Writer, director, producer and actor Aaron Fa’Aoso received a standing ovation yesterday when he delivered the Hector Crawford Memorial Lecture at Screen Forever 2023 on the Gold Coast.
Fa’Aoso, whose production company Lone Star is based in Cairns, draws on his Torres Strait Islander heritage for shows such as Empire of Blue Water AND Strait to the Plate.
He told a sold-out crowd yesterday that productions in remote areas can be life-changing, not just for those who see themselves on screen, but for those who have the opportunity to work.
Fa’Aoso started his career in the SBS series RAN: Remote Area Nurse on SBS in 2004 at the age of 28.
“It was very clear to me too Remote area nurse it has been huge for my community. That show pushed the boundaries by daring to show locals talking to each other in the language, with subtitles for English viewers. It was a series way ahead of its time. Surely the financial boost that the production has given to the local economy has been incredibly valuable. But, perhaps more importantly, it was the first time my people had seen their stories on screen, seen and heard themselves on screen. You can’t put a price on this,” she said.
But odd jobs would follow in Sydney, in an Aboriginal hostel (Assistant Manager and occasional toilet cleaner) and despite his previous job as a rancher, “I was pissed when I didn’t have a job in McLeod’s daughters.”
‘Sorry mate, you’re not what we’re looking for!’ she said.
Growing up watching shows – Homicides, Matlock Police, Cop Shop, Skyways, The Sullivans, Young Ramsay – loved the Crawford shows.
“I was a black kid growing up in Cairns, a world away from The Sullivans in 1940s Melbourne, but my family and I watched every episode of that show. I love. AND Cop shop – well, I was deeply in love with Paula Duncan, and I wanted to be that Detective Mike, the handsome Greek cop. Right there, Crawford was already ahead of his time, introducing us to different characters without making a thing out of it,” she remarked.
Yesterday, Fa’Aoso challenged producers to consider more productions in the Torres Strait and Cape York regions.
“There’s a show on ABC right now, you may know, it’s called Death in Heaven. It’s a cozy, PG-rated show set in the Caribbean, and they solve a murder every week. Evaluate his socks. I suppose partly because people like to look at tropical places and partly because their accents are great,” she continued.
“Now imagine for a minute if that show was set in the Torres Strait.
“In terms of production it’s not that difficult: the infrastructure is there, Qantas flies in and out every day. You could still have the English detective fish out of water, you’d still have the tropical location, but you’d have my people’s language, with our Creole accent,” he suggested.
“Now it’s OK.
“Better yet, you’re good to go Death in Heaven in the Torres Strait and you will change your life. You will truly change people’s lives. As?
“Torres Strait Islanders, like other Indigenous Australians, are a minority within a minority. It is extraordinarily difficult for us to make our voices heard. Torres Strait Islanders make up almost 10% of Australia’s Indigenous population, but I can tell you with confidence that we do not receive nearly 10% of Indigenous film industry funding or input.”
He also took time to talk about the upcoming Referendum on Voice in Parliament, with the room standing still because he necessarily made it personal.
“If you think I shouldn’t be given the same opportunities that you have been given, then vote No. We are the poorest and most impoverished people in this country. My life expectancy is over 8 years less than yours. Eight years you will have with your families that I will not have with mine,” she said.
“My people are 300% more likely to take their own lives – and this is a statistic that affects me very personally, I can tell you.
“I am 0.1% of passing success.
“Don’t keep my people tied to the success you see in front of you. I can’t afford the luxury of turning it on and off like a light. Right now I have relatives who are homeless, impoverished, deprived of opportunities, incarcerated, who have no access to services, housing, these are my people, these are my family members, these are the ones who call me, for me to help them.
“I do what I can but I can’t do everything. The system must change and through The Voice the system can change. Offers improvements. It’s perfect? Absolutely not. But will it be an improvement on the status quo? YES.
“And help me encourage others to vote Yes too,” she added.
“You are a group of privileged people. You work in a powerful industry. You have the opportunity here to make history, to lead positive change.