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My Name is Ross: An Alcoholic’s Journey

13 December 2009 25,972 views 64 Comments

From his first drink at the age of fourteen Ross Fitzgerald has struggled with alcoholism. His story is one of despair, courage and hope – and living to see another day.

He writes about growing up in Melbourne, drinking his way through university in Australia and the US, being incarcerated and subjected to electric shock therapy and reaching rock bottom before being saved by Alcoholics Anonymous.

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One of Australia’s most widely-published historians, his story is truly inspiring. Insightful and brutally honest, “My Name is Ross” is his account of life as an alcoholic and his battle to get sober and stay sober.

Contents

Preface; 1 Life/Death/Insanity; 2 Suicide/Murder; 3 Shock; 4 Damaged and Desperate/ Slowly the Poison; 5 Sydney Town; 6 ‘Adequacy, Not Perfection’; 7 Silver Trays; 8 Raffles. Spies and Brissy; 9 Birth and Genesis/Opposition and Repression; 10 Spiritual Experience and Anarchism in Practice; 11 Bears and Lions and Peter Beattie; 12 Father as Hero; 13 Waste, Regret, and into Action; 14 The A.A. Professor; 15 The Switch; 16 Under the Influence; 17 A Power Greater than Myself; 18 Do Not Be Discouraged; Endnotes; The Twelve Suggested Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous; The Serenity Prayer; How to Contact AA; Further Reading.

64 Comments »

  • matthew said:

    Looking forward to the book. Cheers. Matt

  • Leanne Baxter (nee Sullivan) said:

    After reading an excerpt of your new book in the newspaper, I was in shock. I am very much looking forward to obtaining a copy and reading the whole book.

    You see, I lived in Charles St. East Brighton with my great Aunt & Uncle (The Lilies) for a few years around 1979 – 1980. Edna visited daily, often twice, and I was very fond of her.

    I must tell you that despite your feelings about your childhood, Edna talked about you alot and seemed to me to be the most proud mother on earth.

  • David said:

    I have not read Prof Fitzgerald’s book yet. (one of the many “YETS” left in my life). But if I stick to my daily program I will. I am in the same age group as the Prof and have experienced a similar journey. Sadly, yesterday I have said “Farewell” to a friend of my last 30 years who was around the same fellowship for the last 48. This only proves to me that, as time marches on, battles can be overcome if we avail ourselves of the best with the help of God as we understand him. Many thanks to people like the Prof who have helped me, and others, over the years. I look forward to reading the book with excitement.

  • Simon said:

    Fantastic book! After just one year of sobriety this book meant meant the world to me. Thankyou so much Ross.

  • Lynne Sanders-Braithwaite said:

    Thanks Ross. Had a ‘procedure’ as they call it yesterday and had just read your story the week before as well as being at the National Convention in Coffs. Ensured that I had my ideas intact. yrs lynne

  • SYDNEY AND ALFRED « LYNNE SANDERS-BRAITHWAITE said:

    […] wasn’t actually too bad either despite my coming around under the sedation. Last week I read Ross Fitzgerald’s Story and that helped me yesterday. The strange chemistry of the alcoholic body doesn’t depend upon […]

  • Warren Porter said:

    Hi Ross,
    I am only newly sober, I go to Kangaroo Point, Mt Gravatt and Mater Hospital meetings and the people there, Bob, Neal, Steve, Mike, Brian, Dave etc still talk about you with great affection.

    I think you’re on the wrong track with the Jungian thing. I don’t think you did the sort of research a historian like yourself should have done. Look for some independent verification, don’t just rely on the tales in the Big Book or other AA sources, they are hardly independent. You might find the Jung-AA connection a little overstated.

    Have you investigated the role of hypoglycemia in alcoholism? There is a field of research that could be very fruitful.

    Kind Regards, one day at a time,
    Warren

  • Mike Griffin said:

    The Northern Miner, FRI 02 JUL 2010, Page 004

    A personal journey

    By: Mike Griffin

    AUTHOR and academic Ross Fitzgerald will be known to some Charters Towers residents and to Northern Miner readers.

    He is a prolific writer and a regular political columnist in The Australian and other newspapers.
    Fitzgerald has made a number of visits to Charters Towers, primarily during his time as chair of the Centenary of Federation Queensland in 2001.
    It was during these visits that I built a personal relationship with Fitzgerald, one that has endured to this day.
    It was also during those visits, and over dinner, that I noted my new-found friend did not drink alcohol. No questions were asked and no explanation was offered.
    In the fullness of time I discovered that Fitzgerald had been 31 years sober when I met him back in 2001.

    Fitzgerald, in his own words, and in a 2009 dated release accompanying his recent book My name is Ross – an alcoholic’s journey, he stated:
    “I turn 65 on Christmas Day 2009. If I survive, I’ll be 40 years sober. This means that I have had 40 more years on this planet than I otherwise would have had if I hadn’t stopped drinking alcohol”.
    My friend Ross Fitzgerald’s opinion on a range of issues is well sought after. I noted last Thursday that he was interviewed on ABC Radio for comment following the dethrowning of Kevin Rudd as Australia’s prime minister.

    I was not surprised Fitzgerald joined the debate on that historic day. In part, history, but also politics, is his life.
    But it is a very personal revelation that Fitzgerald has accomplished in My name is Ross.
    Readers are likely to quickly get most interested in Fitzgerald’s story, even from the preface of the book, which contains a story I have heard, of the author undergoing an MRI brain scan at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney to find out why he was bleeding from the brain in four places.
    To maintain his sanity, Fitzgerald admitted to reciting, like a mantra, the Serenity Prayer – a most interesting exercise for a man who is a professed atheist.
    I mention that because it is that level of personal story telling that is Fitzgerald’s own account of life as an alcoholic and his battle to get sober and stay sober.
    This is a book in which the author has turned the spotlight on himself after doing just that to others, for decades.
    I congratulate Ross Fitzgerald on My name is Ross – An Alcoholic’s journey and recommend this book to you.
    Why? Because like the great majority of Australian families, I had two family members challenged by this scourge and I can, to some degree, not only feel the author’s pain, but the pain of his family.
    But by being sober for 40 years, Fitzgerald is winning. He wouldn’t dare claim, however, he has won.

    And to conclude, in the author’s words: “The fundamental fact is that, if, each day, I don’t pick up the first drink of alcohol, I can’t get drunk. For decades now, I have never doubted that, for me, to drink is to die”.

    * My name is Ross – an alcoholic’s journey by Ross Fitzgerald, University of NSW Press. RRP $34.95

  • Phillipa McGuinness said:

    Letter to the editor, Australian Book Review

    I usually counsel authors not to write angry letters in response to a bad review. But I feel compelled to respond to Richard Harding’s review of Ross Fitzgerald’s My Name is Ross: an alcoholic’s journey in your June issue. That it is the first negative review this very widely-reviewed book has attracted is neither here nor there; the critic is entitled to his opinion, although he doesn’t seem to be remotely familiar with the norms of autobiograpical writing, let alone the now well-established genre of addiction memoir. But because he berated the author for writing the book and the publisher for publishing it, I must respond.

    Harding comments disdainfully that Ross Fitzgerald wanted the book to succeed commercially in Australia, so he may find it galling to learn that sales of the book have indeed been strong. What has been particularly gratifying however are the personal responses that Ross has received from colleagues, associates and strangers who have found his story moving and inspiring, often to the degree that they have started attending AA meetings or encouraged friends or family to do so. If Ross had written an abstract, dispassionate book rather than this brutally honest–if unflattering–self-portrait, its impact would have been limited. Finally, I have to point out to Mr Harding that the Damon Runyonesque names that he accuses the author of making up are all real nick names of real people. The organisation that is the hero of the book isn’t called Alcoholics Anonymous for nothing.

    Yours sincerely

    Phillipa McGuinness
    Executive Publisher, UNSW Press/New South

  • Wendy Duszynski said:

    I have not finished your book yet but I had to tell you how inspirational it is for me. I have tears in my eyes every morning & night on the bus to and from work but it’s all good.

    My daughter passed your book on to me, she has been through rehab for drug addiction & is now 8 months clean. She goes to NA meetings several nights a week & your book has inspired her to keep going. She quotes you often, as I now realise, especially that fact that you don’t necessarily like going to meetings, they are just part of life from now on.

    My husband is also in recovery & your book is helping me enormously understanding the struggles he is going through. We’ve been married for 32 years & this has been the hardest period but I know now there are other people out there just like us.

    I was fortunate to have been in at school in the days of religious instruction in a Methodist class when the minister brought in a woman from AA. Her standing up in front of a class of 13 year old girls saying “Hello my name is Ethel & I’m an alcoholic” had a profound effect on me & consequently I knew from that time that addiction was an illness.

    Thank you for your honesty & humour. “Chair seeks table” still cracks me up!!

  • Colette Weston said:

    Hello Ross-As far as I can recall,you and I have never met, but I seem to have heard a bit about you from my brother Jim Jones!I didn’t have an opportunity to speak with you at Butch’s(aka Jim!)funeral-but I think he would have been moved by your beautiful eulogy to him–I know I was. Living in NZ for so long,has made it difficult for me to remain in close touch with Butch,Dos and Ruth’s daily lives-but you were able to tell me things about my brother of which i was unaware-thank you.In March this year,my mother Donna gave me your book to read–‘My name is Ross’.I read it non stop-and realised how ignorant I was of the very difficult journey a recovering alcoholic has to endure. Butch took me to an AA meeting once, but I just didn’t understand then what it was all about.I see many alcoholics in my work as a Reg. Nurse,and I live in a small town-where there is limited support-however i do what i can and have often referred to Butch’s journey when i am trying to help someone.And I can now recommend your book!!!I never realised just how much support you all gave each other!!!! Thank you for writing about your painful(and joyful) experiences!!

  • Danielle Mulholland said:

    Ross Fitzgerald was born on Christmas Day in 1944. His elder brother Rodney had died in his father’s arms on the way to the hospital in 1942 when he was only six months old. From his parents, Fitzgerald inherited low self-esteem and an aversion to funerals. His toxic relationship with them fostered in him a fear of life itself. At fourteen, Fitzgerald started to drink. Although for the most part, he appeared to function through school, through university and through life, he was, in fact, functioning at the most superficial level possible. Fitzgerald had become an alcoholic. In his memoir, My Name is Ross: An alcoholic’s journey, he shares his fears, experiences, loves and losses with the reader with a frankness that is disarming as well as inspiring.

    Ross Fitzgerald was not a stereotypical, bottle-in-a-brown-paper-bag, snoring-on-a-park-bench alcoholic. As he carefully describes, alcoholism can take many forms but all of them are destructive: emotionally, professionally, socially, physically and psychologically. Fitzgerald functioned sufficiently well in society to achieve many admirable things and meet many notable people. Inside however, he was not functioning at all. His story tells of his struggle with alcohol and the profound effect it had on his and other people’s lives. When he gave up alcohol entirely, this did not prove to be the end of his story.

    Narrated in the first person, Fitzgerald takes the reader on his journey with him. To anyone who has known or been an alcoholic, his story resonates with a realism that is disturbing and, at times, distressing. He has not spared himself, his actions or their consequences, but speaks of them with a disarming honesty and pragmatism. He tells in great detail of his descent into alcoholism, the warnings against drinking by friends, his estrangement from family and those same friends, and finally, his acknowledgement of his problem and first trip to AA.

    Written in a chronological order of events, Fitzgerald provides enormous insight into life after alcoholism. The challenges, the passion to help others and the difficulties of his work life, whereby he was forced to socialise and network. These events always include alcohol, as it is embedded in Australian culture as a relaxation and relationship building tool. Fitzgerald has become an outsider because of his decision not to drink, because we live in a society where non-drinkers are viewed with suspicion and, at worst, ostracised.

    This book generates empathy towards the alcoholic. It provides an explanation as to why people may drink, how difficult stopping is, the irreparable damage it does to relationships (both personal and professional), why people need to want to stop themselves, and how AA is so valuable to people as a support network as it does not judge. The tragedy is so many people do judge, forcing most alcoholics to find refuge in the numbness of their addiction.

    Fitzgerald has literally bared his soul in this frank and fearless account of his life as an alcoholic. No one could do otherwise than congratulate him on his courage to put pen to paper and expose the most intimate parts of his life in order to help others understand the problem of alcoholism in a society that venerates alcohol to the point of obsession.

    Reviewed by Danielle Mulholland

  • Peter Gelling said:

    Hi Ross,

    Just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed “My Name is Ross”. I’m an AA member from Adelaide (originally Canberra) I’ve been sober 32 years and I’m also an Atheist. In January this year, a few of us started an “Atheist and Freethinkers Group” in Adelaide. There was a lot to identify and empathise with in your book and I loved the humour as well. Hopefully it will help dispel some of the public misconceptions about AA.

    Like you, I’ve managed to build a successful and productive life due to being sober. I’m a musician and author of music instruction books. If you can give me your postal address, I’d like to send you one of my albums which deals with alcoholism and addiction.

    I have a website where you can find out more about my background. The address is: http://www.bentnotes.com

    Look forward to hearing from you. Regards, Peter Gelling

  • Terry Oberg said:

    My Name is Ross: An Alcoholic’s Journey
    Ross Fitzgerald
    New South, $34.95
    CAN someone who hasn’t touched a drop of alcohol for 40 years still be considered an alcoholic? Ross Fitzgerald certainly thinks so, and his searingly honest memoir does an excellent job of explaining that rather odd-sounding perspective.
    It must have taken a lot of guts for a well-known political commentator and academic like Fitzgerald to write such a brutal account of his struggle with alcohol.
    The first chapters of the book, dealing with a decade-long bender that he began at the age of 14, are the toughest to read – not that it becomes a riot of laughter afterwards.
    The author doesn’t shy away from describing his despicable behaviour that shattered his relationship with his parents and harmed so many of those around him. Initially drawn to drink by its power to anaesthetise the emotional hollowness felt by his angst-ridden teenage self, Fitzgerald explains how the numbing effect soon dissipated, but the need to drink did not.
    During those tumultuous years, Fitzgerald travelled the world but seemed to spend most of his time in a variety of psychiatric wards. Liberal amounts of electro-shock therapy and prolonged hospital stays were interspersed with lonely nights, emotionless dalliances and suicide attempts.
    Fortunately, at the age of 26, Fitzgerald discovered Alcoholics Anonymous. The role that the organisation has played in his life is profound, and he does an inspiring job of describing his fervent belief in its healing powers. Fitzgerald argues powerfully that alcoholism is a curable illness, and that even the most seemingly hopeless cases can be healed with the support of friends, family and AA. It might not be a ground-breaking message, but you will never see it put forward with more conviction or courage.

