A few months after our father Haydn died, my brother Julian came across a shoe box among Dad’s things labelled ‘Europe 1963’. Inside were boxes of slides taken on the first of what would be many overseas trips Haydn would make during his lifetime: on this occasion, he travelled from Melbourne by boat on the SS Flavia to Europe via Egypt, touring the continent by car, before flying to New York and on to Tahiti.
Among boxes of slides showing Haydn partying, playing deck tennis and seeing the sights was a collection of images I’d never seen before of my parents with me as a baby. I was born in the analogue era, when taking photos was still a big deal. We had a camera–my father would’ve sold Kodak Instamatics along with film and flash cubes in his capacity as a pharmacist–but almost all the early photos of me are black and white. Until Julian unearthed the box of slides, I’d never seen a colour photo of me as a baby with my father.
And what a photo–such joy! Even peering at the tiny transparent rectangle, I knew it was a beautiful image. Julian subsequently managed to digitise the slide into the image above. It feels like a gift twice over: a moment of love shared by my father from beyond the grave, made possible by a labour of love on the part of my brother.
I assumed the photo was taken in Broken Hill, NSW, as there were other images among the slides that clearly date back to a visit my parents made there when I was six months old. My mother’s father, Mervyn Whelan, was stationed in Broken Hill as a policeman, living there with my grandmother, Olga, and at least their two youngest children, my aunt Dominica, who was around 13 years old at the time, and my uncle Michael, who would’ve been ten or so. There are other (black and white) photos of me with the four of them, and this shot with my mother on the edge of a lake.
On reflection, I wonder if the photo of me and Dad was taken a little earlier (I have less hair!), possibly in Melbourne’s Royal Botanical Gardens.
In truth, the location is not as important to me as the emotion in this photo. The laughter on my face, revealing a dimple in my pudgy left cheek. My father’s matching smile. The way he is holding me, which seems designed for my comfort and not his. I love the lustre of his hair and his chic white polo knit.
And the photo of me with Mum by the lake has always been a favourite. She looks so young and beautiful.
She was old and beautiful when she died.
Dad was still smiling.
I miss them both so much.