The Woman digs up the grave, pulling the suitcase out of it. She opens it up and looks out at the audience. She describes the return of her Aunty Grace for her grandmother’s funeral. The Woman only ever knew Aunty Grace through the pictures of her in the suitcase. Though she is alive, Aunty Grace’s pictures were hidden away in the suitcase rather than displayed with the other pictures of the rest of the family. When Aunty Grace arrives for the funeral, she stays in a hotel rather than with the rest of the family.
Aunty Grace is one of the rare members of the family whose pictures are in the suitcase before her death—this symbolizes that, while she’s still living, she’s dead to her family. Aunty Grace is clearly disconnected from the rest of her family and community and untethered from their experiences, good and bad.
Aunty Grace has lived in London for almost fifty years. No one in the Woman’s family ever talked to her about Aunty Grace growing up, and the Woman is surprised when Aunty Grace seems to know everyone in the family, even those she hasn’t met, by name. The Woman’s father tells her that Aunty Grace is not really part of the family—she moved away and became haughty after marrying an Englishman. The Woman’s grandmother often talked resentfully about Aunty Grace’s departure.
It is clear that Aunty Grace’s marriage to an Englishman (an emotional abandonment) and her move to England (a physical abandonment) have taken their toll on the Woman’s family. The Woman’s father and grandmother always saw Aunty Grace as insufficiently proud of or devoted to her heritage. This marriage is perhaps even more loaded since the British colonized Australia in the first place, and now the family seems to think that Aunty identifies more with the British than with the indigenous community she comes from.
On the day of Aunty Grace’s departure, the Woman drives her to the airport. On the way, the Woman stops at the cemetery so that Aunty Grace can look at the fresh soil of Nana’s grave. Aunty Grace stands by the grave for a long while, then returns to the car, retrieves her suitcase, opens it up, and strews its contents all over the ground. She drags the empty suitcase back to the grave, sits down, and begins to cry for the first time since she has been visiting. The Woman fills her own suitcase with red earth, then she places the filled suitcase on top of the grave.
In this passage, Aunty Grace—an outsider who seemed to have severed her connections, emotional and physical, to her past—reveals herself to be in a great deal of grief and pain. Though Aunty Grace may have tried to numb herself to the suffering of her family and her people by removing herself from them, upon her return, she cannot detach herself any longer. Instead, she surrenders to her pain. The Woman symbolically fills the suitcase—an object which belongs simultaneously to her, her parents, and her Aunty Grace—with red earth to indicate her willingness to bear the suffering of her family alone.