    Terry Oberg, The Courier-Mail

  • Bill Harding said:

    Dear Ross,
    I’ve just finished reading your book. W-ow. I genuinely don’t think I imagined mortal flesh could withstand such sustained treatment. I laughed, I gasped and it was that suspect word, a privilege, to be given an insight into the life of someone I know only so slightly and, by extension a little into Lyndal’s and Emily’s.
    I saw in the Herald a week or so back some US doctor putting up the case against AA and for a medicated approach to alcoholism – he of course was in the pay of drug companies doing research – so it was great to read such a marrow-deep defense of the AA program. Not to mention the cast of characters, the genesis of the movement (Jung!) and the confetti of wise words throughout; I especially liked ‘pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will’ and ‘never put down to malice what you can put down to stupidity’. Thanks for the tip.
    I believe you’re coming to dinner at Margaret’s soonish. I look forwards to seeing you both.
    x Bill Harding

  • Margaret Fink said:

    Your book – an inspiration

  • 4BC& ABC 612 (Brisbane) said:

    4BC (Brisbane)
    Greg Cary Morning Show – 03/09/2010
    Greg Cary asks Professor Ross Fitzgerald about the nature of addiction, explaining that this topic has been raised following a deal Mr [Andrew] Wilkie did with the government regarding poker machine legislation. He explains his understanding of addiction in relation to drugs, alcohol and chronic gambling. Fitzgerald talks about how legislation can change behaviour and uses legislation against drink driving as an example of this. Cary says Fitzgerald will be speaking at the Brisbane Writer’s Festival about his book on alcoholism. Fitzgerald explains how he eventually addressed his alcoholism, addiction and mental health issues. He says his chance at survival came when he was introduced to Alcoholics Anonymous in America.

    Steve Austin ABC 612 (Brisbane) : The tale of a prominent Australian alcoholic, Professor Ross Fitzgerald.
    Austin replays an excerpt of his interview from last night with Ross Fitzgerald who is appearing at the Brisbane Writers Festival, who talks about his book My Name Is Ross: An Alcoholic’s Journey. Fitzgerald says he went to Monash University when he was 16 and for a while alcohol propelled him. He says he drank to anaesthetise his internal pain. He says identifies with Ben Cousins. He says attending Alcoholics Anonymous has helped him.

  • Bill W said:

    Dear Ross,
    When I finish this I will be going into the coffee shop in Rye to
    face the cheering Magpie supporter & face up to the claptrap that
    will flow from their mouths as they celebrate Collingwood’s win over
    Geelong last night, which won’t worry me one bit as I tipped the
    Maggies to win a month ago as the type of football they play is a joy
    to watch.
    Three magpies come and sit to shit on my verandah each & sing their
    theme song so I call them , Mick, Eddie & Nathan but they refuse to
    go away & I refuse to feed them. Such is life.
    I didn’t listen or watch the match last night , instead I went to bed
    & finished reading , ” My name is Ross & I’m an Alcoholic”.
    What a hoot, what a life you’ve led & survived to tell the tale.
    Lovely to read about all those ” characters” of AA years ago, such as
    Antique, Broken Hill Jack, Matt D, & the rest of them of whom I met
    those years ago going to meetings from Delmont in 1975.
    AA is still there but the ” characters” are dying out as people these
    days seem to be as I say sometimes , homogenised.
    Also in reading the book I can see a tradition of literature reading
    passing away in that people no longer mention,
    they read, “The greatest thing in the world “or” the hound of
    heaven” or “shakespeare” , ” Omar Khayam” and many others that are
    part of the English Canon of Literature. Such is life.
    In 1963 when I had just finished running from Melb to Geeelong &
    being beaten by Geoff Watt, Kathy the cyclists’ father, Percy Ceruuty
    said to me ,'” one day you may understand what you have just achieved
    in your life & you’ll never be the same again. He also added , ”
    people will never understand you but you try to understand them and
    accept them & yourself for what you and they are. It took years in AA
    to achieve it.
    Reading the book was like being at a meeting listening to someone
    tell their story & like a meeting I laughed at the thinking that
    alcoholics use to convince themselves that there’s nothing wrong or
    the strange from normal way they see the world. There isn’t a meeting
    I go to, that someone says something that makes me laugh which I have
    to do quietly to myself as it has got me into trouble from the ”
    sensitives” from time to time.
    Being an agnostic atheist myself doesn’t prevent me from enjoying the
    love of nature, my girlfriend, my daughters, my grandson & all the
    friends & family who are part of my life .
    Next month when we come back from seeing my daughter & grandson in
    Darwin I will be reading The Red Fox.
    Thanks for writing ” My Name is Ross”, I enjoyed it as if it was a
    meeting & reliving parts of my own life.
    Cheers & good luck to you & the Magpies. Bill W

  • Kel Richards said:

    2CH (Sydney)
    Sunday Nights – 19/09/2010 – 09:06 PM
    Kel Richards
    Station Ph: 02 8570 0214

    Interview with Ross Fitzgerald, Academic and Alcoholic, to talk about addiction.
    © Media Monitors 2010

    Duration: 10:33

  • Boris Kelly said:

    Killing the worm in ourselves
    Boris Kelly on alcohol in Australia

    C2H5OH, or ethyl alcohol, is a clear, colourless, volatile and flammable oxygenated hydrocarbon produced by the fermentation of sugar that is used, among other things, in the preparation of beverages. It is also one of the oldest and most efficacious of psychoactive drugs – and we love it. Anecdotal evidence – and, for most of us, personal experience – leads to this conclusion; OECD figures (2008) confirm it. Australians over the age of fifteen consume an average of ten litres of pure alcohol per capita each year. This puts us in the mid-range of comparative countries, with Luxembourg (which is, incidentally, estimated by the World Bank in 2008 to be the world’s most affluent nation) way out in front with 15.5 litres. The National Health and Medical Council of Australia concludes that, while most Australians enjoy a drink for relaxation and enjoyment, a ‘substantial proportion of people drink at levels that increase their risk of alcohol-related harm’ (my emphasis).

    To abstain from drinking is to be regarded with a certain suspicion, as if you are not quite trustworthy or, in the case of men, not masculine enough. The right to drink is sacrosanct. Along with the beach, the barbie and the football oval, alcohol is emblematic of the Australian way of life and an icon of our democracy. It is ubiquitous across lines of class, education, profession and gender. Walk down the red carpet at any gala corporate event and you will find a gauntlet of waiters bearing libations. In Kings Cross on a Saturday night you will see young girls sitting in the gutter, eyes glazed over, stiletto heels awry, mini-dresses stained with vomit. Out in suburbia, attend the average eighteenth birthday party and watch the guest of honour chug-a-lug vodka shots until the bottle is drained.

    Alcohol is the world’s favourite drug – and in Australia, where it has long been identified as a social and a health issue, it is also a political problem.

    In his memoir My Name Is Ross, Australian writer, academic and political commentator Ross Fitzgerald reveals that between the ages of sixteen and twenty-five, he spent every Christmas Day in a mental hospital receiving treatment for alcoholism. Ironically, Christmas Day was also his birthday. Those nine years were a rampage of sexual promiscuity, violence, degradation, humiliation, drug abuse, shock therapy and deep self-loathing.

    For Fitzgerald, even today, to drink is to die.

    The relationship between writers and grog is, of course, long standing and full of legend. Baudelaire once said that Edgar Allan Poe used alcohol as a weapon ‘to kill something in himself, a worm that would not die’. Poe did his best to affirm the great poet’s observation by dying on the streets of Baltimore wearing someone else’s clothes, penniless and alcoholic.

    F Scott Fitzgerald famously referred to alcohol as ‘the writer’s vice’, an observation supported by the work of Nancy J Andreasen, a professor of psychiatry who tracked the drinking habits of writers at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop over fifteen years. Philip Roth, Kurt Vonnegut, John Irving, John Cheever, Robert Lowell and Flannery O’Connor were among her sample, in a study that found that 30 per cent of the writers were alcoholics, compared to 7 per cent of non-writers.

    The critic Leslie Fiedler refers to the writer’s need for a ‘charismatic flaw’. What could be more convenient than the liquor cabinet? A high proportion of American recipients of the Nobel Prize for literature were alcoholics: Eugene O’Neill, Sinclair Lewis, William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway among them. John Steinbeck, Raymond Carver, Dorothy Parker, Truman Capote, Henry Melville, Jack London and many more resorted to the writer’s vice, whether to kill the worm or write the book or both.

    By a stroke of good fortune, Fitzgerald met a recovering alcoholic who steered him to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. For an atheist who once tried unsuccessfully to join the Communist Party but was rejected because of his taste for grog, the philosophical leap required to appeal a higher power could not have come easily.

    Carl Jung, marginally influential in the establishment of AA in the 1930s, once observed that the craving for booze was ‘the equivalent, on a low level, of the spirited thirst of our being for wholeness, expressed in medieval language: the union with God.’ Jung’s maxim for the alcoholic – spiritus contra spiritum, spirit against spirit, power against power – suggests that alcoholism is, in a sense, not so much a failure as the transference of the will, in which the worm takes control with a promise of psychological and, in extreme cases, physical obliteration.

    E M Jellinek, one of the world’s best-known authorities on alcoholism, developed a typology that ranks alcohol dependence. In general, alcoholic writers from the English-speaking world, such as the young Ross Fitzgerald, fall into the gamma category, which is characterised by a capacity to abstain for periods between bouts of aggressive binge drinking. French writers, on the other hand, tend to the delta type, unable to abstain but able to control consumption.

    In his fascinating book Alcohol and the Writer, Donald Goodwin profiles the Belgian author Georges Simenon who had the distinction of qualifying, at different periods, in both categories. Having never regarded himself as an alcoholic while living in France, his drinking habits changed when he moved to America, where he encountered a convivial and perpetually parched ‘freemasonry of alcoholics’ that drew him willingly into ‘manhattan after manhattan, dry martini after dry martini’.

    The Australian obsession with alcohol disembarked from the First Fleet, with early settlers resorting to drunkenness as a means of ameliorating the blistering sun, poisonous critters, understandably hostile Indigenous inhabitants and the rule of the lash. In their useful and informative book Under the Influence: A History of Alcohol in Australia, Trevor Jordan and Ross Fitzgerald note that Australian political culture has long been closely associated with alcohol, as veterans of the Left might attest. The most obvious historical episode of alcohol-fuelled political upheaval was our only military coup, the so-called Rum Rebellion of 1808, in which the infamous NSW Corps overthrew Governor Bligh in retaliation for his attempts to rein in their power, which rested on the use of rum as a form of currency. Lesser known may be Gough Whitlam’s admission that had he been aware that Sir John Kerr had a chronic drinking problem – twice admitted to hospital to dry out while in office, according to Whitlam – he would not have recommended him for governor-general.

    There is an unhealthy relationship between effort, reward and alcohol in Australian culture, perhaps rooted in our tainted colonial past and reflected in the methodologies used in the marketing of alcohol today. Over time, the once popular masculine ideals of the shearer, the drover and the digger were joined by the sportsman. By the 1950s, Australia had a subculture of pub art depicting square-jawed rugby players and cricketers on the walls of hotels across the country. The sweat of the worker morphed into the sweat of the sporting hero.

    Today, multinational companies like Lion Nathan, Fosters and Diageo continue to exploit the entrenched relationship between sport and alcohol, contributing more than 80 per cent of the total amount of corporate sponsorship of sports-related enterprises. Meanwhile, alcohol kills at least 3000 people a year nationwide, causes more than 70 000 hospitalisations at a cost of $7.5 billion. A total ban on alcohol advertising could reduce drinking by 25 per cent, road fatalities by 30 per cent and the yearly social costs of alcohol abuse by several billion dollars. But the vodka in the fridge will freeze solid before we see that.

    Alcohol abuse begets acts of a human being’s lower nature. As that great dishevelled chronicler of dipsomania Charles Bukowski puts it, ‘Sometimes you just have to piss in the sink.’ Compare, in an Australian context, the larrikin pranks of Julian O’Neil, one of rugby league’s most celebrated drunks, infamous for the ‘poo in a shoe’ episode at a regional motel while on tour – or, indeed, the numerous far more sinister incidents involving footballers, sexual assault and hush money.

    For a country with, according to a 2004 survey in the Economist, the world’s highest rate of serious assaults, a reduction in operating hours in Australian pubs would seem long overdue. Licensing laws that favour increased access to hotels result, predictably, in increased harm. In 2008, 12 per cent of inner-city hotels in Sydney were responsible for 60 per cent of all assaults on hotel premises. In Newcastle, the figures were 8 and 80 per cent, respectively. The hotels in question operated under extended hours. By contrast, recent trials in which fourteen NSW pubs adopted earlier closing times led to a 30 per cent decrease in cases of street violence. But the Australian Hotels Association continues to behave like a latter-day Rum Corps. As social researcher Hugh Mackay points out, politicians of all persuasions continue to resist substantive change by deferring to complaints from the hotel industry ‘as if a dip in the profitability of hotels is a social issue on the same scale as street violence’.

    Alcohol is a weapon, as Baudelaire said, and in Australia it is used to satisfy a self-destructive but lucrative compulsion.

    By now you could be forgiven for thinking I was that most despised of characters, the wowser. You may well be right: I haven’t had a drink for six months and the self-righteousness of the reformed is notorious. I was never really a booze hound, more your two-glasses-of-wine-at-dinner-and-a-couple-of-beers-in-front-of-the-telly kind of drinker; by definition a ‘social drinker’, even when I was alone.

    I stopped for two reasons: firstly, I had a very demanding year ahead and needed to be sound of body and mind; secondly, my children were in their teens and I realised that almost every adult member of their immediate family was a ‘social drinker’ – and some far more social than others. I wanted to lead by quiet example, to show that choice was possible, dissent from the norm an option.

    An old bar room joke goes that you know you have a drinking problem when your doctor finds traces of blood in your alcohol stream. Perhaps in Australia today, that’s no longer quite so funny.

    Boris Kelly is a Sydney-based writer. He was the recipient of a 2009 Varuna Fellowship for work on his first novel.

    Overland 200-spring 2010, pp. 92–95

  • Richard Laidlaw said:

    Alcoholism is the hidden disease.

    It is predominantly a Western affliction – if one includes Russians, past masters at death by vodka, as Westerners – though no society is immune and no culture is quarantined from its pernicious embrace.

