Tassie pioneer Mick Lawrence tells life story through film 'Rogue Waves'

Georgie Burgess
Swellnet Dispatch

In the days after his son's tragic death, Mick Lawrence took off into Tasmania's south-west wilderness alone. It was a place he'd found solace in during other dark patches in his life.

But not this time.

"It was awful, there was no answer there for me at all," he said. "I suddenly felt betrayed, as if the thing that gave me solace before was no longer interested.

"In hindsight I was in shock, I was having an out of body experience, I was looking down on Mick Lawrence, I wasn't Mick Lawrence."

The paddle out to remember Tim Lawrence, held at Clifton Beach. (Supplied: Mick Lawrence)

The death of his only son Tim in 2017 was one of the rogue waves in his life.

Rogue waves appear suddenly, and are large and destructive.

The 72-year-old surfer and film maker said the phenomena summed up his life, and that's why it is the title of the movie he has created.

"For some people they are 8 foot, for others they are 80, it's just a difference in the magnitude of the problem," he said.

'Rogue Waves' is a journey through his life chasing waves and personal loss.

Trailer for Mick Lawrence's 'Rogue Waves'

A story from a dad to his son

'Rogue Waves' originally came about from a chance encounter with a stranger three years ago in remote Port Davey in the south-west. Mr Lawrence had written a surfing book during ill health more than 10 years ago.

[Editor's Note: A chapter of Mick's book about the history of Shipstern Bluff appeared on Swellnet here]

After surviving an aorta tear he began collating stories about his life. "Part of my therapy was to write a whole series of stories about my surfing life," he said.

"My intent was to pass them on to my son as a legacy to give him an understanding as to how I wasted my life."

After Tim's death, Mick Lawrence went into the south-west on his own for three days. (Supplied: Mick Lawrence)

A 90-year-old man approached Mr Lawrence at Port Davey where he was guiding on wilderness tours, and said he had read the book. The stranger asked Mr Lawrence why he hadn't made a film about his life. He later reflected on the conversation, and decided it wasn't a bad idea.

"I had hundreds of hours of footage from kayaking in the southwest, lots of surf footage and access to surfing footage," he said. "I decided to make a story for my son again, it was going to be an extension of the book."

But, a rogue wave changed those plans.

"My son was tragically killed in a jet ski accident at Marion Bay," he said. "I just dropped the project, there was no need anymore to do it."

Local surfers form a guard of honour at the paddle out for Tim Lawrence. (ABC News: Aneeta Bhole)

Three months after Tim's death Mr Lawrence's friend and composer George Goerss came to see him. He had composed music to a series of footage from Tim's paddle out and service.

"George convinced me there and then, if for no other reason than my own therapy, to pick the project up and finish it," he said. "It's still a story, it's my story to my son, just covering a different subject now — his loss."

The State Cinema in Hobart showed interest in the film and offered to screen it.

'At times it was brutal'

Mr Lawrence admits working on something so personal to him came with its challenges. "It no longer became a personal story from a dad to his son," he said.

"At times it was brutal, I almost walked away several times, it was all too hard. The more I persevered the easier it became."

The film touches on Mr Lawrence's battle with the 'black dog'.

"Did I really want to expose this sort of thing? My mental health, my dad's suicide?"

"When I had my mental health issue I couldn't talk to anyone about it, not even my wife, I couldn't even talk to a GP."

He said the film didn't offer any answers, merely his own experiences in overcoming it.

"Strangely, the way I worked my way through that was by immersing myself through the natural world," he said. "I soon came to reason my life was pretty insignificant, it was a sheer waste of time to wallow in self pity."

Mick Lawrence at South Arm in 1985. (Supplied: Mick Lawrence)

A 'spiritual road trip'

'Rogue Waves' showcases stunning vision of surfing around Tasmania's remote places, as well as Indonesia.

"Personally I dislike hardcore surf movies, I find them very, very boring," he said. "I see it more as a spiritual road trip, and the road trip happened to be my life.

"Hopefully people can come along and see a story about just an average person in Tasmania where they can go away and contemplate their life and the deals they've been dealt."

While it touches on his low points and Tim's death, it follows his adventures as a young surfing pioneer, seeking out perfect waves in Tasmania, mainland Australia and all over the world.

