On shelves and online in all good bookstores from September 2022

Aaron Fa’Aoso

Torres Strait Islander Aaron Fa’Aoso, father of two, has earned a living as a professional footballer, a Kings Cross bouncer, a remote community health worker, an acclaimed actor and—most recently—as the owner and manager of his own media production company.

Aaron elected to produce his memoir in collaboration with me, Michelle Scott Tucker.  Published by Pantera Press, the book is available now in all good bookshops.

Frankly, it’s a privilege and an honour to work with Aaron (and I wrote a little about the process here). Like him, his story is smart and funny and full of emotional complexity and depth. I’m thrilled that we’ve found a publisher who is as ambitious for this important memoir as we are.

So Far, So Good is the first memoir to be commercially published by a Torres Strait Islander. Aaron’s story therefore provides an important contribution to the rising and very welcome tide of First Nations voices in Australia, addressing the under-representation of Torres Strait Islander perspectives in Australian life.

Crucially though – and not incidentally – it is also a cracker of a read.

Deborah Mailman found it “honest and deeply affecting … a love letter to family, community and culture, full of laugh-out-loud moments, heartbreaking lessons and the importance of what really matters in this life.”

Matt Nable says the memoir is “a compelling read. Of a man who’s endured so much so early. Of a man connected to his people … a pure storyteller who, because of his trials, has found a compassionate voice full of dignity.”

Some early feedback from literary agents and publishers, about the manuscript:

  • This manuscript ripped my heart and guts out and then put them back together, and the heart at least is ten times bigger. Incredible!
  • What a triumph! The book is incredibly moving, disarming, honest, funny, entertaining and so damn compelling. I couldn’t put it down.
  • Aaron, you have truly put your heart on the page and are so brave to do so, and I commend you for it – it can’t have been easy. This honesty and vulnerability adds so much to the emotional pull of the book and I think readers will connect with the highs and lows of your journey due to the generous spirit in which it is told.
  • Michelle, you have so beautifully captured Aaron’s voice. I also feel like I know his Mum and Nan really well! It’s filled with warmth and humour and the insights into Torres Strait history, culture and community threaded throughout give it an extra layer of richness.
  • Truly something special here. Honestly, these are the books we got into the biz for and can’t wait to get it into the hands of Aussie readers everywhere.

In 2008, a month after Aaron married for the second time and just as his acting career was flourishing, his new wife took her own life. In the dark times that followed Aaron eventually found strength and meaning in his family, and in his beloved Torres Strait community.

So Far, So Good is as much the story of the challenges and aspirations of an underrepresented people as it is the story of an individual,’ says Aaron. ‘It’s an absolute pleasure to work on it with Michelle Scott Tucker – trust is not something I give so easily, however Michelle is the exception. I am also extremely grateful to Pantera for ensuring a broad audience can access a contemporary Torres Strait Islander story – one with more twists and turns than a Netflix series.’

Aaron’s story is all about what it means to be a successful Indigenous man in the twenty-first century. With generosity, humour and emotional insight he examines how the death of his father and grandfather, when Aaron was only six, led to his being raised by his loving but fiery mother and his even fiercer grandmother. How belief in himself as a warrior, and as a descendent of warriors, made him—literally and metaphorically—into a fighter.

And, given that so many white Australians can’t imagine a scenario that includes the words ‘successful’ and ‘Indigenous’ together, his story is also about what it means to push back against ignorance and racism.

Aaron actively supports and mentors others and is a board member of Screen Queensland. However, Aaron’s career, and his role as an emerging leader, were both hard-won in the face of many setbacks and heartaches.

Pantera’s publisher Lex Hirst said, ‘Brimming with Aaron’s warmth and humour yet unflinching in its examination of structural racism and its consequences, this book will move hearts and minds. Aaron’s generous invitation to step into his story and learn about his life, and through it, Torres Strait culture and history, is powerful storytelling at its finest.’