    Like anywhere else, it is a problem in Bali, and not just within the expatriate community. Arak can be deadly, and not only when some criminal idiot has adulterated it to make it go further and thus make more money. As elsewhere, alcoholism is often hidden, in quiet homes where by habit or desire too many drinks are taken too often. Livers, characters, lifestyles, longevity and social quality all suffer. And lives are painfully shortened.

    Also like many things, particularly in terms of acquired behavioural patterns, alcoholism is deniable: few alcoholics will concede they are indeed people with that addiction; most look like – and indeed are – perfectly normal people.

    That’s why a book such as My Name Is Ross is so important. Its author is Ross Fitzgerald, emeritus professor of history at Griffi th University in Queensland, Australia. Fitzgerald is also a member
    of the parole board in New South Wales and on several other government bodies, including the NSW government expert advisory group on drugs and alcohol. He is in that sense – and in many others: he is a personable fellow whose contributions to society are many and of long-standing – very much the model citizen.

    And as his searing memoir makes clear, he is also an alcoholic – despite not having touched alcohol since January 26 – Australia Day – in 1970.
    He writes in his book, published this year: “I turn 65 on Christmas Day 2009. If I survive, I’ll be 40 years sober. This means that I have had 40 more years on this planet than I otherwise would have had if I hadn’t stopped drinking alcohol.”

    Fitzgerald holds nothing back in his book. You see the real Fitzgerald revealed: the young Fitzgerald, murderous and suicidal in turn when the drink gets to him; the mature Fitzgerald – a walking advertisement for Alcoholics Anonymous incidentally (he never misses a meeting if he can possibly help it) – steadfast in his decision not to drink, because he knows even after 40 years that one drink will tip him off the wagon and into the pit.
    One cameo appearance in Fitzgerald’s narrative strikes as especially apposite. It was a rhetorical question – posed by a speaker at an AA meeting in Kingsford, Sydney, in the mid 1970s, an itinerant priest from outback Queensland: “What’s the difference between an alcoholic and a drunk?”

    The answer: “An alcoholic is a drunk with all the bullshit knocked out of him.”

    My Name Is Ross is not just about being an alcoholic. Fitzgerald has led an interesting life. It’s all there. It’s all worth reading.

    MY NAME IS ROSS: An Alcoholic’s Journey. Ross Fitzgerald. Published by New South (University of New South Wales Press Ltd), Sydney. ISBN 978 1 74223 102 0 (pb).

    AA IN BALI

    Want to Drink? That’s Your Business. Want to Stop? They Can Help. Alcoholics Anonymous meetings are held at Seminyak, Sanur, Ubud and Nusa Dua.
    Seminyak: The Ruko, Jl Dyana Pura (Mon, Wed, Fri, Sat 7pm); Sanur: Stiff Chili, Jl Kusema Sari (Mon 6pm); Manic Organic, Jl Danau Tamblingan (Thu 4.45pm); Ubud: Café Wayhu, Jl Dewi Sita (Sun 10.30am, Tue, Fri 9am); Casa Luna, Jl Raya Ubud (Thu, Sun 7pm); Nusa Dua: Nusa Dua Beach Grill, Geger Beach (Sun 10am). AA Infoline: 081 558 104 700.

    The Bali Times, Oct 29-Nov 4, 2010

  • Liz Kantor said:

    I have sat here (at work) thinking of writing to you about this book. I actually decided this morning on the train into work I wanted to send this email to you.
    I need to say THANK YOU for being honest in writing this book I have found it uplifting, amusing, sad, a real mixture of emotions as I read the book.
    I was married to my husband for 13 years and we recently got divorced (separated for nearly 3 years now). When we met 15 years ago, I didnt really see his drinking a problem, and as long as I joined (which I didnt really enjoy) then we were part of the crowd. I actually drink very little and am quite happy not to drink at all. Jeff (my husband) used to say the only problem is that I dont drink, if I did then there wouldnt be a problem between us.

    I tried to help him by setting limits, and knew if there was alcohol in the house he would have to drink it. I look and think back over the last 13 years and see there were many signs, and I was just to insecure to leave back then.

    He doesnt agree he is an alcoholic, but has been in a drying out clinic twice in the last 2 years, and is currently on Naltraxone to stop the craving of alcohol. He did try AA last year but said it was too religious for him – but I dont believe he is yet at a point of actually wanting to stop. He thinks taking a tablet (Naltraxone) is enough.
    The hardest thing now is that I dont trust him, I dont believe what he says.

    I didnt want to moan, whinge, or go on, but just to say again Thank you for writing an honest “journey” of what it is to be an alcoholic. You basically say what I have always believed, and thought, that he cant beat this alone, and that I can not fix him.
    I am very glad to read your daughter did not end up sick with leukaemia. I have two children and I know how precious they are.

    Kind Regards

    Liz Kantor

  • Virginia de Crespigny said:

    Dear Ross
    Not only did I buy myself a copy of ‘My Name is Ross:An Alcoholic’s Journey’ but I also gave away several copies to friends who would appreciate the autobiog. I don’t go to libraries.
    When I read that Kath Byers had been so supportive of you in those early Monash days, I took into her those pages relating to the Nottinghill Hotel – she was most appreciative to be so fondly remembered.
    I found ‘My Name’ gripping reading…
    Also, it’s great to know that you are such an important contributor to many aspects of Oz life. You’re an inspiration!
    Many thanks & many blessings
    Virginia de Crespigny

  • Greg Carey said:

    4BC (Brisbane)
    Greg Cary Morning Show – 09/11/2010 – 11:21 AM
    Greg Cary
    Station Ph: 07 3908 8200

    Cary asks Professor Ross Fitzgerald, Political Analyst and Alcoholic, for his opinion about research which suggests children introduced to alcohol by someone other than their parents are more likely to binge drink. Fitzgerald remarks on the damage alcohol and marijuana can do to the developing brain. He talks about the number of young people at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in Sydney and Brisbane. Fitzgerald suggests alcohol makes teenagers vulnerable to sexual and physical abuse. He remarks on the number of people who are ‘raped and damaged’ during Schoolies Week in Queensland and NSW. Fitzgerald mentions his work speaking at TAFE and schools on the issue of alcohol abuse. He says many people are unaware that, aside from Muslims, Aboriginal people have the highest level of non-drinking in Australia. Cary asks what the best way to introduce young people to alcohol is and Fitzgerald responds. [cont]
    © Media Monitors 2010 Interviewee: Professor Ross Fitzgerald, Political Analyst and Alcoholic Duration: 5:05

  • John Sheens said:

    I bought your book at lunch time – for Lou’s Christmas present….and I read it this afternoon (while ‘looking after’ my poor old 94 year old dad)

    A critique (from someone not too qualified….but here we go)

    What came through……overriding everything else in the book….was your love of AA. How it is or can be of great help to all alcoholics in general and you in particular

    I would have thought that this is what you wanted.

    This was intermingled with many short entertaining stories (a few which I could relate which made it interesting for me)

    At first I thought you were self indulgent with the first few chapters….but that was necessary to set the scene for the rest of the book

    There were many fine quotes throughout….and I should have marked some of them as I went – as they were very pertinent and thought provoking.

    You came through as a real humanitarian….even if you kicked the bucket now….you have made a positive contribution to society and just causes. Not too many people can claim that.

    Lyndal’s honesty also was a strong thread throughout – an honourable quality for her and a big help for you

    I was impressed with the last few chapters – and your recent work in supporting the truth and not the popular /’easy’ line….al la Blainey & Co, Hollingsworth, Joe BP, etc

    You did make a small slip up….you used the word “serendipity” twice!

    The only Melbourne name that I remember was Dowling ‘over the road’….I remember her…and him…and the parents.

    You’re English and writing style was very clear. I found it an ‘easy’ read.

    Congratulations….I enjoyed the book (I might buy another one for a lefty lawyer mate of mine too)

    A few interesting adjuncts….

    · Lyndal was born on the same date as our race horse (9/11). It is called Lyndal’s Bid (that’s another story) and has one win at Victoria Park in SA to date.

    · When interviewing to choose new employees (for an engineering company), I look for 3 things….. Honesty, Capability and Generosity of spirit….similar to your description of Lyndal

    · I contacted you today because ‘Rake’ on the ABC reminded me of you.

    · It was this weekend that we were in Mozambique. I know that because I sent a birthday card to Doug Walters from LMs post office on his birthday – the 12th of December.

    · My sister lives over the road from Doug now.

    · We used to live over the road from your Mum…which was an amazing coincidence

    · Go the Pies

    · We used to be drawn to AL Gordon’s grave too at Brighton Cemetery (when the boys were in a stroller)…and I have a photo of the ‘poem’ on his headstone…by ANON. Amazingly, my mother knows the poem and can recite more verses than what was on the grave.

    · Last year I worked at Tarong Power Station-near Nanango/Kingaroy. Joe built this large coal fired Power Station on this ‘shitty’ coal seam 25 years ago – to give jobs to his constitutes. All very cosy.

    By the way…a group of us have a music venue in Adelaide. Look it up. We occasionally have fashion parades in there too….but it is mainly for live gigs. http://www.theprom.com.au

    Anyway, keep up the good work.

    All the best,John Sheens

  • Michael Hudson said:

    Thanks.

  • Michael Furtado said:

    Ross, great self-publicity and for a wonderful book & very good cause! I got it for my birthday, bought I think at Mary Ryan in Brisbane. Your best piece of writing,….. courageous, authentic, unembellished and a sobering reminder to me of addictive behaviour, which I unfortunately have in abundance. I gave my copy to my girls over Christmas and I hope they read it because they tend to binge drink in order to have a good time: Indian demons on their father’s side coupled with Irish cultural practices on their mother’s don’t help much.

    I trust you are well.

    Best.
    Michael Furtado

  • Mike Headberry said:

    Have read “My name is Ross”. Profoundly disturbing of course but I congratulate you for having the courage to write it in such a frank and revealing way. But I am confident it will do much good in spreading the fear and aversion to the very real danger associated with binge drinking and abuse of the demon drink.

    Like many parents who have young adult children, we used to be concerned for our daughter who is very much a free spirit and like so many of her age thought ‘a few drinks’ meant at least 10 – I have passed your book to her to read in the hope it scares the shit out of her and her friends. Strangely she is also very intelligent, street smart and with amazing people skills but the good drop in great company was her weak link. Thankfully she has grown out of it. So thanks from me for the book. Mike Headberry

  • Jude said:

    Subject: My Name is Ross
    Dear Ross,
    I have admired you and your work since I read your history of Queensland.
    As the subject suggests I have recently finished your journey through alcoholism.
    I do not want these words to sound fake but I now know that I am not an alcoholic. What happened to me in the last few years was an increasing dependence on alcohol to make up for a negative relationship (as well as a partner who also used alcohol to cover her depression and negativity)

    Just three weeks ago she left me unexpectedly and although the pain is still a stainless steel spike in my guts, I no longer drink when I am alone but can still enjoy a few drinks with friends. I don’t feel the need to anymore.

    Your book fell into my hands at just the correct time.
    I have written many of your words into my journal; and I was especially amazed to read Adam Lindsey Gordon’s words as my grandmother and mother quoted these to me as a child.
    Two women who were special and wonderful influences.

    I guess I just wanted to say thank you so much for your honesty and cander.
    You are now part of my journey to rediscovering myself.
    I hope you don’t think that sounds weird.

    Again thanks

    Jude

  • Leanne Baxter (nee Sullivan) said:

    Hi Ross, I still have not managed to read the whole book, however I had the opportunity to scan through it for an hour or so this week. If there will be reprints, I thought I might correct a name that was incorrectly included.

    On page 12 you mentioned Ral & Orm Lilly and their two sons, John and Orm, who lived in Charles Street. The correction is that “John” was actually “Ronald” (Maybe you knew him as Ron)

    Also, for your information Ronald actually passed away on 16th May 2009 after a short bout of stomach cancer.

    I was probably a typical self-absorbed teenager in those days when I lived with Ral and Orm Lilly and Edna visited twice daily. However I now find myself haunted by my ignorance and their ability to hide so much from me. I can’t wait to read the book in full.

  • Michael Wilding said:

    What Do Poets Drink?
    Gordon, Clarke and Kendall

    Concerned about the birds gathering on his windowsill at University House in Canberra, Laurie Hergenhan once asked A. D. Hope what parrots ate or drank.

    ‘Poets?’ said Hope, ‘I don’t know what they eat, but they’ll drink anything.’
    This certainly seems to be the consensus about Australian poets. It is a reputation that has particularly attached itself to the three great writers in Melbourne’s 1860s and 70s, the poets Adam Lindsay Gordon and Henry Kendall and the novelist Marcus Clarke.

    In My Name is Ross: An Alcoholic’s Journey, Ross Fitzgerald recalled: ‘When I was fifteen or sixteen and still living in Charles Street, my idea of a good Saturday night was to take a flagon of wine to the nearby Brighton Cemetery and drink on my own in front of Adam Lindsay Gordon’s obelisk … I now think it significant that of all the graves in Brighton Cemetery, I was drawn to that of an alcoholic poet who killed himself at Brighton Beach, where I used to drink so often myself.’

    Fitzgerald used the same episode for his fictional character Grafton Everest in All About Anthrax, remarking, ‘Grafton now thought it significant that he, a Church of England Melbourne son, was attracted to the grave of Gordon – a fellow pisspot.’ ‘The Poet Gordon – Scottish, alcoholic and estranged,’ he writes, adding, ‘Grafton thought of Gordon as this country’s Brendan Behan.’

    Yet was Gordon alcoholic? He is often thought of in this way. Leonie Kramer is quite stern about his failings in the Australian Dictionary of Biography: ‘His fecklessness was apparent early. He himself said that his “strength and health were broken by dissipation and humbug.”’

