Tassie pioneer Mick Lawrence tells life story through film 'Rogue Waves'
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 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.
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."
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."
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."
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 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.
// GEORGIE BURGESS
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