Aaron’s story moves well beyond the standard struggle-to-success narrative. It examines the wider issues of mental health, the challenges facing remote communities, the personal impacts of alcohol and violence, as well as the consolations of belonging to Country. A deeply spiritual man, Aaron’s story also addresses the effects of colonisation and Christianity on the people of the Torres Strait with nuance, understanding and empathy.

Agent Danielle Binks said, ‘Aaron signed with the Jacinta di Mase Agency back in 2018, and it really was a matter of everything falling into place to get here – of waiting for the right storyteller in Michelle, and then for Pantera Press to come on board as the perfect home for his story. Everything had to be right, Aaron had to be ready and feel comfortable – and Pantera went such a long way to ensuring that. We think this book is in the best possible hands, and we can’t wait for Aaron to have his say and for people to listen to this tale.’

Here’s a sample of what you can expect, with the opening scene of Aaron’s memoir …

Adhi kuikaimaw – Let’s begin the story

He was taller than me, a couple of years older too. Kids around us had started chanting: fight, fight, fight, fight, fight. School had just finished for the day and there were children and parents everywhere.

I probably should have thought that through a little better.

He snarled, full of menace and bravado yet pale and sweating in the tropical Cairns heat, saying something like, C’mon cunt, I’ll have ya.

I ignored the noise and his bluster and instead sized him up, estimating the length of his reach, calculating where I would strike first. Usually somewhere unexpected. Not the head – everyone always goes straight for the head. At 15, I already had years of martial arts experience behind me, regimens of barefoot running and full-body sparring that these days would be considered more like child abuse than training. Add to that my fitness from footy, basketball, pushbikes and swimming – if it was daylight I was moving, or wishing I was. And, thanks to my Tongan dad, I was a big, solid kid.

I hit him first. He was ready for me, though not ready for how hard my fist was or how much it hurt. To his credit, he came back at me with everything he had but I didn’t feel a thing. This kid had stolen a bike from a little boy, my cousin, and had failed to return it when asked nicely. So I wasn’t asking nicely anymore. I was filled with rage and fought with a righteous fury.

Somewhere along the way the kid’s friends joined in, and then my younger brother, and it quickly turned into a melee. Some brave parents weighed in, trying to break it up, but we were fighting like dogs and it was too dangerous to pull us apart.

The fight ended with the other kid on the ground, not moving much. My brother and I picked up our school bags and walked away like kings, high on adrenaline and what we considered justice. He wasn’t going to steal from a blackfella again. No-one tried to stop us, even though we had basically just put someone in hospital. But we were both in our school uniforms and people knew who we were.

I probably should have thought that through a little better too.

The repercussions of the fight started that evening. I told Mum what had happened as soon as she came home from work. She was quite rightly furious, so that didn’t go too well. Yet she wasn’t so upset that she failed to see into the heart of the matter.

Did you get your cousin’s bike back?

Yes. I got his bike back.

That wasn’t nearly enough to get me off the hook, though.

When she subsequently told some of my uncles about the fight, and my nan, that didn’t go well either. They all wanted a piece of me. And within a day or two I was called into the principal’s office. That really didn’t go well. I’d not yet finished Grade 10 but he wanted me gone. Expelled. Piss off and don’t come back. Any future I might have had was shrivelling up fast.

Looking back, it’s surprising the police weren’t involved. Maybe the other kid’s family were worried about the stolen bike. Maybe someone within my extended family had put a word in with the right people. Or maybe – given that Bjelke‑Petersen had not long been out of office and Cairns was still, well, Cairns – the cops simply couldn’t be bothered.

My righteous fury had fallen away almost immediately, and in its place was a sense of sorrow. Like any 15-year-old in hot water, I felt sorry for myself, but I increasingly felt sorry for the other kid too. I’d hurt him pretty bad. A week or so after the fight, without any prompting, I went around to his parents’ house and apologised.

But it was to Mum and Nan that I most needed to say sorry. They’d brought me up to be better than some schoolyard brawler, to know better. They wanted me to make something of myself. Every day, through a thousand practical actions, they taught me about right and wrong, but they were lessons I was destined to learn over and over again – usually the hard way.