    Yet the evidence suggests that Gordon was not a drinking man. He left England in August 1853, aged 19, after he had got himself into trouble by liberating a horse impounded for debt, in order to ride in a steeplechase. He joined the South Australian mounted police and, he wrote to his friend Charley Walker back in England, he now drank very little, though he smoked a good deal. George S. Scott, who was a fellow trooper with Gordon, recalled in the Adelaide Register, 30 November 1912: ‘Gordon, by the way, very seldom drank too much.’
    Gordon served as a trooper for a week short of two years. He spent the next seven years horse-breaking. Father Julian Tenison Woods, who set up the order of the Sisters of St Joseph with Mary MacKillop, recalled in the Melbourne Review, April 1884: ‘My introduction to him was at a cattle station, Lake Hawdon, near Guichen Bay. He was breaking in a few horses for Mr Stockdale, the proprietor … Mr Stockdale further remarked that there was something above the common in Gordon. He never drank or gambled, two ordinary qualifications of bush hands in those days.’ Tenison Woods added, ‘Those who did not know Gordon attributed his suicide to drink, but I repeat he was most temperate, and disliked the company of drinking men.’
    There are occasional recollections of social drinking. At a ceremony at the poet’s grave, the Argus reported, 27 June 1892: ‘Mr Whiteman recalled … many pleasant evenings spent at the Napoleon the Third Hotel in Emerald Hill, at which Gordon lived for a while.’ And the Brighton and Sandringham Southern Cross reported, 7 September 1912, that the composer Joseph Summers ‘mentioned that Gordon, Ryan, Horne, and himself used to assemble at the Adam and Eve Hotel, in Little Collins Street, and on one occasion Gordon clasped his arms round his (Dr Summers’) neck and said, “If you were a girl I would kiss you.” (Laughter).’
    George Gordon McCrae, a fellow member with Gordon of the Yorick Club and the Colonial Monthly circle, recalled in Southerly in 1944 that the Colonial Monthly office was supplied with regular refreshment from the Duke of Rothesay hotel across the road; ‘the beer if ‘Colonial’ was of the best, and punctually supplied and delivered at lunch hour.’ J. J. Shillinglaw, who took over as editor after Clarke, ‘had a figure of himself on the outer side of his door representing a man in a sitting posture with a great gallon measure at his lips, with the legend subscribed “J. J. S. in “Liquidation.”’ But McCrae remembered Gordon as abstemious. ‘It used to be remarked of him from time to time his avoidance of liquor; which, in the midst of an all-round drinking society, had the effect of keeping him very much outside. He would take a glass of wine out of pure politeness, but there drew the line, over which nobody could lead him. One day, rallying him on his abstemiousness, he took my hand and placing it on his head, laid one of my fingers in a long deep hollow in the bone – I shuddered all over. It was the answer to the question – a skull fracture received in one of his falls in the field …’
    George Riddoch likewise recalled in Edith Humphris and Douglas Sladen’s Adam Lindsay Gordon and his Friends in England and Australia: ‘He was a very moderate eater and he seldom drank any spirits, though he smoked a good deal. Mr Riddoch never once saw him the worse for liquor.’
    George’s brother John Riddoch had been elected to the South Australian parliament along with Gordon in 1865. Gordon wrote to John, 6 October 1868: ‘I have not been well lately. I never got over that fall, and since then I have taken to drink. I don’t get drunk, but I drink a good deal more than I ought to do, for I have a constant pain in my head and back, and I get so awfully low-spirited and miserable that if I had a strong sleeping draught near me I am afraid I might take it. I have carried one that I should never awake from …
    ‘When I parted from my wife on the pier and saw the steamer take her away, I felt sure that I should never see her again; and when I got back to Ballarat, and went into the empty house I was very low spirited for two or three days. I used to smoke all night long – I could not sleep – and take a stiff nobbler in the morning when I got up – but I got through my work somehow and settled all my business.’ (The Last Letters 1868-1870, ed. Hugh Anderson)
    He pulled through. 17 November 1868 he wrote to Riddoch: ‘I am taking exercise now and doing work, and I sleep pretty well and eat fairly, and I only drink one glass of grog when I go to bed. Though I smoke nearly as much as ever I never touch opiates in any shape now.’
    In February 1870 after the long journey back to Melbourne from Yallum where he had been visiting Riddoch, Gordon wrote: ‘On Thursday night I was so tired that I could hardly walk to the telegraph-office, as you may suppose, and on Friday after the race I was not much better, though I did not feel it, having imbibed too freely. Everyone that was with me swears that I was as sober as a judge, by which I infer that everyone that was with me was as drunk as a lord.’ It is a rare record of excess.
    A communication from his uncle in England seemed to offer Gordon the possibility of permanent financial security. He told Riddoch, ‘It seems I am the nearest heir to an entailed estate called Esslemont in Scotland. He thinks it a certainty, but I fancy there is a flaw in the entail.’ Gordon pursued the Esslemont claim for eighteen months. 4 June 1870 he heard that it had failed. His hopes of the £2000 annual income from the estate were gone. He had no wish to continue riding, and falling, in steeplechases. He resorted like Clarke and Kendall to money-lenders.
    Alcohol features in the events leading up to Gordon’s death, though not necessarily in excess. 23 June 1870, he called in at his publisher’s. A. H. Massina recalled in the Melbourne Herald, 2 March 1909: He expected some money on the day his last book Bush Ballads and Galloping Rhymes, was published.
    He owed me about £75, and said to me, ‘I suppose you want some money.’
    And I replied, ‘Printers generally do.’
    Gordon said, ‘Well, I’ll be up in the morning with a cheque.’
    According to Sutherland in the Melbourne Review, October 1883, ‘Gordon dropped into Clarson and Massina’s office in the morning, heard some friendly criticism from Marcus Clarke and others, insisted on knowing how much was due for the book, then went out in search of means to pay the various debts he had imprudently incurred.’
    At some point he is said to have been shown a proof of Kendall’s favourable review of Bush Ballads and Galloping Rhymes forthcoming in the Australasian. According to Sutherland’s later account in The Development of Australian Literature, Gordon met Kendall in Collins Street, and the two wandered into the Argus Hotel bar for a rest.
    It is not known how many drinks Gordon and Kendall had nor how long they were there. According to Sutherland, they sat for a couple of hours. M. P. Sweeney, writing some sixty years later in Adam and Eve, 3 May 1927, says they met not at the Argus Hotel but at the old Adam and Eve Hotel in Little Collins Street and that they had seven shillings between them, and spent it.
    Sir Frank Madden, later speaker in the Victorian parliament, questioned this in Humphris and Sladen: ‘I think the story of his meeting Kendall on the evening before he shot himself is also doubtful as I met him a little after four o’clock on that winter’s day and walked with him as far as St. Kilda. In justice to him I should say that the most unlikely thing he would do was to spend his last few shillings on drink as he never cared for it, and so far as I knew seldom took it at all. He shows his contempt for it in his verses. Of one thing I am clear, that when I left him at St. Kilda, he was absolutely sober, but very much depressed and melancholy. He told me that he had asked a friend to lend him £100 to enable him to get to England, but his friend had refused to make the advance and he was most down-hearted and despondent.’
    Saturday 25 June, the Argus ran a report: ‘SUICIDE OF MR A. L. GORDON.
    ‘An exceedingly painful feeling was created yesterday morning in Melbourne, particularly among literary and sporting circles, by a report that Mr A. L. Gordon, the well-known poet and gentleman steeplechase rider, had committed suicide by shooting himself in the scrub near the Brighton beach …
    ‘Early on Friday he was missed, but still nothing serious was apprehended until it was found that he had taken his rifle with him. From the little that is known of him after he left the house, it appears that about half-past 7 o’clock in the morning he called at the Marine Hotel, and asked for Mr Prendergast, the landlord, and was informed by his son that he was not then up. On being asked if he should awake him, Mr Gordon said it was of no great consequence. He then had a glass of brandy, and left the house.’
    The Age reported the inquest, 27 June. ‘Mr Hugh Kelly, gardener, Brighton, said: I know the deceased. He has been living as a lodger, with his wife, at my house for the last twelve months. I last saw him alive on Thursday night, the 23rd inst. I saw him from nine up to eleven o’clock that night. He had been drinking before he came home, but did not take any more. He was excitable and rather quarrelsome.
    ‘Dr James P. Murray said: Deceased was eccentric, on the whole rational, but he was subject to excitement without adequate provocation. He was totally unable to bear spirituous liquor; a very small quantity maddened him immediately. Deceased had had several falls in steeplechasing and hunting. His skull has been fractured on one occasion, and his brain was much affected by these falls. He himself has said he was mad. The brain of deceased I believe, was injured to that extent that he might be subject to delusion, and to attacks of melancholy at times.’
    Geoffrey Hutton writes in his life of Gordon: ‘his widow told her son that she had never known him to drink, although they always kept a bottle of brandy in the house.’ According to her son W. Park Low’s unpublished typescript The Real Adam Lindsay Gordon in the State Library of South Australia, she said he never drank strong drink, and that the night before his death she did not notice that he had taken any drink, nor was he quarrelsome.

    Quadrant April 2011 pp18-24

  • Nicole Dyer said:

    ABC Gold and Tweed Coasts (Gold Coast)
    Mornings – 29/03/2011 – 10:15 AM
    Nicole Dyer
    Station Ph: 07 5595 2917

    Talking with Ross Fitzgerald, Writer, My Name is Ross, An Alcoholic’s Journey and Member, New South Wales Government’s Expert Advisory Group on Drugs and Alcohol

    Dyer says there was an article in the Weekend Australian pointing out that it was a refreshing change to hear a sporting manager Alastair Lynch refer to player Brendan Fevola as having a form of alcoholism, because it is such a loaded term. Dyer says that Fitzgerald wrote the excellent article. Dyer and Fitzgerald discuss alcoholism and why cutting out alcohol altogether is the only way to go. Fitzgerald says he is on the New South Wales parole board and was on the Queensland parole board before that.
    © Media Monitors 2011

    Interviewees: Ross Fitzgerald, Writer, My Name is Ross, An Alcoholic’s Journey and Member, New South Wales Government’s Expert Advisory Group on Drugs and Alcohol:
    Duration: 10:08

  • Peter Kogoy said:

    Binge culture ‘poisoning game’

    FORMER Test and Balmain star Wayne Pearce yesterday called on the National Rugby League to arrest a binge-drinking culture that threatens to poison the game.

    Pearce, a non-drinker and father of Sydney Roosters halfback Mitchell, said unless there was a dramatic shift in policy, recent incidents such as those involving serial re-offenders Anthony Watts and Todd Carney would continue to happen.

    Pearce, a business consultant and television rugby-league pundit with Fox Sports, described binge drinking as the greatest blight on the game today.

    “Players, especially repeat offenders, are threatening to rip apart the very fabric of the game,” said Pearce, a former successful NSW captain and coach.

    “These off-field incidents are sending the wrong messages to supporters which, in turn, has a knock-on effect on the game.”

    Ross Fitzgerald, the writer, academic, political commentator and a member of Alcoholics Anonymous, says sports people who have fallen from grace through binge-drinking incidents are often reported as suffering depression, mood control and anger management issues.

    “If Carney and Watts have issues with booze, why not give AA a real go?” Fitzgerald asked.

    “It’s been proven to be the most effective agency in the world dealing with alcoholism, especially as their playing careers and potentially their lives are now on the line. What have they got to lose?”

    Fitzgerald said the term alcoholic was such a loaded one that public relations people and managers were loath to use it. “Alcoholism should be seen and treated as a health issue and not as a moral problem. Alcoholics are sick people who can recover one day at a time, providing they don’t pick up that first drink,” he said.

    Ross Fitzgerald, the respected Australian author, historian and reformed alcoholic, said Carney and Watts needed urgent help if they were to win their fight against the booze.

    The Australian, 20 April, 2011 p 28 and 30

  • Gloucester Advocate said:

    “Festival hits the write note”

    Gloucester Advocate May 4 2011, p 1.

    Front page photo

    http://www.gloucesteradvocate.com.au/news/local/news/general/festival-hits-the-write-note/2151376.aspx

  • Katherine Owen said:

    Well, I was finally able to get a copy of your book and honestly could not put it down. I was so very moved by your story and am in awe of your strength of character. Thanks for recommending I read it – it was an excellent read.

    Look forward to seeing you at Sandy’s book launch on 30th May.

    Best wishes, Katherine

  • Michael Smith said:

    2UE (Sydney)
    Afternoons – 16/05/2011 – 01:51 PM
    Michael Smith
    Producer Ms Sophie Onikul 02 9930 9871

    Academic and historian Prof Ross Fitzgerald joins to talk about alcoholism and his memoir ‘My Name is Ross: An Alcoholic’s Journey’. Fitzgerald says he took a while to realise that alcohol was a problem for him. Smith says today is the birthday of Alcoholics Anonymous. They discuss the work that AA has done. He says abstinence is the best option. They talk about the attitude that AA promotes which is that alcohol defeats people. He says you don’t have to be a Christian to be a member of AA. He says people need to realise that alcoholics need help. He says the al-anon organisation is very helpful for the friends and lovers of alcoholics. They talk about how AA started.
    © Media Monitors 2011

    Interviewees: Prof Ross Fitzgerald

  • Claire Harvey said:

    Party ends as girls’ drink problems rise

    FOR Skye Suttenfield, it was the tipsy texts, the drunk arguments, the over-confidence she showed on big nights out and the empty bank balance the next morning.

    Niki Waldegrave, after several years of professional drinking as a gossip columnist, found her body just couldn’t cope. A low point was seeing the late singer Amy Winehouse crawling on the floor of the ladies’ toilets in a London pub, banging on the cubicle doors to demand cocaine.

    For Jane Walker, it was the early morning she found herself curled around the toilet bowl, regretting last night’s massive night out. She had promised a friend they’d get up early to do yoga together, but as her friend stretched and breathed in the morning sunlight, just in the next room, Jane could only lay her face on the cool porcelain and wait for the next heave.

    For Loretta Curtin, it was returning from a blissful meditation retreat in India to find herself slipping back into the old routine, always being the girl who was around for a sociable glass of wine, and suddenly finding it “so boring, just so boring”.

    Suzie Wiley began thinking of all the endless hours she had spent at pubs on a Sunday afternoon, drinking and talking, when she could have been doing something else: working, having fun, anything but drinking.

    Drink links these women and they have all chosen to take a step away from the sweet saturation that is consuming the lives of a generation of young Australian women.

    Girls and women in Australia are drinking like never before; today’s demure debutante easily slams back 20 or more shots in an evening, and blows $300 on an average Saturday night out.

    Now, a group of women is deciding to put their glasses down to stand back, have a break and reassess the allure of booze in this thirsty society.

    At Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, it’s now commonplace to hear a woman in her early 20s talk about her addiction to alcohol.

    Rehabilitation centres and sobriety programs see ever-increasing numbers of women under 30 with serious alcohol problems, outstripping the number who approach for drug or eating problems.

    In study after study, researchers find new alarming statistics about women’s drinking, such as the recent survey that found teenage and early-20s girls have doubled their drinking in the past decade.

    More light-hearted sobriety programs are booming, such as Dry July and Hello Sunday Morning, a voluntary scheme where participants promise to drink no alcohol for three months, and share their often hilarious struggles and personal victories in blogs.

    Women are catching up to men in the gender race nobody wants to win: the Empty Cup.

