Today we welcome Aaron Smith to discuss his new memoir The Rock: Looking into Australia’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ from the edge of its wild frontier. Plus, thanks to Transit Lounge Publishing we have an ebook copy to giveaway to one lucky AU/NZ reader.
Disclosure: If you click a link in this post and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission.
Aaron Smith on The Rock
I knew soon after arriving to Thursday Island in the Torres Strait in 2013, that I wanted to write about it, but like most Australian’s I knew bugger all about the place, it’s people, or its history.
However, I was thrown in to the mix quickly and the learning curve was parabolic. Knocking out Australia’s most northerly newspaper, Torres News, every week, by myself, left little time for penning a book. So I started a blog, ‘Going Strait’ sharing my newbie’s perspective of one of world’s the most fascinating, remote and little understood places.
Like my first two books, I had no idea the stream of consciousness I was blogging would be the bones of a new manuscript until I was well into it, and I had no idea it would be what is today The Rock. As the barefoot editor of a newspaper whose primary readership were Torres Strait Islanders, gave me a unique insight into their culture, their struggles and the politics that enveloped them. Most Islanders don’t bother connecting with you until you have been there longer than just another ‘two-year tourist’, like most of the revolving door of bureaucrats and southern corporate mercenaries.
It was after two years when a community leader shared with me how Thursday Island was known as The Rock. It was that moment that the book all fell into place – it was my eureka moment.
The nickname, the Rock was reference to the island prison, Alcatraz, which is how many of the ‘two year tourists’ see the place. I saw this as a delicious allegory for our isolated continent of Australia, with its dirty dark history, and as the third rock from the sun, of planet Earth, in all its elemental brutality, tenacity and fragility of the biosphere’s thin blue line.
It became clear to me I wanted The Rock to be a mirror of the nation’s failings and of the planet to see its self in totality – the good, the bad, the very ugly.
After this pivot point of discovering the book’s title, I dismantled my blog and delved into the many notes from my extensive research of everything I could get my hands on about the Torres Strait, from Eddie Mabo’s life story to the diaries of Cook and of the 19th century anthropologist Haddon, as well as political science and constitutional law journal articles. I reckon two of the seven years of writing The Rock were these extensive explorations into history and political science, much of which my editors and publisher suggested was extraneous. So I culled, realizing writing it had served its purpose of giving me the context needed to frame the narrative arc. I chopped up and rearranged the order of the chapters, trimming the fat and tightening the screws to make it a punchier, fast-paced ride like my previous two books. The cull brought out my inner Gonzo.
The hardest part of writing The Rock was finishing it, but not the closing chapter, that was written long before leaving the Torres Strait after the paper had folded – but the ongoing stories that I had become emotionally invested in. I was emailing my publisher with last minute changes up until the day before printing – there was always just one more detail or development of the continually unfolding stories of the Torres Strait, the nation of Zenadth Kes, I wanted to share. And I still share, continuing to freelance about the region. I hope the reader stepping into the looking glass of The Rock will gain some of the insights it gifted me over my seven years I was blessed to delve in this unique, rugged and beautiful part of the world.
The Rock Book Synopsis
Aaron Smith’s new memoir holds up a unique mirror to Australia. What he sees is at once amazing, disturbing and revealing. The Rock explores the failings of our nation’s character, its unresolved past and its uncertain future from the vantage point of its most northerly outpost, Thursday Island.
Smith was the last editor, fearless journalist and the paperboy of Australia’s most northerly newspaper, The Torres News, a small independent regional tabloid that, until it folded in late 2019, was the voice of a predominantly Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal readership for 63 years across some of the most remote and little understood communities in Australia.
The Rock is a story of self-discovery where Smith grapples to understand a national identity marred by its racist underbelly, where he is transplanted from his white-boy privileged suburban life to being a racial and cultural minority, and an outsider. Peppered with his experiences, Smith gradually and sensitively becomes embedded in island life while vividly capturing the endless and often farcical parade of personalities and politicians including Scott Morrison and Tony Abbott.
Smith pulls no punches while he reflects on the history of Terra Australis incognita, dissecting what is truly Australia, and its gaping cultural and moral divide.
‘Aaron’s journalism has provided a rare and valuable insight into issues affecting the Torres Strait Islander community. Navigating cultural protocols and geographical challenges, he has given a voice to some of Australia’s most marginalised people and shared important stories that would otherwise have gone unheard.’ — Ella Archibald-Binge, Sydney Morning Herald
(Transit Lounge Publishing, December 2020)
Get your copy of The Rock from:
About the Author, Aaron Smith
Aaron Smith is a freelance journalist, as well as a media and communications consultant. His stories have appeared on SBS, ABC Radio, CNN, The Guardian, Australian Geographic and Koori Mail to name a few. Aaron grew up in Tasmania, grew street-smart in Melbourne, then grew older in various locations around the planet. From 2013 until 2019 Aaron was the editor of The Torres News. The position garnered him two Queensland Clarion Journalism Awards and four finalist nominations. Prior to journalism, Aaron was a playwright, filmmaker, actor, grunge rocker, sound engineer, barman, dish pig, truck driver and many other things he chooses not to remember. His previous books are Shanti Bloody Shanti: an Indian odyssey (2012) and Chasing El Dorado: a South American adventure. Aaron currently lives in far north Queensland with his wife, daughter, and their three-legged dog. More at https://www.aaronsmithmedia.com
Shattered: 67 Days to a Family’s Self-Destruction by Travis Winks / The Last Lions of Africa by Anthony Ham / Breaking & Mending by Joanna Cannon / The Watermill by Arnold Zable / An Elephant in My Kitchen by Françoise Malby-Anthony
AU/NZ eBook Giveaway
Thanks to Transit Lounge Publishing we have an eBook copy of The Rock by Aaron Smith to giveaway to Australian/New Zealand readers. Entries close midnight 17 December 2020.
See entry form below. Ensure you scroll to the bottom of this form and press submit to register your entry. You can improve your chance of winning by:
- retweeting this Tweet (+2 entries)
- sharing this Pin with your followers on Pinterest (+3 entries); and
- sharing this Facebook post (incl. link) with your Facebook followers (+4 entries)
The lucky winner will be randomly selected and announced on our Facebook Page.
SORRY, ENTRIES CLOSED.