On the Move: The Dion Family


Artists: Matt Chun, Pia Johnson and Naomi Segal.

Venue: Wollongong Art Gallery, 46 Burelli Street, Wollongong, NSW, Australia

Delving through more than a century of the Dion family, an indelible part of the Illawarra’s social fabric as members of the Chinese diaspora and operators of the region’s bus services, On the Move tells a story of migration, survival, acceptance and community spirit of a remarkable family through archival material and responses from contemporary artists.

The Dion family, whose name evolved from Chong Da On to Chong Di On then Di On before eventually settling with Dion, arrived in Australia in the late 1800s as part of a larger migration driven by the prospects of alluvial goldmining. The family eventually arrived in the Illawarra in 1907, where they quickly established themselves as prominent members of the community, playing an important role in creating the multicultural social fabric of the Illawarra that we know today. They did this by building on a successful market garden family business before forming a bus service in 1923, which imparted a great community sentiment over the decades through their committed service and hospitality. The company was established by Tom Dion who commandeered a 1923 Model T Ford fitted with timber seating to accommodate twenty passengers. The family, over several generations, are widely admired by the residents of the Illawarra, with a particular fondness for the memory that during the Great Depression the Dions routinely allowed locals to ride their buses free of charge if they could not pay fares due to mass unemployment and economic hardship. The Dion’s Bus Service continues to operate a fleet of buses in Wollongong and surrounds today.

The Dion family story represents a fascinating example of the important contributions Chinese-Australians have made to Australia and, indeed, the nation’s perception of itself as an inclusive and culturally diverse society. This exhibition at Wollongong Art Gallery presents a selection of curated objects drawn from the family’s vast archive of material, along with the presentation of new commissions by contemporary Australian artists that distil this historical archive and history.

Artist Biographies

Matt Chun (Lives and works Bermagui, Australia) is a studio artist, independent writer and children’s author, working from his seaside studio in Bermagui, a small town on Yuin country in regional NSW. He also divides his time between Melbourne and Taipei. Matt lives, works and travels with his 8-year-old son, making portrait, landscape and travelogue studies across a range of media. He has undertaken tenures as artist-in-residence in Australian at Casula Powerhouse, Nishi Gallery and New Acton Precinct, and in Taiwan at both Bamboo Curtain Studio and Guandu International Art Festival. His first Taiwanese solo exhibition was held at Pon Ding Space, Taipei, in September 2019. As a writer, Matt is primarily interested in Australian national identity and the visual culture of colonisation, combining first-person narrative reportage with field research into the semiotics of public space. His essays have appeared in Overland Literary Journal, Meanjin Quarterly and Runway Experimental Art. Matt’s second picture book for Australian publisher Little Hare is due for release in October. His first, Australian Birds, released in 2018, has been listed as a Children’s Book Council of Australia Notable Book and is currently shortlisted for the CBCA Award for Best New Illustrator. He is currently working on a graphic novel for young children.

Pia Johnson (b. 1983, Melbourne, Australia lives and works in Woodend, Australia) Pia Johnson is a photographer and visual artist, whose practice seeks to investigate issues about cultural difference, diaspora and identity. She also has a strong practice in portrait and performance photography, working with major and independent arts organisations in Australia. Pia has exhibited throughout Australia, the USA, China, Japan and Mexico. She has been a finalist in many photography awards, and is regularly invited as a guest speaker and artistic advisor for a range of organisations. Her work is collected in private and public collections including the National Gallery of Victoria. Recent highlights include solo exhibitions Cusp (2019) at Stockroom, She that came before me (2018) at Manningham Art Gallery, being a finalist in the Ravenswood Australian Women’s Art Prize (2019), group exhibition All That We Can’t See (2018), her curatorial exhibitions The Family Mantle (2018) and Chinese Whispers and Other Stories (2017), and an artistic residency at National University of Singapore (2018).

Naomi Segal  (b.1998, Sydney) Naomi Segal’s practice draws from her experience of loving and being loved. Inspired by the generosity of her Shanghainese family, her art-making often meditates on food, gifts and physical affection as expressions of love that can traverse linguistic and cultural barriers. More recently, Segal has created comics, drawings and letters as transmissions of love to her Toronto-based partner. Her work occurs through experiments with modes of display and tactile mark-making processes. She is also an avid maker of zines.

Segal has exhibited at Artereal Gallery, Newcastle Art Gallery, Kudos Gallery, Down Under Space, Brunswick Street Gallery and others. Her awards include the Girl Genius Award (2018) and Little Things Art Prize (2017), and is an inaugural studio resident with the 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art. Her emergent curatorial practice began at Firstdraft in 2019 with Peach Blossom Spring.