    Why are they drinking? To be confident, to be sexy, to be fun. Why are they stopping? To see if it’s possible to be all those things without a cocktail in hand.

    And, at the deepest level, to try to avoid Winehouse’s fate: confident, sexy, fun and dead at 27.

    ‘There but for the grace of God go I,” was the first thought of Kate, an artist and 10-years-sober alcoholic when she heard of Winehouse’s death. Kate is convinced if she had not decided to get sober with AA in her 20s, she’d have ended up like Winehouse.

    “I would have either committed suicide or killed myself on the roads, I’m sure,” says Kate, whose surname is withheld to preserve her anonymity. “If I hadn’t died, I’d be heavily medicated after some half-hearted suicide attempt. That’s if I were lucky.”

    Niki Waldegrave, as a gossip columnist on London’s big-selling tabloid Daily Mirror, “got to the point where I couldn’t actually enjoy going out and working those long hours without having a drink, to take the edge off.”

    Four to eight drinks was a standard evening, Waldegrave writes.

    She partied with the stars but the toll on her body lingers.

    After an anaphylactic shock, she was diagnosed with a yeast allergy and ordered off white wine, champagne and beer. She still gags at the smell of wine.

    Missing Myself is Sydney singer-songwriter Jane Walker’s most heartfelt song on her album Walk Gently; an ode to the hard-partying years she spent as a young muso.

    “I had in many instances not felt strong enough or stable enough to say no to relationships, drugs, alcohol, excess food,” says Walker.

    “I had actually been lost. The song also looks forward with the intention of no longer losing or abandoning myself in relationships, or in substances that ultimately prove self-destructive.”

    Her life changed on that bleak morning sprawled on the bathroom tiles as her friend did yoga in the sun.

    “Something in me broke that day.”

    Walker stopped drinking altogether. “I am so much happier being sober at parties and bars. I feel better in my own skin; I’m not running from my feelings. And it helps me do what I love; complete an album and not create drama with everyone I work with or leave a train wreck of destruction behind me.”

    Historian Ross Fitzgerald, a 40-year veteran of Alcoholics Anonymous, says in the past four years scores of new young women – many under 21 – have come to AA meetings “with at least half getting and staying sober in AA. A number of these young women have or had an eating disorder as well and when they tried to deal with the eating disorder the alcoholism kicked in,” says Fitzgerald, author of ‘My Name Is Ross: An Alcoholic’s Journey.'(New South Books: Sydney)

    He is also a member of the NSW State Parole Authority and the NSW Government Expert Advisory Group on Drugs and Alcohol.

    “Teenage girls are coming into hospital having been sexually assaulted or other assault as a result of having been completely s***faced,” Fitzgerald says.

    “Why, I’m not sure. Is it some sort of flipside of feminism, where young girls are feeling the need to out-raunch the boys?”

    Since 2000, there has been a 200 per cent increase in the number of women presenting at NSW hospitals with acute alcohol problems, including extreme intoxication, alcohol poisoning and withdrawal, with 3722 cases in 2010. The figure for men rose just 31 per cent in the same period.

    The Sunday Telegraph, July 31, 2011 p 34

  • Michael Thornton said:

    My first thought was, why does Ross want me to read his book? I don’t come within a bull’s roar of him intellectually, so it can’t be that he wants my opinion for its own worth.

    So, I began to think you had another reason, which was you wanted me, finally, to understand and come to grips with and forgive my father for his alcoholism, to understand why he could not live up to his responsibilities as a husband and father to my mother, sister and me. That you wanted me to realise it was an illness he couldn’t overcome, because in the 1950s, the lifeboat called AA, obviously whilst here, wasn’t as well known, available and accepted in Australia as it is today. And then again my father might have been one of those about whom you wrote, who couldn’t or wouldn’t try to embrace its worth.

    Well, the path you led me on to forgive my father hasn’t been an easy one this past fortnight while I’ve read your book, I can tell you. For the first hundred pages I didn’t like you as a person much at all; I just couldn’t take anymore of your downhill spiral (I’m a selfish, self-centred wuss). I was aching for some good news to come along. Were it a book I had picked off a shelf at random, I probably would have stopped reading it early on. But, I persisted because you asked me to read it. And then the second 100 pages became quite a different book, not just about but included your determination to be well, but the second half contained wonderful stories by and about a really fascinating human being — you!

    You made me cry, which I didn’t like you doing to me. As it is, I cry every day for Jamie (died aged 28 on 31 Jan). Frankly, I don’t need someone making me cry even more. Already, I live as if I’m on one long roller coaster ride. I cry every day because I miss my boy so very much; he was so looking forward to my book being published, and he’d be so chuffed at this week’s news of the reprint, so soon after release. Elaine is working in Jakarta this week with UNICEF, so the house in East Hawthorn is lonely. I’ve been picking up your book, and within minutes I’ve be crying again because you’re telling me that I should be forgiving my father. And then that prompts me to cry because I’m still grieving my mum, two years dead. Like you, I basically ‘lost’ my mum as a young child, in my case, to her choosing fucking sport over me (Wimbledon, etc; I did her eulogy). I cry because I’m also grieving my sister who died from complications to her MS in 2001 (did her eulogy too), and finally for Jamie this year (third eulogy). I’ve learned by the way that I don’t suffer from depression but rather passionate sadness, a term I cope with better.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think your book is captivating; extremely raw and powerful. Your story is real and your writing is wonderful, with great phrases like, ‘in AA we are playing for our lives’, ‘the carnival between my ears’, everything [in life] hinges on a slight shift’, ‘most of us aren’t lazy; most often, we are afraid’. And frequently, as I used, ‘one day at a time’.

    Then there are the coincidences and similarities: alcohol in the family for starters; your focus on your illnesses (page 126), which I tend to do; your interactions with police chiefs (compared with my interaction with Terence Lewis’ son, my fellow jackaroo at Augathella; and how after your father died you just couldn’t go back to live with your mother — I couldn’t with mine either. I assume by ‘jackaroo priest’ you mean novice priest.

    Forgive me, but I did wonder at times if Lyndal deserves you, especially during your early mentions of her. Is she really happy that you’ve divulged so much of your relationship? Tell me to mind my business. My wife, Elaine, doesn’t want me to say in another book I’m writing that we met on the Internet, even though three couples cite our example as leading them to the Internet and marriage.

    I’ve had a drinking issue. Following a dinner party on Australia Day 2008, I stopped drinking for over two years. I drink again now, but pretty much no more than two glasses. Often, a fortnight will go by without my having had a glass. You might read a problem into that (‘Don’t pick up the first drink’).

    On the issue of faith, I’ve taken in what you wrote, but I believe in Jesus because He gives me hope. And without hope, I’m stuffed. Of course I struggle to understand why God took Jamie (probably to relieve him of his pain — see story on my website). But I also understand that we’re not supposed to understand God’s ways, which I know sounds easy and is a bit of a cop out for rational thinking. Like I say, if I don’t have hope, what else do I have? What else is there in this shitty world? If you really want to know, I want to be in heaven with Jamie; I’ve been close to ending it all — planning how to go about it in detail — but God keeps putting things in the way, like the success of my book — book talks this and next weekend, a formal dinner speech at Marcus Oldham College next Friday night, to stop me; I’m too busy to end my life right now. Maybe God does want me to hang in there? ‘For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.’

    You reminded me of the time I sat opposite Judith Hancock in her study, explaining to her how to make philanthropic fundraising work for her at Brisbane Girls’ Grammar. And I got to know Stuart Babbage through my work with Ridley College. On 9/11, as the planes hit, I was above Chicago en route to JFK (Japan Airlines dumped us and left us stranded in Chicago). I just loved your stories in the second half of the book, like the ‘fashion conscious’ student on page 127. I can’t believe you stayed at the Metropole; I volunteered in Hanoi for six months last year, and all I could afford there was coffee, as I watched how the other half lives.

    My favourite George Burns line is this: ‘When I was 90 my doctor told me give up smoking. Doctor’s dead.”

    And I’ve always loved that story about Katter on the road, and “Pig” followed by “Bitch”.!

    As regards the magic trick, my son, Richard (31), a magician among other attributes, wrote this for me to send to you:

    ‘Dad, my first guess is that the magician used some suggestive technique to lead your friend to that card to start with. Or, did your friend tell the magician what the card was before he saw it sealed in the plastic bag? There may have been some exceptional slight of hand to make your friend think there was only one plastic bag — or only one card in the plastic bag. Without seeing it, I can’t really be sure, I’m sorry.’

    I’m so pleased that Emily is okay. And I’m glad you’re a qualified atheist. I’m sorry to read about your hearing and eyes. Take care.

    In the end, My Name Is Ross has been a great help to me. Thank you. You had a rough time, and your story does help me to count my blessings — and to think more generously about my alcoholic father. Maybe, one day, when you’re in Melbourne or I’m near Redfern (my best school friend’s office is Myrtle Street, Chippendale, and Elaine used to live in Newtown) — and if you’re not angry with me for writing what I’ve written above — we could share a sandwich lunch — and a soda water. My number is below.

    Please write lots more books like this one, well, the second half of this one. Thank you again for your very kind review of JACKAROO.

    Best regards

    Michael

    PS Two film producers associated with Melbourne Business School (where I work) have a copy of the JACKAROO film script. One of them believes it would make a good ABC telemovie.

    PPS I had a 4 x bypass in 2004. I think we all live on borrowed time.

  • Russell Goldflam said:

    Ross

    I have just read ‘My Name is Ross’, or to be precise, I have just had you read it to me (thank you!), as I drove the 1000km from Alice Springs to Tennant Creek and back to attend the magistrates court circuit, where I, a legal aid lawyer, represent clients, most of whom are in trouble because of their alcoholism.

    My article about alcohol policy in my neck of the spinifex, ‘Damming the Rivers of Grog’ (at http://members.ozemail.com.au/~pipmcmanus/Damming%20the%20Rivers%20of%20Grog.pdf), concludes with these words:

    “if we don’t fix up this grog business, I can tell you one thing: whatever else we do to stop the violence, whatever else we do to address this town’s social problems, however much money we spend, whatever laws we pass, or gaol sentences we impose, or programs we deliver, or houses we build, or theories we devise, or prayers we offer, I can tell you one thing: if we don‟t take the hard decisions and fix up this grog business first, whatever else we try, will fail.”

    The concluding chapters of your inspiring book make a strikingly similar point: for an alcoholic, staying sober is a pre-condition to achieving anything else.

    Here in the Northern Territory, our consumption rate is higher than the world’s heaviest drinking country, Luxembourg. And in Central Australia, we drink even more heavily than our cousins in the Top End. The book I write in my head every day is called “My name is Alice Springs. I am an alcoholic.” As I live in a town where alcoholism is not just a personal pathology, but an epidemiological plague, I focus on population-based measures, and in particular supply reduction, through my involvement in the People’s Alcohol Action Coalition (http://paac.org.au).

    ‘My name is Ross’, however, makes me wonder if there is a way we can use the AA approach more effectively in Central Australia. There are AA meetings in Alice Springs, but I don’t think they are very well patronised. I suspect that this is because the culture of drinking abusively is so entrenched, so embedded, and so ubiquitous in our poor sodden community, that it is well-nigh impossible for alcoholics to stay sober, even with the wonderful support that AA provides them. In particular, the web of kinship and other cultural obligations in which Aboriginal alcoholics here are enmeshed is extraordinarily powerful.

    These problems are profound, but, as you demonstrate so compellingly, there is no rational choice but to confront them. The story of your journey is uplifting and full of insights. I gladly, sadly, take your advice, and practice pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will. Cheers.

  • Kel Richards 2GB said:

    Richards is joined by Professor Ross Fitzgerald, The Weekend Australian, to discuss a 2011 retrospective. Richards and Fitzgerald discuss sporting highlights for 2011. They discuss the state of politics. Fitzgerald says he believes Tony Abbott, Leader of the Opposition, would make a much better Prime Minister than Julia Gillard, specifically when it comes to handling the economy in such tough times. Fitzgerald and Richards say that Gillard once said there would never be a carbon tax. Richards plays a satirical song sung by a fictional Gillard which is critical of her own leadership.

  • ross said:

    Anon
    Re My Name is Ross by Ross Fitzgerald
    Posted on January 8, 2012

    Let me open this review by saying that I don’t follow Australian politics, I don’t generally like most Australian literature and I definitely don’t know much about Australian history. The reasons for all of these things are many and complex and this is not the forum to explore my gnawing distaste. But, understanding this does shed some light on why my choice in wanting to read this memoir is so unusual. I am not quite sure what appealed to me … whether it was just the picture on the cover (what an unusual looking gentleman!) or the subtitle: An Alcoholic’s Journey or perhaps the review that I read which indicated the enormous strength of character that was required for this man to write this book. Nonetheless, I was inspired to read this book and overjoyed when I discovered it at the library. Yay for the public library!!

    I have not been disappointed. Fitzgerald’s writing is magnificent. I am dumbstruck by what must be his clear brilliance, his stamina and his ability to gain clarity through the darkest mist. Reading this book has been like entering into a complex maze and trying to understand something that simply does not exist. It is hard to explain. At times I feel as though Fitzgerald is writing with clarity and at other times I am confused and confounded by the lack of structure or perhaps his ability to maintain a thought and complete it. I can only think that this must be the nature of his beast.

    While his life is clearly fascinating in and of itself – who he meets, what he does and accomplishes – what this book is really about is the significance of Fitzgerald’s journey through addiction. I was particularly taken by the fact that he credits his alcoholism as saving his life – if he hadn’t drunk he would have committed suicide, he says. There is a stark wonder in this revelation and it is a credit to him that he can see the value in the experience.

    Fitzgerald’s life is heavy and the stories that he tells in this memoir are mostly depressing and equally weighed down with portent. His moments of joy and light are few and far between and many (if not most) of his central relationships are plagued with tragedy and/or despair. But, reading this book has, in and of itself, not been depressed. Fitzgerald is grateful that he is alive, thankful that he has had all these experiences and indebted, publicly, to so many people. One cannot help but be inspired.

    Without doubt a fascinating individual who has made incredible contributions, not just to politics and academia in general, to the people around him too.
    Anon

  • Justin Niessner said:

    Alcohol in Australia

    A RECENT study and official government analysis confirm common knowledge: Australia Day is the worst day of the year for drunken violence. But if the national holiday is a celebration of our national character, what does this say about us?

    If you made it out for the flags and fireworks this year, you probably got an eyeful of this phenomenon. So at SuperLiving we thought it was a good time to examine the roots of the problem and what can be done about it.

