving smoking arrethe / native fuchsia over its contents in order to release her “spirit”.

PAINTING: The Sorry Business of Wheelchair Ross, 1993


  1. Thanks for sharing Rod. Your experiences in The Alice give many of us insights into lives we know little of.


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