Frater's grandfather and his father were Scottish Presbyterian missionaries in the New Hebrides, now Vanuatu. His grandfather Maurice was based on the island of Paama, which had previously been hostile to all outsiders, from 1900-1939. His father Alexander, who became a doctor after training in Sydney, established a hospital on the island of Iririki, offshore from Parliament House in Port Vila, training many Pacific Islanders in the treatment of tropical diseases. His mother established and ran two schools in Vanuatu. In 1946 the family moved to Suva, Fiji, where Frater Snr. became Professor at the Central Medical School (he later took a post in New Zealand and died there).
After primary school Frater was sent to Scotch College in Melbourne, and then attended the University of Melbourne as an undergraduate in the late 1950s. He married Marlis (d. 19 October 2011) in 1962 and moved to the UK to pursue a career as a journalist (with further study, Durham and Perugia). They had 2 children, Tania and John.
He lives in south west London.
Frater is noted for three well-regarded travel books, the most recent, Tales from the Torrid Zone, is in part an autobiography (of his childhood in Vanuatu) and a travelogue, was reviewed by the New York Times and described as "a pleasing grab bag of a book, a jumble of funny encounters, strange sights, forgotten history and really bad food".
Chasing the Monsoon (1990) is another notable work in which he follows the Monsoon in India. It was made into a BBC documentary in which he featured.
In the book Beyond the Blue Horizon (1984) the author in went to Statesman-Aldwych Travel in London and asked them to provide him with a ticket to all the airfields that Imperial Airways used on their route from London to Australia in 1935. He succeeded in visiting most of the many strange airfields used then, and also describes the many intermediate flights between them with local airlines unknown to most readers. The book also covers how it was to travel as a passenger to these far-away and forgotten places back in 1935.
His latest book to date, published in 2008, is The Balloon Factory. It focuses on the pioneers of aviation based at The Balloon Factory in Farnborough, UKAssistant editor at Punch magazine – 1963–66
Wrote for The New Yorker – 1964-68
Staff writer at the Daily Telegraph Magazine – 1966-77
assistant editor for the Radio Times – 1977-79
At The Observer he was assistant editor from 1979–84, Deputy Editor of its magazine from 1984–86, then chief travel correspondent from 1986-98.
Frater made several television documentaries, but admits in Tales from the Torrid Zone that his career in front of a camera was destined to be short lived.
A BBC and ABC Discovery Series documentary recreating Africa's flying boat journeys from Cairo to Mozambique was filmed in difficult conditions in 1989. It aired in 1990. The Last African Flying boat
Monsoon (BBC), about India's monsoonal rainfall event, aired in 1991.
In the Footsteps of Buddha (BBC), 1993.Frater, A.R. 2008. The Balloon Factory: The Story Of The Men Who Built Britain's First Flying Machines. Picador.
Frater, A.R. 2004. Tales from the Torrid Zone. Vintage Books/Picador.
Frater, A.R. 1990. Chasing the Monsoon: a Modern Pilgrimage Through India. Picador.
Frater, A.R. 1986. Beyond the Blue Horizon: On the track of Imperial Airways. Heinemann.
Frater, A.R. (ed.) 1984. Great Rivers Of The World. Hodder & Stoughton.
Frater, A.R. 1983 Stopping-Train Britain. Hodder & Stoughton.
BAFTA Award for Best Single Documentary (The Last African Flying Boat)
British Press Travel Award commendations – 1982 and 1989
British Press Award Travel Writer of the Year – 1990, 1991 and 1992
Best Radio Feature Travelex Travel Writers' Awards – 2000
Overall winner Travelex Travel Writers' Awards – 2000
Shortlisted Thomas Cook Travel Book of the Year Award, for Monsoon (Br Book Award, McVitie's Prize)