    High alcohol consumption used to be a defining characteristic of Australia. But as the average Aussie drinks about 10 litres of pure alcohol per year, we rank just a little more lush than the US and at least a couple litres less boozy than Russia and much of Europe. The guilty vodka guzzling of Eastern Europe, the omnipresent table wines of the Mediterranean and brewpubs of the Anglo-Celtic isles have statistically pushed Australia down the list – but alcohol consumption and alcohol abuse are not the same thing. And from a historical perspective, our nation seems to have been largely built on this inherited old-world vice.

    To explain the continental origins of heavy drinking in Australia may at first seem a justification for irresponsibility; a cultural and genetic excuse to pursue alcohol abuse without the burden of personal accountability. “We can’t help it; it’s ingrained in our history.”

    But the study of the effect of alcohol on society can offer a sobering perspective on an emotional issue we don’t usually tackle academically. Understanding how alcohol washed up on our shores with the First Fleet can be an effective first step not only in moulding public policy, but in mastering personal demons as well.

    Hard drinking as a cultural norm was imported from Europe at the time of Australian colonisation. These were the days which won Australia its reputation for boorish over-drinking, an era for which some estimates count close to 15 litres of pure alcohol as being consumed per person, per year. Beer was difficult to make at this time so the main form of alcohol was spirits, especially rum.

    To better understand the cultural influence of alcohol in Australian history, SuperLiving caught up with historian Ross Fitzgerald, author of ‘Under the Influence: A History of Alcohol in Australia’ and ‘My Name is Ross: An Alcoholic’s Journey’.

    Fitzgerald sees a powerful effect of alcohol on Australian politics and societal development. He evokes the 1918 Darwin Rebellion and the forced fleeing of Darwin administrator John Gilruth because “he had the temerity to put up the price of beer and restrict it.” He also suggests the 1975 unseating of Gough Whitlam was partially due to Whitlam’s criticism of the governor-general’s drinking.

    But the shining example of alcohol’s stranglehold on our history remains the famous Rum Rebellion of 1808, an event that puts booze at the crux of Australia’s only successful coup d’état.

    “The New South Wales rum corps overthrew Governor William Bligh because he tried to protect the small settlers against the monopolists and the members of the military who traded in alcohol,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s unusual for the military to have control of alcohol which was used as a currency. And it’s unusual to have a governor overthrown over alcohol – but Bligh has been given an unnecessarily bad press here in Australia because he really did try to protect the small settlers against the monopolists and the military.”

    Although initially employed as a currency and even as a legitimate substitute for food and water, alcohol in colonial Australia left its most enduring cultural mark as a convention of manhood.

    The ritual of excess

    Slowly, Australia has evolved into a more wine-and-dine alcohol culture, where food and conversation set the pace of drinking, not last-calls and macho group swilling. But even though we’ve shed much of that bawdy reputation and declined in overall consumption, we still have our regular stirrings of destruction, loosely veiled as irreverent camaraderie and celebration. And nothing illustrates this colonial hangover more than Australia Day.

    Official statistics for high-risk drinking in Australia reflect familiar social patterns. For both men and women, the middle age group (45-54 years) proves the most susceptible to excessive drinking. Indigenous Australians report more high-risk drinking than non-indigenous people in almost all age groups. And short-term risk consumption (also known as binge drinking) is at least a weekly indulgence for 12% of men and 4% of women.

    These numbers are unlikely to surprise many people, but the recent increase in binge drinking among young women is truly startling. The Australian Bureau of Statistics is tracking this surge and cites that 11% of women aged 18-24 binge drink at least once a week (almost triple the national average for women).

    For Fitzgerald our trends of recklessness and the alcohol-fuelled violence of Australia Day are closely tied to product image and availability.

    “There’re a whole lot of 24-hour, seven-days-a-week licensing outlets in Sydney, Newcastle and Melbourne for example,” he said. “And there’s an absolutely clear statistical correlation between the pubs and clubs and bars open after midnight. For each hour they’re open after midnight, there’s an exponential increase in serious injury and physical and sexual assault within a range of about five kilometres.”

    But although government restrictions can be placed on alcohol distributors, Fitzgerald admits legislation will not be enough.

    “It’s extremely difficult to control with policy, but stopping the nexus between advertising, alcohol, sex appeal and sport would be a useful start,” he said. “The connection between sex and alcohol and sporting prowess and alcohol is very dangerous. It’s part of the culture in general.”
    SuperLiving Friday 27 January, 2012

  • Rachael Kohn said:

    Radio Review: The Spirit of Things – Ross Fitzgerald
    Published: February 01, 2012

    Ross Fitzgerald is a well known journalist, historian and novelist. He is also a survivor of alcoholism, which led him to psychiatric wards, shock therapy, and suicide attempts.

    For The Spirit of Things, Ross has kept a Spiritual Diary from Christmas Day (his birthday) to Australia Day. Ross reads from his Spiritual Diary, and in a conversation with Rachael Kohn, he reveals that are some emotions that are still too raw to put into words.

    My Spiritual Diary – The Spirit of Things: 6.05pm, Sunday February 5, 2012 on ABC Radio National

  • Milton R said:

    Hi Ross,
    Great to hear you share on ABC last night -you had me in tears as well when you choked up talking about your insanity. I think Rachel was brilliant with it too. Have listened to that program many times but never heard anyone break down before- that’s the miracle of AA at work -going beyond the intellectual stuff to where we still hurt and allowing others to see that without being ashamed as I was for most of my life.

    I’m not Catholic but read a lot of books etc by Richard Rohr-a brilliant thinker and speaker who lives in New Mexico and runs “The Centre for Action and Contemplation”. Judge Jimmy’s daughter Mary put me onto him a few years ago-he embraces AA and has quite a lot to say about both liberal and conservative schools that makes so much sense. And he’s funny!!!

    Bless you Ross,

    Milton R.
    member of Saturday night Sober (Newtown)

  • Pommie Pete said:

    Subject: Just heard the repeat of your Spiritual Diary

    Dear Ross, Listening again on the radio it was clear to me why the web page comments were so good. A second listening was even better than my first. I know you were worried about your tears but quite the reverse: in terms of the broadcast they gave a seal of genuineness. For me, more importantly, you presented AA very realistically and very attractively – an exceptionally difficult combination to strike and maintain. There will, I guess, be some who will talk about a breach of the traditions and some, the very envious ones, may talk very loudly. But, as you know, people who chatter do not matter. What does matter is that you presented AA as relevant to the 21st century as a valid long-term treatment program and as open to god botherers as it is to atheists – and as open to Professors and writers as it is to labouers and the unemployed. You get my vote for a job very well done. Love and hugs, to you and yours, Pommie Pete

  • Matt Davidson said:

    Hi Ross,
    Heard your very moving and beautiful story today on Radio National and wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed it.

    Each year we work with hundreds of hurting youth who are trying to make a fist of it all too, despite they’re very complex worlds, and it was so encouraging to hear your story and how you made it through. Thanks so much for sharing it with us.

    Kind Regards,
    Matt Davidson
    CEO OperationHOPE Foundation

  • Katherine Cooper said:

    Dear Professor Fitzgerald

    I have just finished listening to your interview with Rachel Kohn – The Spirit of Things – and would like to thank you for your honesty and for sharing your journey with us.
    Such a special interview. I have actually stolen your wife’s quote re the pyramids and those who may be feeling a ‘little unwell’ – just brilliant.

    I went online as a result of your interview to read more and found this address. I do hope it reaches you and again, thank you.

    Cheers

    Katherine Cooper
    Wildlife Artist

  • Rachael Kohn said:

    Jonathan Cornford :
    07 Feb 2012
    I very much appreciated the interview with Ross Fitzgerald. As a Christian, I would say that Ross is much closer to the kingdom of heaven (even though an atheist) than many ‘believers’.

    Will this interview be available in transcript form? I would love to send this to a friend who has no access to computers, mp3 players etc.

    Thank you. Jonathan Cornford

    Moderator: This program will be available in transcript form by Friday the 10th of February.

    Michael Bedward :
    07 Feb 2012
    Thanks so much for this fascinating and moving program. Brave honesty and open heartedness from Ross, and wonderfully sensitive interviewing by Rachael.

    Fannywithanr :
    08 Feb 2012
    Listened to Ross Fitzgerald yesterday. Content was good, raw, moving, but I was disappointed by the editing of the dialogue. It really is tedious to hear the same piece of audio over and over in different parts of the program. I do not have attention deficit disorder, I do not lack intelligence, I was not doing something distracting and losing the stream of consciousness Ross was sharing. Can you please not repeat sentences over and over. It lowers the tone of the rich and sensitive material that was being presented, and in fact just sounded like you didn’t have a chance to listen to the whole program before it ran.

    Rodney Wetherell :
    08 Feb 2012
    This was a riveting program. I love the idea of broadcasting a spiritual diary, but was not prepared for the remarkable frankness of Ross Fitzgerald. I had read his writing, but not the more revealing parts of it. He is certainly a great advertisement for AA and its methods, which may not suit everyone. But if even one alcoholic were driven towards AA and finds help for their debilitating condition or rather illness, Ross’s efforts and honesty will have been rewarded. But I believe there will be many who are helped by hearing this program.

    Milton :
    13 Feb 2012
    Hi Ross,
    Great to hear you share on ABC last night- you had me in tears as well when you choked up talking about your insanity. I think Rachel was brilliant with it too. Have listened to that program many times but never heard anyone break down before- that’s the miracle of AA at work -going beyond the intellectual stuff to where we still hurt and allowing others to see that without being ashamed as I was for most of my life.

    I’m not Catholic but read a lot of books etc by Richard Rohr-a brilliant thinker and speaker who lives in New Mexico and runs “The Centre for Action and Contemplation”. Judge Jimmy’s daughter Mary put me onto him a few years ago-he embraces AA and has quite a lot to say about both liberal and conservative schools that makes so much sense. And he’s funny!!!

    Bless you Ross,

  • John Frame said:

    John Frame :
    13 Feb 2012

    The interview with Ross Fitzgerald was superb in very aspect – and very noticeably to me in regard to the quality of editing and production (I’ve been doing this as an amateur for community radio for nearly 2 decades).

    I love that we are privileged to hear Ross experiencing the relived emotion of his story, and that Rachael is calmly and duly supportive.

    I also love that RN programs like The Spirit Of Things allow us the space to appreciate the heart and mind of a conversation (which is how I have always edited my own audio interviews).

    I am grateful to have personally found ideal addiction support 17 years ago with “GLADS” – Gay & Lesbian Alcohol and Drug Support which is run by the Stonewall Medical Centre in Brisbane. I stopped doing all drugs so I could focus on living with honesty and love.

    Without full sobriety I doubt that I could given my mother the care and support that she needed, right through to her last breath in my loving arms.

    One of the toughest aspects of life is loss of loved ones (including our loved pets) and I believe we need all our wit and strength to be able to deal with that and yet continue to enjoy life. Like Ross I intend to make sobriety a continuing whole of life commitment.

    Thank you for this award winning standard of programming.

  • Ed W. said:

    Thank you ever so much for your engaging and illuminative book “My Name is Ross: an Alcoholic’s Journey”.
    It was a very enjoyable read and I felt saddened when the end came!
    As one who cavorted with alcohol unsuccessfully for 25 years, I was finally graced with the opportunity to become a member of Alcoholics’ Anonymous a little over 18 years ago.
    Your book provided a wonderful opportunity for me to reflect on my own journey of recovery and helped to confirm that my journey of recovery – though different to yours – still has many similarities.
    Thank you for reminding me about the fundamentals of AA recovery – especially the absolute need to continue to attend meetings.
    Born in 1948 and a migrant to Australia from Europe in 1949, I share a similar historical atmosphere to you and is possibly why I was able to identify so well with your story.
    Unlike your narrative, my academic journey is quite modest – I have one unit left to complete a degree this semester at the University of Tasmania!
    I do share your love of family and my long-suffering wife, Monica, will be celebrating 40 years of marriage in August this year.
    We have three grown-up children and are custodial grandparents to our 13 year-old grandson who has been with us since 2006 after a Family Court hearing that attracted national attention.
    Sobriety has offered some incredible blessings and, like you, we have had our fair share of joys and sorrows.
    Your book helped to affirm that it is possible to live a life of quality despite having the dis-ease of alcoholism.
    Congratulations on your book and may you continue with many more years of sobriety – a day at a time!
    Best wishes,
    Ed S
    Hobart

  • Laura Rustogi said:

    Hi Ross,
    I have to say firstly that your book “My Name is Ross- An Alcoholics Journey” has saved my life. It’s my husband’s and my favorite book.
    I was dragged into AA by family believing like you that I was too bad to be helped. I had decided at 17yrs of age that I would do what is expected of me and get my 2 degrees(drunk….the only way I could) until my body packed it in and it would be understandable for me to commit suicide.
    I moved to Chicago with my husband almost 2 yrs ago and was excited about AA in the Midwest close to where it originated. I’m 290 days sober which after many visits to New Farm Clinic, Damascus at Brisbane Private, etc etc relapses etc I was really feeling great. I was smiling from my heart like I’d always seen others not just pretending to be ok and happy.

  • Laura said:

    Hi Ross,
    I have to say firstly that your book “My Name is Ross- An Alcoholics Journey” has saved my life. It’s my husband’s and my favorite book.
    I was dragged into AA by family believing like you that I was too bad to be helped. I had decided at 17yrs of age that I would do what is expected of me and get my 2 degrees (drunk….the only way I could) until my body packed it in and it would be understandable for me to commit suicide.
    I moved to Chicago with my husband almost 2 yrs ago and was excited about AA in the Midwest close to where it originated. I’m 290 days sober which after many visits to New Farm Clinic, Damascus at Brisbane Private, etc etc relapses etc I was really feeling great. I was smiling from my heart like I’d always seen others not just pretending to be ok and happy.
    Recently an article came out about me in the Courier Mail. I feel like I’ve been kicked in the body from every angle and wake up in the morning with the dread I’ve felt since I was 13yrs old but for which in the last year I’ve had a reprieve from.
    Why would using my whole name when “an employee in her 30’s” would have done the same job? Unfortunately I had relapsed after my husband had left for Chicago and this was my last day at work. I’d had the 3 previous days off work because I couldn’t sober up but was forced to go for my last day with a valium in my system…big mistake.
    Life is so cruel, people are still so ignorant and I just can’t shake the resentment I have for this “journalist” and the “Healthcare” workers I’m sure are getting a great kick out of it.

