Screen Forever 2023: Aaron Fa’Aoso: “Imagine if that show was set in the Torres Strait”

Delivering the Hector Crawford Memorial Lecture, Aaron Fa'Aoso challenged producers to tell stories that would make change for both audiences and emerging talent.

Writer, Director, Producer, Actor Aaron Fa’Aoso yesterday received a standing ovation 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 upon his Torres Strait Islander heritage for shows such as Blue Water Empire and Strait to the Plate.

Yesterday he told a sell-out crowd that productions in remote areas can change lives, not just for those who see themselves on screen, but for those who have an opportunity to work.

Fa’Aoso got his start on SBS series RAN: Remote Area Nurse on SBS in 2004 at the age of 28.

“It was also very clear to me that Remote Area Nurse was huge for my community. That show pushed the boundaries by daring to show locals speaking to each other in language, with subtitles for the English viewers. It was a series well ahead of its time. For sure, the financial boost that the production gave to the local economy was incredibly valuable. But, and perhaps even more importantly, it was the first time my people were seeing their stories on screen, were seeing and hearing themselves on screen. You can’t put a price on that,” he said.

But odd jobs in Sydney would follow, in an Aboriginal hostel (Assistant Manager and occasional cleaner of toilets) and despite his previous work as a stockman, “I was pissed off when I didn’t get a gig in McLeod’s Daughters.”

‘Sorry mate, you’re not what we’re looking for!’ he recounted.

Growing up watching shows – Homicide, Matlock Police, Cop Shop, Skyways, The Sullivans, Young Ramsay – he loved Crawfords shows.

“I was a little black kid growing up in Cairns, a world away from The Sullivans in 1940s Melbourne but me and my family watched every episode of that show. Loved it. And Cop Shop – well, I was solidly in love with Paula Duncan, and I wanted to be that Detective Mike, the good-looking Greek cop. Right there, Crawford was already ahead of the game, introducing us to diverse characters without making a thing of it,” he observed.

Fa’Aoso challenged producers yesterday to consider more productions in the Torres Strait and Cape York regions.

“There’s a show on ABC right now, you might know it, it’s called Death in Paradise. It’s a cosy, PG rated show, set in the Caribbean and every week they solve a murder. Rates its socks off. I reckon partly because people like looking at tropical locations and partly because their accents are so cool,” he continued.

“Now imagine for a minute if that show was set in the Torres Strait.

“In production terms it’s not that hard – the infrastructure is there, Qantas flies in and out daily. You could still have the fish-out-of-water English detective, you’d still have the tropical location, but you’d have the language of my people, in our Creole accent,” he suggested.

“Now that’s cool.

“Even better, you set Death in Paradise in the Torres Strait and you’ll change lives. You’ll genuinely change people’s lives. How?

“Torres Strait Islanders, as Australia’s other Indigenous people, are a minority within a minority. It’s extraordinarily hard for us to have our voices heard. Torres Strait Islanders make up nearly 10% of Australia’s Indigenous population, but I can tell you for sure that we don’t receive anywhere close to nearly 10% of Indigenous screen industry funding or input.”

He also took time to address the upcoming Referendum on the Voice to Parliament, with the room still as he made it necessarily personal.

“If you think that I shouldn’t be afforded the same opportunities that you’ve been afforded, then Vote No. We are the poorest, most impoverished people in this country. My life expectancy is more than 8 years less than yours. Eight years you’ll get with your families that I won’t get with mine,” he said.

“My people are 300% more likely to take their own lives – and that’s a stat that hits home to me very personally, I can tell you that.

“I am the 0.1% of the success that gets through.

“Do not hold my people beholden to the success you see in front of you. I don’t have the luxury to turn it on and off like a light. Right now I have relatives who are homeless, impoverished, who lack opportunity, who are incarcerated, who do not have access to services, housing, these are my people, these are my family members, these are the ones that call me, for me to help them.

“I do what I can but I can’t do it all. The system needs to change and through The Voice the system can change. It’s offering improvement. Is it perfect? Absolutely not. But will it be an improvement on the status quo? Yes.
Vote Yes.

“And help me to encourage others to vote Yes too,” he added.

“You are a privileged set of people. You work in a powerful industry. You have an opportunity here to make history, to drive positive change.”

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