The Courier-Mail - QWeekend
Tale of life at the top
With his innate understanding of Torres Strait Islanders and the issues that affect them, Aaron Smith doesn’t pull any punches
Opening a book to find the author abusing you in the foreword is a novel experience although Aaron Smith’s book isn’t a novel. It’s a memoir about his swashbuckling years in the Torres Strait Islands. He lived and worked on
Thursday Island as editor of the independent newspaper The Torres News until it folded last year, merging with another publication and putting him out of a job.
Smith, 51, now lives in Cairns where he works as a freelance writer and for the agency that manages The Wet Tropics World Heritage Area, including the Daintree. His time living and working on Thursday Island from 2013 to 2019 with wife Vivi and daughter Sassie gave him rich ore to mine for a memoir but it was also confronting and it has made him critical of white Australia’s political manipulation and misunderstanding of Indigenous culture and its unique wisdom.
In fact it made him angry too, hence the introductory outburst in his book which is so outrageous it makes you smile.
That foreword is entitled A Fore
(Letter) Word and he unleashes a flurry of f-bombs against just about everyone.
In this bizarre cri de coeur he writes,
Aaron Smith, right, lived and worked on Thursday Island and his book, The Rock, gives a fascinating and blunt insight into a region many never visit. Marc McCormack
“… it’s time to wake up and be the better beasts that deep in your selfish, blackened hearts we know we truly can, and should, and desperately need to be.”
When I chat to the author by phone from Cairns he points out that doesn’t only castigate his readers, he gives himself a serve too.
His years living on Thursday Island, aligning himself with the locals who live on the numerous islands sprinkled across the Torres Strait, gave him an innate understanding of Indigenous issues and turned him into something of a bush lawyer, an expert on land rights.
“Along the way I also became an accidental expert on constitutional law,” Smith says. The book tells the stories of his engagement with these issues and the politics of the region. Being the token journo on Thursday Island ( known by some as The Rock, a slang expression used by bureaucrats as an allegory for Alcatraz, and for Australia and the Earth – third rock from the sun), he was always on hand to report when politicians flew in from the south, including Tony Abbott when he was PM. Trying to get past Abbott’s media minders was tough but Smith managed to get close to Abbott during his visit.
And while he identifies as a leftie and “hardened greenie and ecoterrorist” in his early years he doesn’t demonise politicians of different hues. In fact he became friends with some including LNP member for Leichhardt, Warren Entsch, who he saw a bit of in his time on Thursday Island. He mixes it with Bob Katter too (one eccentric to another) and there’s a very funny episode when Bob Katter, with a rush of blood to the head, decides to save the Torres Strait economy by suggesting promoting its coconut products to the world. Hasn’t happened yet though.
While his narrative on the politics of the place is interesting and edifying it’s the passages about his adventures by land, air and sea that really capture the wild beauty and remoteness of a region he grew to love. And he exhibits more than a modicum of derring-do.
“I have always flown pretty close to the sun,” Smith says. His earlier adventures feature in two previous books, Shanti Bloody Shanti: an Indian Odyssey (2012) and Chasing El Dorado: A South
American Adventure (2014).
His latest book is all the more fascinating because he’s writing about a part of Queensland few of us have or ever will visit. In the meantime, we can be there with him but buckle up, there’s turbulence ahead.
What would you spend more or less on?
Different entertainment options. Having a wedding during the pandemic meant we didn’t have a traditional dancefloor segment. We would have loved fire twirling, acrobatics or something interesting to fill that gap. But the extra time gave us the opportunity to mingle.
Did COVID alter your wedding plans?
We managed to keep our original plans. We are lucky that our closest friends and family live in Brisbane/Qld. There were only a handful of interstate and international guests who couldn’t make it due to travel restrictions.
Advice for others impacted by coronavirus?
Go ahead with your big day as planned if possible. Don’t put your lives on hold as who knows how long coronavirus will be around. Don’t be deterred by the restrictions as your day will still be perfect no matter what. Remember what is important – love!
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