Dion, home on the rock. Photo Nick Green

DOMBROVSKIS, TRUCHANAS AND THE DARK HOLLOW

From SW414

A few years back, by chance, we ran into Dion Agius one afternoon at Dark Hollow. While it might sound like an outer suburb of Middle Earth, Dark Hollow is actually a beachbreak just up the road from Dion’s place in north-east Tasmania. We didn’t know it at the time, but Dion had moved back to his native island home earlier that year. We looked down the beach and saw a diminutive goofyfooter throwing raw-boned forehand airs. The surfing looked familiar. “Is that… nah, it couldn’t be.” It was. 

Dion and his family left Tassie when he was 14 for the warmth of the Gold Coast, but in recent years Tassie has been calling him back. As soon as he moved home, the island started weaving its magic on him. “There’s just times when you’re down there, and you’re in these places that are so. Fucking. Beautiful.” He pauses for a second and softens his gaze. “It just overwhelms you.”

Once home, he started surfing and hiking his way around the island. Places he knew from his childhood, corners he’d never seen. Wild, remnant swathes of ancient Gondwana. He started carrying cameras around with him; first stills, then 16mm. He started following the work of iconic Tasmanian photographers, Peter Dombrovskis and Olegas Truchanas, who used their work to inspire a fledgling Tasmanian conservation movement. “Once I moved back to Tassie and started learning about them and their work I just wanted to go out and shoot my own stuff, not really knowing what for, just shooting it because everywhere I went was so goddamn beautiful.”

There was one quote from Truchanas that guided him. “Is there any reason why Tasmania should not be more beautiful on the day we leave it, than on the day we came?… If we can revise our attitudes towards the land under our feet; if we can accept a role of steward and depart from the role of the conqueror, if we can accept that man and nature are inseparable parts of the unified whole, then Tasmania can be a shining beacon in a dull, uniform and largely artificial world.”

As a returned emigré it quickly became clear to Dion that the most Tasmanian thing you can do is to try and save Tasmania. Conservation down there is an artform. “I have so many friends who grew up in Tassie after I left as a kid,” says Dion, “and they’re all so passionate about Tassie and protecting it. That’s what they do. It’s different to the mainland.”

On a whim, Dion made contact with the Bob Brown Foundation and asked them if his footage would be any use to them in their campaigns to save Tasmania’s old growth forests. He met Jenny Weber, once a teenage punk rocker, now one of Tasmania’s most respected environmentalists. Last year over in the Tarkine, Dion met Bob himself. “I was kind of intimidated at first,” he recalls of the meeting. “Here’s a guy with this huge wealth of knowledge who’s dedicated his whole life to conservation. I asked him about the first time he came up to the Tarkine and he was like, ‘Well, I came up here in 1972 looking for the Tasmanian Tiger!’” 

Over on the west coast, Dion spent time hanging around a forest defenders camp.  “It was like, man, these people are fucking incredible. Just to see that level of commitment to sit a hundred foot up in a tree for a week and then someone like Jenny, who works tirelessly all day every day doing that. That’s her life. It blows me out.” It got Dion thinking about his own profile, in his own world of surfing, and what contribution he could make. “One of the main things for me right now is just we’ve got a vehicle and this voice to do some good. So what what’s the best way we can be doing this?”

That vehicle is Dark Hollow. The project started as a slow burn collaboration between Dion and surf film guru Joe Guglielmino – Joe G – who’ve worked together on a bunch of Globe edits over the years. Dark Hollow started out as a surf film, but soon began to develop a green tinge. “I would send my nature footage to Joe in the States and he’d be like, ‘Fuck, dude, we should put that in the movie.’ I wasn’t really thinking that in the beginning, it was more of a hobby, but we started talking about it and Joe kept telling me to keep shooting.” 

With Joe and Dion stuck on opposite sides of the Pacific however due to the pandemic, the Dark Hollow project existed only as four hard drives and a loose concept. That was when Jack McCoy called. Dion had mentioned to Jack last year he was working on the film, and Jack rang offering to take Dion and Dark Hollow on tour with him. There was only one problem. “Joe and I hadn’t even started the film,” laughs Dion. “It was like just a mess of stuff. Joe was like, ‘Dude, we can’t show the film. There’s no way it’s gonna get done in time.’ I go back to Jack and Jack is like, ‘I can’t wait to see the film on the big screen!’ I didn’t have the heart to tell him we’d hardly started. I was like, ‘Yep Jack, it’s going to be great!’ I just didn’t want to let him down.” Dion laughs, “So I went, ‘You know what, fuck this… I’m just gonna edit the thing myself! I spent a week figuring out what was I going to do and then a week just of sun-up to fucking 2am just slamming away on the edit. Joe’s like, ‘What are you doing?’ I said, ‘I think I’m going for it!’ I told him, ‘Look, if it’s totally fucked I promise I won’t show it.” Two weeks later Dion showed Joe the edit. “He was like, ‘Dude, the movie’s done.’” 

At the first screening a week later, Dion introduced his “premiere edit” of the movie as a “Surf/nature/rave movie. There’s a couple of really hectic bangers on the soundtrack and I’m looking around the crowd thinking, oh my God, is this gonna blow people’s heads off? I wasn’t sure how people were going to take it.” This wasn’t a traditional surf movie. It was equal parts surf and nature. “It’s set in the future in a world where nature has just taken back over,” explains Dion. “There’s no man-made objects in the film besides the surfboards and a car.” Dion and old filmmaking friend Riley Blakeway took an old Hyundai Daewoo and had it chromed. Like the Space Odyssey monolith, it arrives unexplained in a biological riot of Tasmanian forest. 

“The film’s not all shot in Tassie but all the interstitial nature shots are,” says Dion. “That’s pretty heavily intertwined throughout the film. It’s showing people as many beautiful natural settings as we could in the hope that you watch the film and feel something about it, some connection to it.” 

SW