Damion Hunter epitomises the struggles of the journeyman actor

Damion Hunter in ‘Last Ark.’

For every actor who works consistently and achieves varying degrees of success in the screen industry, there are many more, like Damion Hunter.

Since graduating from WAAPA in 1995 and NIDA in 1998, the Indigenous actor has appeared in episodes of numerous series including Harrow, Redfern Now, Supernova, Farscape and All Saints as well as the miniseries Devil’s Dust and movies Wyrmwood and Around the Block.

Not enough, however, to sustain a viable career, so he retrained as a high school teacher in 2012 after working as a teacher’s aide in 2009.

He now teaches English and history at a college near his home in the Northern Rivers of NSW and he has a sideline as a hip hop artist, but he has not abandoned acting.

His latest role is in Michael Joy’s movie Smoke Between Trees, which stars Tiriel Mora as Mathew Higgins, a middle-class whitefella who is consumed with grief and anger. When his estranged 10-year-old Indigenous grandson Ari (newcomer Robert-Joseph Slockee) re-enters his life, he has the chance for reconciliation.

In her screen debut, artist Elly Chatfield, a Gamillaroi woman from North-West NSW, is Francine, the boy’s maternal grandmother. Joanne Samuel is Matthew’s wife Therese, Georgia Adamson is their daughter Sarah and Hunter is her boyfriend Jayden.

Hunter describes Jayden as a strong, caring guy who helps Higgins on the path to reconciliation and closing the gap. Titan View will release the film in Australia in early 2020.

Damion Hunter in ‘Smoke Between Trees.’

Asked why he has found it had to make a living from his craft, he tells IF: “It’s a fickle industry. I have had years of rejection. I think I auditioned for every role that Aaron Pedersen has played in the last 20 years: good luck to him.”

One challenge he faced was being raised by his non-Indigenous mother in the absence of his Indigenous father. The result, he says, was that “when I was growing up, I was out of touch with that part of my culture.”

Among his most satisfying roles was playing Bruiser Buchanan in Magpie Picture’s NITV series Grace Beside Me. He played the prime suspect in a murder case in Harrow.

When a friend told him the Roache-Turner brothers were making a zombie film he rang the director Kiah Roache-Turner, who told him they were filming in Leura the next day and invited him to play a guest role.

For the last five years, on and off, he along with Mora, Adamson and Rebecca Massey have been working on first-time writer-director Tom Taylor’s dystopian thriller Last Ark. The plot follows the crew of the Armidale, the last ark, as they fight for survival.

He describes his character Jonno as a gung-ho military type who has delusions of grandeur. Taylor, a director, designer and animator, has shot more than an hour of footage. Hunter raves about the scenes he’s seen as “quite amazing” and looks forward to the film being completed.

Taylor tells IF: “I’m on the home stretch with Last Ark. I’m looking for financing and talking to producers and distributors to help me finish it. All looking very positive.”