"For every rogue wave I've had, I've had countless sets of perfect fun times," he said.

"I was very lucky because of the time I started surfing it was all new."

Mick at Padang Padang (in sluggoes!), 1982. (Supplied: Mick Lawrence)

Mick Lawrence has mixed feelings about the film being a finished piece. "Now that it's over I don't really know how to feel, I feel a bit lost," he said.

"It's as if something that has been a part of me for three years is suddenly no longer there."

He said it was confronting to think about the film as the finished product of his life. "I've never been afraid of my own death," he said.

"But now I don't know, the closer you get to your destination it gets a bit scary."

'Rogue Waves' runs at Hobart State Cinema from Tuesday 22 October and will be available to rent oin Vimeo from late November.

© Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.

If you need to talk to someone, call:

  • Lifeline on 13 11 14
  • Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800
  • MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978
  • Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467
  • Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36
  • Headspace on 1800 650 890
  • QLife on 1800 184 527


radiationrules's picture
radiationrules's picture
radiationrules commented Monday, 21 Oct 2019 at 12:59pm

IMO its an awesome change in society that we are talking about mental health, suicide etc. I must confess to being late to the table but the recent death of danny frawley (the AFL guy) has flipped me over to - its necessary to acknowledge that most of us struggle, at some time in our lives, with mental health issues. In acknowledging that, those that really suffer, all of the time, can open up more. (Well that's my amateur psychology done for today).
On point i was on a country surf trip last weekend and saw two different trees in the middle-of-nowhere rural settings painted blue - which I'd found out the week before was a symbol for encouraging more open communication about mental health.

On yah for making the film mick - I'm looking forward to it - other than having it re-enforced (yet again) that 'if only I had of turned 18 in '74"??? what a travelling surfers dream the 70's were???

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stunet commented Monday, 21 Oct 2019 at 1:32pm

Funny how it works...Mick wrote his book for his (now deceased) son, and my old man bought a copy of it for me after doing a kayaking trip with Mick around Bathurst Harbour a few years back. My Dad isn't easy to impress, but Mick obviously left a mark for as as soon as Dad got back to Hobart he sought out a copy of the book - the last one apparently! - and brought it home for me.

On mental health: a mate down my way often organises get together nights, just to chat, sometimes talk surf, sometimes have an identity visit and talk about their life. My mate's reasoning is that when guys get together they usually lower the bar so he tries to raise it, and without bunging it on too hard he does a good job.

Recently he invited another local surfer, one of the better guys on the coast here, fella who's been in a few Swellnet Wave Of The Days pics over the years, and he laid it bare with his mental health issues, problems that came to a head recently when he was admitted to the local psych unit. Safe to say everyone was shocked, but fortunately not speechless.

Maybe 15 guys sitting around a fire, age spread was about 60 to 20, with one of the gun local surfers finding his voice, able to talk things that just would've been off limits even ten years ago.

I'm the father of three boys, I see the world they're growing into and I want to arm myself as best I can, so I'm watching this change in society very closely, giving thanks that people can now talk about it without the stigma attached.

radiationrules's picture
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radiationrules commented Monday, 21 Oct 2019 at 2:51pm

Snap Stu > thanks for sharing all of that powerful information. I had a so called 'cash-flow meeting" with my 20 year old son yesterday. Today I'm trying not to be too pleased with myself as after 2 years of limited progress he is finally dropping out the nest fully formed with awesome values.
I've persistently tried to stay in the background, offering advice (if asked) as he finds his wings - at the same time I've been chewing my arm off with worry over his lack of direction, inability to save, get consistent income, "Uni's boring, I'm dropping out" etc. I decided after he left school that: I won't rescue but I will offer unconditional love and patience. My conclusion after 2 really hard years: offering safety and stability to kids is underrated; conversely fancy advice about the the "way things were in my day" is overrated. It's all a learning journey. Great to have the forum to explore.

