Portrait 2: My father at 26

Words by Chris Somerville

Pictures by Chris Somerville

Published on August 9, 2013

My father had studied photography and thought he’d be a photographer, but then that hadn’t exactly panned out. He and my mother spent some years moving around the country. They’d met in Queensland and then made their way down to Tasmania. They’d married when they were twenty-three.

For a while my father was a clerk at an army barracks in Hobart, and then he’d become a librarian. He used to tell me pretty frequently that, when he was doing his masters, he’d made a machine that would randomly generate ISBN numbers. I never saw this machine, or saw him build any other kind of machine, but when I was young I’d assumed he had the capacity to invent something one day; that maybe he’d come home with a robotic hand or a mechanical bird.

In Hobart we had a shed in the back corner of our yard where he’d spend most of the time sitting, reading books, smoking pot, and listening to albums on cassette tapes. The place smelled overwhelmingly like petrol. Sometimes he’d work on a project in there, but it was usually building a shelf, or sanding down the top of a bedside table.

I once told the kids at school that my father had broken his leg while we were skiing. It was just the two of us and he’d come down the fall line of a hill, and tumbled and his leg had snapped. I told people about the bright orange stretcher that he was on, that they take you back down the slope backwards so you — as the patient — don’t anticipate the turns.

The story was a lie, though. I’d seen it happen to someone else and then my father had explained all of this, about the stretcher, how an accident like that can happen.

Chris Somerville’s first book, We Are Not The Same Anymore, was published earlier this year. He can be found at www.chrissomerville.com.