Mark leans on his cane, deep in conversation with a middle-aged couple taking a break from their audio tour around the mansion. With his snow-white beard, he’s a striking figure in his three-piece suit and top hat.
I hang back, waiting for the conversation to come to an end. Yet despite the couple's increasing glances away, Mark presses on. He’s now offering up histories on the lords and ladies whose faces remain immortalised in the oil paintings lining the walls.
Finally, the couple breaks and ventures to the next room. I seize the opportunity and approach him. “Hi Mark. I was wondering if I could take your photograph?” I ask, holding up the camera around my neck.
He agrees without hesitation.
But before I set my camera, he positions himself to be captured with the paintings in the background. He offers their names—which go in one ear and out the other, I’m sorry Mark—before gesturing to the furthest painting of a man posing in the garden. “See him, he shot himself in the laundry out back,” Mark informs me. "You can see it if you like. It's just out past the cafe."
I smile and nod and take the shot. We strike up a conversation as other guests float past. I learn the outfit is the mansion’s, yet the pocket watch tucked into his vest is his. He brings it out and we have a look. It’s worn, yet adorned with ornate engravings. I establish my watch cred to Mark by asking if it’s self-winding.
In between shots he asks about my camera settings. “50mm lens, f/2 aperture, ISO 1000, and 1/100 sec,” I reply.
He’s impressed. “It’s quite dark in here, most people struggle with the ISO.” We take a few more shots.
I thank Mark for his time and cooperation, and move on with Ivy out towards the balcony. Yet down the hall, soft morning light floods in—I can’t help but picture another portrait here. I turn, and find Mark already walking back towards me, pocket watch in hand. He poses against the wall. I take the shot, nod and move on.
Ivy and I wander among the mansion, taking in the ornate wallpapers, the sunlit conservatory. We pass through the laundry—no deaths today— and make our way back around the property.
Out by the entrance, light streams in through the arched verandah. Within the minute, there’s Mark, strolling towards me, moving in and out of the light. I ask him to hold his pose and capture his portrait for final time. We say goodbye and make our way back to the car.
Mark is as much Werribee Mansion as are the mounted game heads or the carved architraves running through the manor. He—like the mansion he calls home each Sunday—simply has that alluring photogenic quality.
And who am I to deny them of that?