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. He has elected to produce his memoir in collaboration with me, Michelle Scott Tucker, and it will be published by Pantera Press in 2022.
Frankly, it’s a privilege and an honour to work with Aaron. 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.
With a working title of So Far, So Good, this memoir will be the first 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 will also be a cracker of a read.
Aaron can currently be seen in Strait to the Plate, an SBS show featuring the food and people of the Torres Strait, which he presents and produced. Aaron has also starred in films and TV series including RAN: Remote Area Nurse; East West 101; The Straits; Bikie Wars: Brothers in Arms, and Goldwater. His latest on-screen outings have included the documentary Blue Water Empire (which he also wrote and produced) and the hit ABC show Black Comedy. Aaron has received nominations for an AFI Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Television Drama and for a Logie Award for Most Outstanding New Talent.
Aaron actively supports and mentors others and is a board member of Media RING—an industry group which develops, provides and enhances career opportunities for Indigenous Australians in the media. However, Aaron’s career, and his role as an emerging leader, were both hard-won in the face of many setbacks and heartaches.
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.
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, as well as the consolations of belonging to Country. A quietly committed Christian, 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 Aaron’s introduction to the memoir …
In breaking news, Pantera Press has acquired Aaron Fa’Aoso’s debut memoir in a six figure deal.
My family thought it was hilarious when I told them I was hoping to publish my life story. They laughed like drains. When they worked out I was half-serious they scoffed and told me that’s what old people do, old people at the end of their lives. Not a middle-aged bloke like me.
I laughed along with them, and the conversation moved on, but I was stung. Middle-aged? Me? I’m only in my forties… oh, hang on, wait. I thought about my closest friends, and about my uncles and cousins who were like brothers to me. In my mind’s eye they were young men, full of fire and life and laughter. Except that they weren’t, not now. Too many of them were cold in the ground, dead for any number of reasons and the few who were left were well on their way to, well, to the other place.
That fear that I wasn’t old enough to tell my own story meant that I delayed this project for years. I had some other fears too. Plenty of people will tell you that I’m not afraid of anything much, but the thought of telling my story made me uneasy. I was, frankly, scared of looking too closely into myself—I knew I might not like what I saw. So I kept putting this project off. I put it off while I worked, put it off while my life went on, and put it off while I attended funerals, so many funerals, of my friends, my family—and my wife. That one was the hardest.
But even while the people I loved were dying around me, it took a while for the penny to drop: my chances of living to a ripe old age were actually pretty slim. The Australian government agrees. Official statistics tell us that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men will, on average, live far shorter lives than non-Indigenous Australian men. The difference is almost a decade. That gap is even wider for those living in remote, and very remote, locations. Locations like the islands of the Torres Strait, for instance. At the 2016 Census the government reported that fewer than five percent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were aged sixty-five years or over, compared with sixteen percent of non-Indigenous Australians. So what were the odds that I would become one of the five percent?
With those figures in mind, and with those funerals too, I decided that I needed to tell my story now. I’m not an old man—hey, I’m only in my forties, remember—but it’s entirely possible that I’m near the end of my life. Because I’m black. Because I’m Indigenous. Because I’m a proud Torres Strait Islander man who grew up, and lives a life, immersed in Torres Strait culture. Look at me. I literally embody my culture. It’s in the shape of my face, the colour of my skin, the way that I speak. It’s in my blood and my thoughts and more than anywhere else it’s in my heart.
I’m going to start my story with a fight, and some related drama, but that’s just a ruse to draw the readers in. The real story begins in my heart, and my heart belongs to some small islands off the northernmost tip of mainland Australia. My people there are warriors, that’s for sure, but we are storytellers too. I’ll tell the fight story so people can learn something about me but also to keep them listening; listening until they learn what I really think they should know.