  • anon said:

    My Name is Ross, Ross Fitzgerald
    Let me open this review by saying that I don’t follow Australian politics, I don’t generally like most Australian literature and I definitely don’t know much about Australian history. The reasons for all of these things are many and complex and this is not the forum to explore my gnawing distaste. But, understanding this does shed some light on why my choice in wanting to read this memoir is so unusual. I am not quite sure what appealed to me … whether it was just the picture on the cover (what an unusual looking gentleman!) or the subtitle: An Alcoholic’s Journey or perhaps the review that I read which indicated the enormous strength of character that was required for this man to write this book. Nonetheless, I was inspired to read this book and overjoyed when I discovered it at the library. Yay for the public library!!

    I have not been disappointed. Fitzgerald’s writing is magnificent. I am dumbstruck by what must be his clear brilliance, his stamina and his ability to gain clarity through the darkest mist. Reading this book has been like entering into a complex maze and trying to understand something that simply does not exist. It is hard to explain. At times I feel as though Fitzgerald is writing with clarity and at other times I am confused and confounded by the lack of structure or perhaps his ability to maintain a thought and complete it. I can only think that this must be the nature of his beast.

    While his life is clearly fascinating in and of itself – who he meets, what he does and accomplishes – what this book is really about is the significance of Fitzgerald’s journey through addiction. I was particularly taken by the fact that he credits his alcoholism as saving his life – if he hadn’t drunk he would have committed suicide, he says. There is a stark wonder in this revelation and it is a credit to him that he can see the value in the experience.

    Fitzgerald’s life is heavy and the stories that he tells in this memoir are mostly depressing and equally weighed down with portent. His moments of joy and light are few and far between and many (if not most) of his central relationships are plagued with tragedy and/or despair. But, reading this book has, in and of itself, not been depressed. Fitzgerald is grateful that he is alive, thankful that he has had all these experiences and indebted, publicly, to so many people. One cannot help but be inspired.

    Without doubt a fascinating individual who has made incredible contributions, not just to politics and academia in general, to the people around him too.

    Anon. Review from A Serial Reader

  • John Sutherland said:

    My Name Is Ross: An Alcoholic’s Journey
    By Ross Fitzgerald
    (NewSouth Publishing 226pp £25)

    Barry Humphries is a man of many parts. I know him through one of his less famous ones: that of bibliophile and connoisseur of late nineteenth-century ‘decadent’ literature. On 18 March he announced the final call for what is his most famous part. Dame Edna, the world was told, would retire from the stage. Possums mourned.

    There is a photograph of Humphries in ‘My Name Is Ross’, in propria persona, at the author’s wedding on 5 November 1976. Fitzgerald records the wedding present: a copy of the two-volume OED, with the wry inscription ‘For Lyndal and Ross. In case you ever have “words”.’

    The fellow Melbournians had another bond between them. Fitzgerald (born in 1944) had been sober since 26 January 1970; Humphries, ten years his senior, since 31 December 1971. Both men credit AA with their ‘recovering’ (‘recovery’, for the faithful, is never achieved – only the ‘one day at a time’ journey towards it). Fitzgerald’s title begs the echo, heard from every participant at every AA meeting, ‘and I’m an alcoholic’. Barry and Ross, we apprehend – Fitzgerald is tactful as to details – drank together in their unregenerate years. Fitzgerald, as he tells us, was present at the creation of that other famous Humphries particle, Sir Les Patterson. The men were dining together. Humphries left the table for a moment (to ‘point Percy at the porcelain’, as Bazza McKenzie would say), and, a little later, the bespittled diplomat and piss-tank Sir Les lurched on stage for the first time. Like others Fitzgerald at first took Patterson for real. Both men were at the time only very recently sober. Sir Les, as Humphries says, ‘drinks for him’. He could drink for Australia. But he too, alas, has gone into retirement along with Edna and Bazza. The massage parlours of Bangkok will mourn.

    The genre to which Fitzgerald’s book belongs is, in AA-speak, a ‘drunkalog’. As the founders of the fellowship, ‘Dr Bob’ and ‘Bill W’, momentously discovered in their pioneer meetings in Akron, Ohio in 1935, alcoholics can help each other back to sobriety by ‘sharing their stories’. The invention of the drunkalog preceded that of AA by twenty years with Jack London’s ‘alcoholic memoirs’, ‘John Barleycorn’. Drunkalogs are required to offer ‘unflinchingly’ honest testimony. But they must also entertain. No sermons and no tedium. Heroic exaggeration and gothic improbabilities are indulgently winked at so long as essential truths are observed. London, for example, describes drinking a workman’s bucket of beer aged five. Such episodes do not always stand up to forensic investigation, as luckless James Frey discovered when The Smoking Gun website started digging into the facts of his drunkalog, ‘A Million Little Pieces’. You can get away with outrageous bragging at the meeting – but not on live TV with Oprah.

    Ross Fitzgerald was never what Australians call a ‘two pot screamer’. In the course of his twenty-year drinking career he over-indulged himself into multiple hospitalisations, ECTs (it has left his brain as riddled with holes as Swiss cheese) and jailings. Since he more than once, in his cups, took a knife to young ladies who ‘thwarted’ his desires, he is lucky not to be writing his drunkalog from behind bars (the metal kind).

    It was, however, his bad luck to be a ‘coping’ alcoholic – one who could keep the show on the road while drinking ruinously. In his youth he was a gifted athlete and had he not devoted himself to the bottle rather than the bat, he could have had a career in first-class cricket. He was quick-witted and canny enough to land first-class degrees, scholarships, fellowships, and plum academic jobs. He invariably pissed them away, but found something as good elsewhere. He smoked fifty cigarettes a day ‘despite being an asthmatic’, and daily popped up to thirty barbiturates, all the while glugging enough to float the proverbial battleship.

    Fitzgerald ended up in AA when he had nowhere else to go other than the closed ward, the prison, or the morgue. The first half of the book, chronicling that journey to the AA terminus, is, as drunkalogs go, top notch – in the ‘John Barleycorn’ class. I wish I’d been around to hear him tell his story in person (he apparently still attends up to five meetings a week).

    The presiding tone is laconic, verging on the blackly humorous, as in the following account of his initiation into AA when, as he puts it, he was never quite sure whether he wanted ‘a fuck or a haircut’:

    “Lee took me, and a German bloke, to AA meetings almost every night for three months. During this time, the German bloke blew his head off with a double-barrel shotgun and I tried to kill myself twice by overdosing, which, not unnaturally, caused my parents great distress. ”

    Having had four decades of sobriety to work it out Fitzgerald is shrewd on the central paradox of alcoholism: namely that it can be a life-saver as well as a life-destroyer. ‘The truth is’, he says,

    “that if I hadn’t started drinking regularly at the age of fifteen, I almost certainly would have committed suicide by the time I was seventeen. But if I hadn’t stopped drinking and using other drugs at twenty-five, I wouldn’t have made twenty-six.”

    Alcoholism, for those few who come out the other side, can be enriching as well as life-saving. There is an obvious impertinence in asking, but could Humphries’s art have reached the peaks that it did had he restricted himself to the statutory twenty-one units a week? Could sobriety have spawned Sir Les?

    Things improved dramatically for Fitzgerald after he discovered, as Humphries puts it, that life is more stimulating without stimulants. And it lasts longer. The second half of ‘My Name Is Ross’ chronicles forty sober years. He won the hand of a former Australian Photographic Model of the Year, and they are still married. He ascended rungs of the academic profession, wrote well-received history books, and became an active participant in his country’s political life.

    Drunkalogs, like good novels, should not waste space on the ‘happily ever after’. But even if it is less gripping a tale, the second half of the book has its interest. Fitzgerald nowadays worries about Australia’s drinking problem rather than his own. According to the government statistics as many as 14 per cent of the population indulge ‘riskily’. And the drinking age is plummeting. Most Australians now start drinking at fourteen. It’s a recipe for epidemic alcoholism.

    What to do? Problem drinkers will tell you that raising the unit cost – as our government fatuously proposes – is not a solution. It’s a minor irritant. Most, when they are desperate, would rob a blind man’s hat if that was the only way they could get the next drink. Perhaps public flogging, as strict Muslims propose, would work. But it’s not an election winner. ‘Education’? It might work in the very long term, but the crisis is now.

    Tireless advocate as he is for enlightened legislation Ross Fitzgerald is not, at heart, optimistic even about his beloved fellowship: ‘The truth is that even though AA is the most effective agency, not all that many alcoholics can stay off the booze.’ Cheers mate – but no cheers.

    John Sutherland, THE LITERARY REVIEW, London, May 2012

  • Richard Laidlaw said:

    Old Friends

    We had old friend Ross Fitzgerald to lunch at The Cage recently. He was staying in Ubud – he and his wife Lyndal Moor have been Bali visitors for 20 years or more and always stay in the attractively royal ambiance of the Pura Saraswati hotel right in the middle of town – and drove all the way down to the Bukit (and back) for a bite and chat. It takes a true friend to do that, given today’s traffic conditions.

    Fitzgerald is a professor of history and author or co-author of 35 books, the most recent being ‘Fools’ Paradise’, a fictional rendition of political events in the Australian state of Queensland that was long in the making because when first written it was met with horror by publishers who didn’t want to be sued by the non-fictional moulds from which Fitzgerald formed his characters.

    Among the several tales told over lunch – they mainly concerned mutual colleagues and friends – was one lovely little story. He had to get back to Ubud early because he was giving a talk to a group of Indonesians (only men and from Bali and Java chiefly) who had recognised that they were addicted to alcohol.

    One of Fitzgerald’s books is ‘My Name is Ross’, the story of how he beat potentially lethal alcoholism. He hasn’t touched a drop in more than 40 years and still attends meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous regularly.

    He was giving his talk, he said, because Indonesians here don’t attend AA meetings, or not in significant numbers, and the chap who organised the meeting got the idea from reading a review of Fitzgerald’s book written some time ago by none other than your diarist. It was in Another Newspaper.

    We’re sure the talk went well. Fitzgerald is an amusing raconteur.

    HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, June 27, 2012

  • Simon Fordham said:

    I just finished reading your book and found it both entertaining and inspirational.

    My father, who was incidentally a friend of Barry Humphries, never made it into the rooms and died an awful death at the age of 61 from cancer of the oesophagus. When I was young, Barry Humphries once spent a weekend at our place, and I now assume he was trying to 12th step my father, but to no avail. He tried AA once and hated it, possibly a result of his ultra Catholic upbringing and schooling and an aversion to anything pertaining to God.

    A terrible shame, as he was quite a talented man, but who left the world without anything to show for his gifts.

    I have been sober for 14 years and took to AA easily, but had a hiatus of some 6 years where I didn´t attend meetings. My spiritual condition was definitely taking a downturn and I felt pretty much back where I was before I gave up the booze. So back I went to the meetings and am feeling better day by day.

    I am one of those who needs quite a bit of maintenance. Years of various therapies and lots of meetings.

    I had started to take my sobriety pretty much for granted, and your book has reminded me that we are some of the very lucky few and have not been cured, rather given a daily reprieve.

    And that even on those days which are troublesome and feel like a failure we are gradually getting better.

    My AA groups are in Munich, Germany, where the fellowship is fairly small, but the spirit is the same as anywhere in the world.
    I am grateful to be part of it and feel privileged to have been able to read your story.

    Also loved “The Watcher on the Cast Iron Balcony”, which we studied in year 10 at school, many many moons ago!

    Thanks for your book and keep coming back!

    Simon Fordham

  • Carlin said:

    Your name was loosely familiar to me from the review pages, but it first came to prominence in my mind when I read a review of ‘My Name is Ross’ in the Herald . What struck me on reading the review was how superhuman this Ross Fitzgerald must be. Those who have received Fulbright scholarships form an exclusive club, but to be both a Fulbright Scholar and a destructive alcoholic must be unheard of.

    To an extent, this amazement persisted through my first reading. But, on returning to the book over the past few weeks, I have come to see how human your experience was. The initial downfall was in no way glamorous and the academic achievements were incidental. Your experience is, I believe, more universal than a talented young man gone awry. Furthermore, and this is where the book resonated for me, it is more than just a story of alcoholism. For me, and I hope I am not simply superimposing my own experiences, it is a story about alienation and detachment medicated, and dangerously so, with booze.

    I’m a young man at the same age you reached your nadir. I share many of your enthusiasms – writing, books, Barry Humphries, a childhood of cricket – and could directly associate with many of your experiences. I’ve spent time laid out by depression and, like you write, been so wrought with anxiety I’ve been unable to read a newspaper being an ostensibly high-achieving student. Similarly, I could put myself in your shoes when you write of an inherent tendency, as a lost young man, of a shit-stirring that masks an uncertainty of identity: you acted as a philosopher among footballers and a footballer among queens. Your discussion of family and its lonely embrace, was also not unfamiliar.

    I’ve previously wimped out when I’ve wanted to contact authors in the past, and you are indeed the first I’ve communicated with. I just wanted to say that I admire the determination that you summoned to resurrect yourself (when those closest to you had written you off), and I thank you for your story.

    Carlin Hurdis

  • Paul said:

    I was given your book for Xmas 2 years ago.

    Read it and threw it away.

    I have been sober 7 weeks and attend AA regularly – I think your book was definitely the catalyst to bringing me to AA

    Paul
    Yeppoon Qld

  • Boris Kelly said:

    OVERLAND ISSUE 200 SPRING 2010
    KILLING THE WORM IN OURSELVES
    Alcohol in Australia

    C2H5OH, or ethyl alcohol, is a clear, colourless, volatile and flammable oxygenated hydrocarbon produced by the fermentation of sugar that is used, among other things, in the preparation of beverages. It is also one of the oldest and most efficacious of psychoactive drugs – and we love it. Anecdotal evidence – and, for most of us, personal experience – leads to this conclusion; OECD figures (2008) confirm it. Australians over the age of fifteen consume an average of ten litres of pure alcohol per capita each year. This puts us in the mid-range of comparative countries, with Luxembourg (which is, incidentally, estimated by the World Bank in 2008 to be the world’s most affluent nation) way out in front with 15.5 litres. The National Health and Medical Council of Australia concludes that, while most Australians enjoy a drink for relaxation and enjoyment, a ‘substantial proportion of people drink at levels that increase their risk of alcohol-related harm’ (my emphasis).

    To abstain from drinking is to be regarded with a certain suspicion, as if you are not quite trustworthy or, in the case of men, not masculine enough. The right to drink is sacrosanct. Along with the beach, the barbie and the football oval, alcohol is emblematic of the Australian way of life and an icon of our democracy. It is ubiquitous across lines of class, education, profession and gender. Walk down the red carpet at any gala corporate event and you will find a gauntlet of waiters bearing libations. In Kings Cross on a Saturday night you will see young girls sitting in the gutter, eyes glazed over, stiletto heels awry, mini-dresses stained with vomit. Out in suburbia, attend the average eighteenth birthday party and watch the guest of honour chug-a-lug vodka shots until the bottle is drained.

