How important are family photos to you?

Well, I’m pretty sure that I can answer my own question there.  To me, they’re unbelievably important.  And this is my why:

We lost my cousin a little while ago.  Suddenly and tragically.  We had no warning, no explanation.

The gaping hole he has left can never be filled.  His family will never be whole again.  They can only hope that one day the pain won’t be as bad as it is now.  They will always miss their husband, father, son, brother, brother-in-law, uncle.  And for our family, we will miss our nephew and cousin.

That’s what makes me so glad they have at least one reminder of happier times. Taking pride of place on wall of my auntie and uncle’s living room is a huge, beautifully framed family portrait of their entire family. All nineteen of them, taken only two years before.

My Auntie had been talking about having their family portrait taken for a couple of years. The shoot had already been twice delayed twice due to last minute circumstances changing with someone or another unavailable.  But finally, it happened.  It all just came together  (mind you, with a lot of eye rolling and good-natured  ‘do we really have to’)?  And trust Mark to be different!  He turned up in a fluorescent orange t shirt.

They chose the outlet at Robe as the spot to have their portrait taken.  This little secluded piece of paradise has been a favourite of our whole extended family ever since I can remember and was the absolute perfect location for their family photograph.

As kids, we spent many a long hot summer’s day at the outlet (or as we fondly know it, ‘the drain’) with our cousins.  We considered it ours and when other families would stumble upon it on an afternoon walk, we’d wonder indignantly what they were doing at our drain!

We’d walk barefoot from the shack down our little bush track, loaded up with surfboards, buckets and spades, towels, sunblock and snacks.  We’d take turns to tow the homemade canoe on the homemade trailer that our Grandpa had made for us and run through the burning sand until we reached our little beach.  Then we’d spend entire days swimming and playing at the drain. Not a worry in the world.

Our big boy cousins would gang up on us and as we’d pop up to the surface from under the water – or just float by on our surfboard – we’d get a sand-bomb or a slime-bomb *SMACK* to the side of the head!  And then, it was on – Sand-bomb wars!  And Mark, well he was the worst culprit.  At the very least, he was right in the thick of it –  but mostly, he was the instigator!  He loved a good sand-bomb war.

And then just on dark, we’d dawdle back to the shack, covered in sand.  First ones back got the hot showers in the pink bathroom – with the taps that had an electric current running through them.  Eight kids through the shower meant that the stragglers would have a cold one.  We’d then all drift off to sleep in our sleeping bags, on mattresses lined up on the floor with military precision, when the town power shut off at 8pm.

Then we all grew up. We had our own families, who also grew up spending their summers at Robe at the drain with their own cousins, as well as our cousins and their kids – one, big, happy, crazy family.

These are the kinds of precious memories that their family photo evokes now.  Happier times in our favourite place.  And no-one can ever take that away.

I don’t know if they’ll ever have another family photo taken now.

But at least they have this one.  And for that, I’m truly thankful.

Twelve months after photographing the Williams family, I realised just how important it was and organised our lot to have a family photo at the drain.  There was only one of us missing – a brother-in-law who was away working in the mines.  But a pretty good effort all up.  And very worth it.  As it turns out, we haven’t all managed to be together since.

Simone Hanckel