26 September 2023

The Rock: Looking Into Australia’s ‘Heart Of Darkness’ From The Edge Of Its Wild Frontier

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Reviewed by Rama Gaind.

By Aaron Smith, Transit Lounge, $29.99.

The Rock explores the failings of our nation’s character, its unsettled past and its undefined future from the standpoint of its most northerly outpost, Thursday Island.

It’s an amalgam of three things: a memoir of Aaron Smith’s time as editor and ‘dogsbody’ at Australia’s most northerly newspaper The Torres News; a retelling of many episodes in Australian history; and a series of diatribes about racism and other shocking misbehaviours of Australians past and present. Such a mix makes for awkward reading, though thought provoking, as Smith does not hold back on the calibre of the words he uses. “… so outrageous it makes you smile”.

Smith was a fearless journalist, photographer, paperboy and the last editor at The Torres News, a small independent regional tabloid that 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. It folded in 2019.

It’s 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’. Sprinkled with his experiences, Smith progressively and sympathetically becomes embedded in island life while vividly capturing the endless and often ‘farcical parade of personalities and politicians’.

Pulling no punches, award-winning Smith reflects on the history of Terra Australis incognita, dissecting what is truly Australian, and its gaping cultural and moral divide. The memoir provides an inimitable reflection on Australia, disclosing what is simultaneously astonishing and worrying.

We have two copies of The Rock to give away. To be a winner, just tell us the year in which The Torres News folded. Entries should be sent to [email protected] by Monday, 26 July 2021. Names of the winners will be announced in Frank Cassidy’s PS-sssst…! column on 27 July 2021.

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