Betty was always disappointed Joanna and Nicholas didn’t become members of the ALP. By the time she died, she couldn’t blame them. Politics went off the dinner table completely in the mid-nineties and there’d been no reason for it to make a comeback. And Lin’s interest had never been a compounding one.
If Lin had ever tried to make their kids show an interest in something, it was what the world looked like. But if the lens of his camera proved anything, it was that not even structurally identical lenses would ever produce the same image in different peoples’ hands, assuming Jo or Nick even thought to point it at the same thing.
We’re awestruck by displays of literary and artistic empathy not because they’re truly real, but because it’s impressive to see someone get close. The fact that no one does, ever, get there, is just a fact, and one that Lin accepted. That didn’t, however, stop him from trying, at least in his earlier days. The Australian General Electric exhibition was a turning point, or rather, his series on it was.
The exhibition was meant to give attendees an insight into the wonders that Australian General Electric Co. had created to harness and process the potential uses of electricity in a newly industrial age. It had seemed ludicrous to Lin from the start. The deification of these machines struck him as being akin to ants celebrating the systems of saliva-based liquefaction they use to digest solids.
On a contact sheet, he bookended dark, squalid shots of the computers the museum had propped up in dark rooms, lit by moody skylights and ceiling-long fluorescent tubes, with two shots of sun, water and trees – of the gods, really. And he thought it was rather clever.
Unfortunately, when it didn’t persuade anyone, least of all his quite gifted children, that his way of expressing himself was preferable to anyone else’s, Lin let it get to him. Because just as the kids hadn’t shown any increased interest in joining the ALP, they also outgrew the special appeal that a peculiar byproduct of their father’s hobby had to children, and stopped accompanying their father on photographic balloon rides too.
The first balloon ride ticket stub bearing Jo or Nick’s name alongside Lin’s own, after a thirty-year stint of solo rides, coincided with Lin’s seventy-fifth birthday. They did it for him, finally able to accept his silence as he stared down the viewfinder at the landscapes beneath, which became for him, at that height, temporarily more interesting than his children, resigned as he thought he was, for his part, to the fact that they didn’t take after him in this. It had been thirty years since, in the winter following their non-reaction to his Australian General Electric Co. contact sheet, Lin had stopped asking if they wanted to come with him. On this ride, however, he couldn’t help passing the camera to Jo just once. She didn’t even raise it before passing it back to him. ‘You just have fun, Dad.’
It would be a lie to say he did. Truer to say he just managed well enough, and to note that he had the bitter grace to be amused that it still hurt him, even when the camera was digital, and his eyes no longer registered detail; a forty-eight-year-old child, a seventy-five-year-old widower, and not even a half-century could pry his passions from his progeny’s approbation.
Lin spent forty-five minutes on the phone the following weekend, attempting to purchase ALP memberships for Joanna and Nick, giving up when the young man on the other end of line reiterated, for the fourth time, that their signatures were required.
Ashley Thomson is an editor and writer. Upon graduating the Australian National University in 2011, Ashley worked as Editor-in-Chief of Canberra street press BMA Magazine until early 2014. Since leaving that position, Ashley has worked as a freelance editor and writer for The Australia Times and DESIGN Canberra. Publications include Green Magazine, Architecture Australia, ACTWrite Journal and Feminartsy. Follow him at @aabthom or on his blog, Swimming with Elephants.