Aaron Fa’Aoso (1975- ) is a Torres Strait Islander man who has been a professional (rugby league) footballer, dancer, bouncer, a remote community health worker, an acclaimed actor and now has his own media production company.
As I follow/watch neither rugby league nor television I had no idea who he was when Michelle said that she was going to be co-writing this autobiography. I was in touch with her off and on over the three years it took and it was obvious that she was getting a lot of pleasure and satisfaction from the process – described here – and now the book is out, you can see that the collaboration worked well and does them both credit. And I now know a bit more about Aaron.
He snarled, full of menace yet pale and sweating in the tropical Cairns heat, saying something like, C’mon xxxxx, I’ll have ya. …
At 15, I already had years of martial arts experience behind me, regimens of barefoot running and full-bodied sparring that these days would be considered more like child abuse than training. Add to that my fitness from footy, basketball, pushbikes and swimming … And thanks to my Tongan dad, I was a big, solid kid.
And so we start as we mean to go on. Aggressive. Not taking a backward step. I could say ‘unapologetic’, but that is not quite true. Aaron lays his life out before us, with all its aggro and mistakes, and at least implies that he wishes he had done things differently, and that those who follow him would take heed of the lessons he has learnt.
Aaron was brought up by his mother and his mother’s mother (his Nan) after the deaths of his father and his mother’s step-father when he was 5 or 6. They lived in Cairns, for the educational and work opportunities, and because his Nan’s home island, Saibai, which is just 4 km south of Papua New Guinea, is low-lying and subject to flooding. Torres Strait Islanders are Melanesian. Aaron explains the various (complicated!) elements of his parentage, but he was brought up Torres Strait Islander and that is what he is proud to be.
He is also Seventh Day Adventist, his father’s religion, though it is difficult to see what part this plays in his life, not that he doesn’t keep telling us – after each failure – that he has resumed going to church. This highlights a problem I have with a lot of writing, not just Indigenous, and that is the part played by spiritual and religious belief. I have to accept that people do believe that stuff, and mostly just let what they say about it pass over my head, or if it is playing an important part, then treat it as I would any premise in SFF ( or for that matter, in C19th fiction), as a motivational power which works within the confines of the book.
The next problem I have is how to review a book about someone whose work I don’t know, and whom you may not know either. I know it’s infra dig to just retell the story, but I’m going to head down that path anyway and we’ll see where we end up.
Aaron grew up in Cairns, showed some promise as a rugby league footballer, went down to Sydney to try out with one club, then another, it didn’t work out – and don’t get me wrong, I found going up to the city for uni hard enough, and that was only 140 km. Sydney – Cairns is 2,400. He got into grog; the Indigenous community picked him up; there was a stint in Koori Radio; an Indigenous dance troupe where he met and married his first wife, Gina; they had a kid, a boy; work took them in different directions, different cities; it was all too hard and he went home to N Qld, to his Torres Strait Is community; got into community work; Gina came up a couple of times, but that marriage was over.
I’m just writing this as I remember it after finishing reading, so it’s not gospel. After a couple of years SBS came up to FNQ to film Remote Area Nurse; Aaron auditioned and got a part; got the acting bug; gave up his community work and went back to Sydney. There’s another wife, another child, a girl; they fight and get back together, fight and get back together, endlessly, between Sydney and Cairns. He batters doors and walls; she takes out violence orders on him; they (he says) ignore them; the police are called; after some years they have a marriage ceremony; they’re happy; they fight; she commits suicide; her family continue the fight, attempt to keep custody of the daughter; he is suicidal; his son feels neglected.
Aaron’s acting/film career progresses; he continues to take up and discard women – “relationships without ties”; his children, but especially his son, become involved in his community.
Scott Tucker has done a wonderful job getting Aaron’s voice down on paper, while building a very readable narrative; weaving in plenty of detail about the Torres Strait Islander community, about everyday life, about historical and everyday racism.
Australia is a deeply racist country but few people care to admit it. Instead we try to hide this uncomfortable fact – placing it firmly in the past or pinning it on a few bad apples. Racism is a series of constant, random and uncalled for jolts to the psyche that, over time, can be absolutely debilitating. Apathy and despair is, in the face of such unremitting attacks and the resulting damage, a logical response.
If you look at Aaron’s life, he probably faces racism with bravado – but also with practical efforts to make life better for his fellows. Sometimes bravado wears thin, and Aaron turns, or turned, to drink and to rage. But his practical efforts, his telling the Torres Strait Islander story, here and on film, must bear fruit.
Today, Aaron has a Masters degree in filmmaking; is in a committed relationship; is dealing with the issues brought up by telling this story; is full of plans for the telling the stories of his home, Zenadth Kes. And his Nan and his mum are still going!
I admire his bravery putting all this on the record. I am looking forward to So Far, So Good – The Mature Years.
Aaron Fa’Aoso with Michelle Scott Tucker, So Far, So Good, Pantera, Sydney, 2022. 353pp. (I saw on Michelle’s blog that Aaron was recording an audibook version, so look out for that too).