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Jono commented Tuesday, 22 Oct 2019 at 10:10am

radiationrules - sounds like my path when I was younger. In the 90's I dropped out of school to avoid hard work and feeling I had no direction, jumped at a TAFE course I wasn't even interested in, left that to get an apprenticeship that I wasn't interested in, then threw that in and moved to Yamba with some mates and went on the dole for a year and surfed. Looking back (and especially now that I have kids of my own) my parents must have been horrified at the path I was going down (both my brothers were at uni too). But they never gave me much of a hard time and supported me through it all, and then next thing you know I went full circle and moved back and enrolled in a uni degree (that I was actually interested in), cruised through that, and then into a career doing what I enjoy. So it sounds to me like you're on the right track.

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rooftop commented Thursday, 24 Oct 2019 at 2:39am

Ditto that. I haven't been through it yet - my kids are too young - but I'm hoping I have the strength and patience to let them find their own way and offer non-judgemental support when they set off for themselves.

As a contrasting story to Jono's, my parents, especially my Dad, rode me pretty hard right in to my thirties and after I had kids of my own, still trying to parent me, taking all my decisions as personal insults if I didn't agree with them. Eventually I became so resentful of their meddling that I would resist anything they said, even if it was sensible. And the funny thing is, I was doing fine.

Now, after many futile years of trying to establish an adult relationship we're estranged. Haven't spoken to my Dad in two years.

Don't cry for me, Argentina, I've come to terms with it. But, you know, that's what can happen when you don't let go and move forward.

radiationrules's picture
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radiationrules commented Thursday, 24 Oct 2019 at 10:26am

hey rooftop > thanks for that perspective, was good re-enforcement for me. I hope you and your dad are able to find a small uncomplicated activity that will lead to the start of a reconciliation. I'm sure he means well..but parents can be annoying..who would have thought??? RR

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dandandan commented Monday, 21 Oct 2019 at 2:56pm

Good to hear about Stu. We've got a similar group down here, it's saved many a life. I find it bizarre to think about the stuff that I kept to myself for 20 odd years, for reasons I don't even remember.

There's undoubtedly formal groups everywhere, but if anyone was to search "men's group" with your local area at the end you'll probably find something.

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goofyfoot commented Tuesday, 22 Oct 2019 at 7:38am

Hey Stu how often does your mate do these nights?

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stunet commented Tuesday, 22 Oct 2019 at 9:24am

They're on about every month, GF. Though they're not fixed like 'third Wednesday of every month' or the like. Often times it'll just be a night loosely talking around a particular topic: the art of giving in an affluent society, fear of missing out, balancing life, fatherhood stuff, but generally handled with a light touch. Not too heavy. Need a person who can keep it on track 'cos people bring all sorts of things to the conversations and they can go off in all directions.

Other times a person, whether it be a shaper, surfer, or any person of repute, comes and has a chat and my mate will ask them the sort of questions you wont read in the surf media.

We have a WhatsApp group that keeps everyone in touch, lets people RSVP and have a chance to think about the topic.

If nothing else, it's a great excuse to have a few beers around a fire and talk with likeminded crew.

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BrettDavis commented Thursday, 24 Oct 2019 at 9:44pm

great comments guys and stu. We been running this 'shaping bay' group for a cross generational community of male surfers for the past 5 years, some of the most honest conversations I've seen. Simple formula - someone hosts a meal, a topic is pitched, three questions posed (in advance, no surprises, get ready), discovery together (no pressure share as you feel confident) and some reflection and wrap up. Love it. Recommend it and happy to pass on our experience to others

goofyfoot's picture
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goofyfoot commented Tuesday, 22 Oct 2019 at 10:03am

I thinks it’s fantastic Stu, I’ve got a couple of mates who have been through some pretty full on stuff the last 6 months (illness, loss, financial stress etc etc) and I reckon it would be beneficial to them to have a low key place to chat.

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BrettDavis commented Thursday, 24 Oct 2019 at 9:45pm

so agree, cheering you on to be a catalyst!

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Waldorf Salad commented Tuesday, 22 Oct 2019 at 3:58pm

That was a hard read. I have a lump in my throat thinking of my own son and how lost I would feel without him. I remember when Tim's accident happened back then. Thinking of you and your loss Mick Lawrence. Stay strong mate. The surfing community mourns with you brother. Peace..

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Spuddups commented Tuesday, 22 Oct 2019 at 4:47pm

Films like this can go either way. A lot of them, for various reasons, end up being crap. In this case I reckon we’ve got a little gem on our hands. This looks like the real deal to me. Looking forward to seeing it.