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Queensland artist paints portrait of first Indigenous deacon from newspaper clipping

Catholic woman holds portrait of the first deacon in Australia
Inspired: Margaret Marshman proudly displays the portrait of Deacon Boniface Perdjert.

MARGARET Marshman has a good eye for a painting.

Earlier this year, the Emerald parishioner who attends St Patrick’s Church opened The Catholic Leader to read about the death of Australia’s first Deacon Boniface Perdjert, aged 82.

She was struck by Deacon Perdjert’s unique story as an indigenous Church leader. 

The story was accompanied by a striking portrait photo of Deacon Perdjert, with flowing white hair and beard – a wizened study of a profoundly respected Aboriginal elder in his Northern Territory community.

There was also a photo of Deacon Perdjert embracing Pope Benedict at the 2006 World Youth Day in Sydney.

“A friend of mine paints and has a long connection with Indigenous people mainly in Broome and Dalby in Western Australia,” Mrs Marshman said.

“I thought the deacon’s face was a good subject for her to paint.”

Mrs Marshman handed over a clipping of The Catholic Leader story to her artist friend Jackie Knox, who was keen to take up the painting challenge.

Mrs Knox painted from the photo in the paper, then entered her work in the Emerald Show.

Not only did she win a prize, Mrs Marshman bought the painting from her.

“However, what to do with such a painting?” Mrs Marshman said, proudly displaying her portrait of Deacon Perdjert.

She wondered if Deacon Perdjert’s parish – the remote community of Wadeye in the Northern Territory, would be interested in hanging it.

The Wadeye parish, in the Territory’s north-west, certainly was.

“That’s good. We can certainly put that up in a very prominent place, even the church,” parish priest Missionaries of the Sacred Heart Father Leo Wearden said.

“The church is where the original photo of Deacon Perdjert was taken. It just happened to be that a little bit of light was shining on his face, through the window.

“It was a really nice shot.”

Deacon Perdjert was widely regarded for his preaching in his native language and developing the faith community in Wadeye.

“He was strong in his culture, but also spent his life, beginning as a catechist and then teaching the faith,” Fr Wearden said.

“(He) was just able to articulate it. It takes a long time to get that sort of knowledge, and he did it very well.”

During his lifetime of work, Deacon Boniface travelled to Rome, the Holy Land and met three popes.

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