    Alcohol is the world’s favourite drug – and in Australia, where it has long been identified as a social and a health issue, it is also a political problem.

    In his memoir ‘My Name Is Ross’, Australian writer, academic and political commentator Ross Fitzgerald reveals that between the ages of sixteen and twenty-five, he spent every Christmas Day in a mental hospital receiving treatment for alcoholism. Ironically, Christmas Day was also his birthday. Those nine years were a rampage of sexual promiscuity, violence, degradation, humiliation, drug abuse, shock therapy and deep self-loathing.

    For Fitzgerald, even today, to drink is to die.

    The relationship between writers and grog is, of course, long standing and full of legend. Baudelaire once said that Edgar Allan Poe used alcohol as a weapon ‘to kill something in himself, a worm that would not die’. Poe did his best to affirm the great poet’s observation by dying on the streets of Baltimore wearing someone else’s clothes, penniless and alcoholic.

    F Scott Fitzgerald famously referred to alcohol as ‘the writer’s vice’, an observation supported by the work of Nancy J Andreasen, a professor of psychiatry who tracked the drinking habits of writers at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop over fifteen years. Philip Roth, Kurt Vonnegut, John Irving, John Cheever, Robert Lowell and Flannery O’Connor were among her sample, in a study that found that 30 per cent of the writers were alcoholics, compared to 7 per cent of non-writers.

    The critic Leslie Fiedler refers to the writer’s need for a ‘charismatic flaw’. What could be more convenient than the liquor cabinet? A high proportion of American recipients of the Nobel Prize for literature were alcoholics: Eugene O’Neill, Sinclair Lewis, William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway among them. John Steinbeck, Raymond Carver, Dorothy Parker, Truman Capote, Henry Melville, Jack London and many more resorted to the writer’s vice, whether to kill the worm or write the book or both.

    By a stroke of good fortune, Ross Fitzgerald met a recovering alcoholic who steered him to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. For an atheist who once tried unsuccessfully to join the Communist Party but was rejected because of his taste for grog, the philosophical leap required to appeal a higher power could not have come easily.

    Carl Jung, marginally influential in the establishment of AA in the 1930s, once observed that the craving for booze was ‘the equivalent, on a low level, of the spirited thirst of our being for wholeness, expressed in medieval language: the union with God.’ Jung’s maxim for the alcoholic – spiritus contra spiritum, spirit against spirit, power against power – suggests that alcoholism is, in a sense, not so much a failure as the transference of the will, in which the worm takes control with a promise of psychological and, in extreme cases, physical obliteration.

    E M Jellinek, one of the world’s best-known authorities on alcoholism, developed a typology that ranks alcohol dependence. In general, alcoholic writers from the English-speaking world, such as the young Ross Fitzgerald, fall into the gamma category, which is characterised by a capacity to abstain for periods between bouts of aggressive binge drinking. French writers, on the other hand, tend to the delta type, unable to abstain but able to control consumption.

    In his fascinating book Alcohol and the Writer, Donald Goodwin profiles the Belgian author Georges Simenon who had the distinction of qualifying, at different periods, in both categories. Having never regarded himself as an alcoholic while living in France, his drinking habits changed when he moved to America, where he encountered a convivial and perpetually parched ‘freemasonry of alcoholics’ that drew him willingly into ‘manhattan after manhattan, dry martini after dry martini’.

    The Australian obsession with alcohol disembarked from the First Fleet, with early settlers resorting to drunkenness as a means of ameliorating the blistering sun, poisonous critters, understandably hostile Indigenous inhabitants and the rule of the lash. In their useful and informative book ‘Under the Influence: A History of Alcohol in Australia’, Trevor Jordan and Ross Fitzgerald note that Australian political culture has long been closely associated with alcohol, as veterans of the Left might attest. The most obvious historical episode of alcohol-fuelled political upheaval was our only military coup, the so-called Rum Rebellion of 1808, in which the infamous NSW Corps overthrew Governor Bligh in retaliation for his attempts to rein in their power, which rested on the use of rum as a form of currency. Lesser known may be Gough Whitlam’s admission that had he been aware that Sir John Kerr had a chronic drinking problem – twice admitted to hospital to dry out while in office, according to Whitlam – he would not have recommended him for governor-general.

    There is an unhealthy relationship between effort, reward and alcohol in Australian culture, perhaps rooted in our tainted colonial past and reflected in the methodologies used in the marketing of alcohol today. Over time, the once popular masculine ideals of the shearer, the drover and the digger were joined by the sportsman. By the 1950s, Australia had a subculture of pub art depicting square-jawed rugby players and cricketers on the walls of hotels across the country. The sweat of the worker morphed into the sweat of the sporting hero.

    Today, multinational companies like Lion Nathan, Fosters and Diageo continue to exploit the entrenched relationship between sport and alcohol, contributing more than 80 per cent of the total amount of corporate sponsorship of sports-related enterprises. Meanwhile, alcohol kills at least 3000 people a year nationwide, causes more than 70 000 hospitalisations at a cost of $7.5 billion. A total ban on alcohol advertising could reduce drinking by 25 per cent, road fatalities by 30 per cent and the yearly social costs of alcohol abuse by several billion dollars. But the vodka in the fridge will freeze solid before we see that.

    Alcohol abuse begets acts of a human being’s lower nature. As that great dishevelled chronicler of dipsomania Charles Bukowski puts it, ‘Sometimes you just have to piss in the sink.’ Compare, in an Australian context, the larrikin pranks of Julian O’Neil, one of rugby league’s most celebrated drunks, infamous for the ‘poo in a shoe’ episode at a regional motel while on tour – or, indeed, the numerous far more sinister incidents involving footballers, sexual assault and hush money.

    For a country with, according to a 2004 survey in the Economist, the world’s highest rate of serious assaults, a reduction in operating hours in Australian pubs would seem long overdue. Licensing laws that favour increased access to hotels result, predictably, in increased harm. In 2008, 12 per cent of inner-city hotels in Sydney were responsible for 60 per cent of all assaults on hotel premises. In Newcastle, the figures were 8 and 80 per cent, respectively. The hotels in question operated under extended hours. By contrast, recent trials in which fourteen NSW pubs adopted earlier closing times led to a 30 per cent decrease in cases of street violence. But the Australian Hotels Association continues to behave like a latter-day Rum Corps. As social researcher Hugh Mackay points out, politicians of all persuasions continue to resist substantive change by deferring to complaints from the hotel industry ‘as if a dip in the profitability of hotels is a social issue on the same scale as street violence’.

    Alcohol is a weapon, as Baudelaire said, and in Australia it is used to satisfy a self-destructive but lucrative compulsion.

    By now you could be forgiven for thinking I was that most despised of characters, the wowser. You may well be right: I haven’t had a drink for six months and the self-righteousness of the reformed is notorious. I was never really a booze hound, more your two-glasses-of-wine-at-dinner-and-a-couple-of-beers-in-front-of-the-telly kind of drinker; by definition a ‘social drinker’, even when I was alone.

    I stopped for two reasons: firstly, I had a very demanding year ahead and needed to be sound of body and mind; secondly, my children were in their teens and I realised that almost every adult member of their immediate family was a ‘social drinker’ – and some far more social than others. I wanted to lead by quiet example, to show that choice was possible, dissent from the norm an option.

    An old bar room joke goes that you know you have a drinking problem when your doctor finds traces of blood in your alcohol stream. Perhaps in Australia today, that’s no longer quite so funny.

  • My Spiritual Diary said:

    MY SPIRITUAL DIARY – ROSS FITZGERALD
    ABC Radio National. Broadcast:Sunday 30 December 2012 6:05 – 7PM

    Do you have spiritual thoughts? Or do they drift away in a fog while you’re busy doing something else? ‘My Spiritual Diary’ is a monthly series on ‘The Spirit of Things’ where people in all walks of life keep a record of their spiritual thoughts and practice. Sharing their feelings and observations, they focus on the things that give meaning to their lives, in the day to day.

    Ross Fitzgerald is a well known journalist, historian and novelist (the Grafton Everest series). He is also a survivor of alcoholism, which led him to psychiatric wards, shock therapy, and suicide attempts. Alcoholics Anonymous not only gave him faith in the power to accept his condition, but the will to help others. AA is a community of people who have faith – in God, in humanity, in the power to overcome the weakest part of themselves.

    For ‘The Spirit of Things’, Ross has kept a Spiritual Diary from Christmas Day (his birthday) to Australia Day. Ross reads from his Spiritual Diary for the first of RN Summer programs, and in a conversation with Rachael Kohn, he reveals that there are some emotions that are still too raw to put into words.

    (First broadcast 5 February 2012).

  • Sara Conlon said:

    Rachael, I never miss your programmes and I was particularly pleased that you repeated Ross Fitzgerald’s Spiritual Diary. Such a moving, insightful contribution from Ross. Cheers to both of you and keep up the good work. Best wishes, Sara

  • Gynia said:

    Hi Ross,

    I fortuitously listened to your Radio National podcast today and was extremely moved by it. Struggling with alcoholism for 27 years myself and being on my 2nd day sober again, listening to your story gave me the strength I needed today[i also wept a lot]to stay sober until I get to the meeting I need to tonight.
    I just want to say thank-you for telling your story and I’m looking forward to reading your book.

    Yours sincerely,

    Gynia

  • Donna McDonald said:

    I have just finished reading MY NAME IS ROSS : AN ALCOHOLIC’S JOURNEY. As I only received it in the mail on Tuesday, and as I’ve had an intense week at work, this gives you some idea about how immersed I got in your book.

    I liked the bit about my dad (Bookmaker Jim)! He would have laughed too at that anecdote all over again.

    I think that your book is a terrific read, and well constructed as a narrative. It was smart of you to write it in digestible chunks so that the reader can pick it up and put it down and pick it up again without having lost the thread of your story. It also allows the reader (me) to think about the little nuggets of insights you slotted away in your mini-stories within each chapter.

    I also noticed that you sustained a swing of optimism all the way through your book, despite the horrific nature of some of the stories. I am still curious about what happened in your boyhood and teenage years especially with your mother Edna; you are skittish about the details there. I understand that instinct because I was similarly skittish about certain details in my own memoir of deafness. I decided that it was not necessary for the reader to know everything to get the gist of things.

    I love that you are so open about your love for Lyndal and for Emily. I must admit that as a single woman, I envy that.

    And finally, I got the impression that while you may have set about writing your book to explain alcoholism and AA to the “general reader”, the task of writing your very personal book also led you to a deeper and warmer understanding of yourself. It is as if the re-iteration in writing (as opposed to orally at AA Meetings) shone fresh light for you on old incidents and oft-stated wisdoms.

    I am very pleased I read your book.

    Donna

  • Ockham's Razor. said:

    An alcoholic’s journey: why ‘controlled’ drinking is a mirage

    July is a time when many of us decide to take a temporary break from alcohol. But for author Professor Ross Fitzgerald, a former alcoholic, drinking is an uncontrollable addiction—one drink is too many and a hundred isn’t enough. He says eight per cent of the population share his condition, and the only cure is total abstinence.

    Let me put some of my cards on the table.

    I turn 69 on Christmas Day. And if I survive until Australia Day I will have had no alcohol or other drugs for the last 44 years. This means that I’ve had 44 more years on the planet than I would have otherwise had.

    Like a lot of teenagers who are prone to addiction, I got into trouble with alcohol at an early age. But I don’t regret starting drinking. A quick précis of my life is that if I hadn’t found alcohol at 14, I would have most likely suicided at 17. But if I hadn’t stopped drinking at 24, I wouldn’t have made 25.

    It’s important to stress that alcoholism is a health problem, not a moral problem. Alcoholics are not bad people who need to be good, but people suffering from an illness who can recover if they learn to totally abstain from drinking alcohol, one day at a time.

    When dealing with alcoholism, said [Carl] Jung, the most helpful formula is ‘spiritus contra spiritum’: spirit against spirit, or power against power. This is why AA suggests that newcomers to the program try to develop a belief in what it calls ‘a power greater than oneself’.
    ROSS FITZGERALD
    Yet in spite of abstinence having saved the lives of countless people, not drinking alcohol at all is still seen by many as rather weird, especially if one is young.

    In a society like ours, with such an entrenched drink culture and with such a politically powerful liquor industry, advertising and significant social and peer group pressure is often applied to those of us who need to remain abstinent in order to stay alive, let alone to lead productive lives.

    At social functions, after my third or fourth mineral water or fruit juice, I am often asked, ‘What’s the matter, don’t you drink?’ To which I sometimes reply, ‘What do think I’m doing, eating a sandwich!?’

    Of course I drink. I drink a lot. It’s just that I don’t drink alcohol. This is because, as with about 7 to 8 per cent of the Australian population, one glass containing alcohol is one too many—and a hundred are not enough.

    Although not always the case, quite often a propensity to alcoholism and other drug addiction is genetically based. My father was a very tough footballer who played Aussie Rules for Collingwood. But he never drank a teaspoonful of alcohol in his life. This was because his father was an alcoholic whose drinking blighted his marriage and destroyed the family business.

    My first drink of alcohol, at age 14, was like an injection of rocket fuel. Very soon, I was drinking as much as I could, usually on my own. Quite often, my idea of a good Saturday night was to go to Melbourne’s Brighton Cemetery, with a flagon of claret, and sit drinking in front of Adam Lindsay Gordon’s obelisk which reads: ‘Life is only froth and bubble, Two things stand like stone, Kindness in another’s trouble, Courage in your own.’ I now think it significant that, instead of being attracted to the grave of the gangster Squizzy Taylor or to the bent Victorian politician Sir Thomas Bent, I found myself in front of Gordon, the alcoholic poet, who killed himself on the beach near Park Street Brighton where, when young, I often used to drink myself.

    When I was 15 I stumbled home drunk from Middle Brighton beach at 2 am. My father, tall and erect, was waiting up for me. ‘What are you celebrating, son?’ he said. I had no answer. I didn’t know that I was drinking because I had to. Then Dad told me something I’ve never forgotten. ‘When I was your age, son, I lost two bicycles looking for my father.’

    He understood that booze would also get me—his only living child—into terrible trouble. And it did. From the age of 14 to 24 alcohol caused me, and those close to me, enormous damage.

    But despite being almost 44 years sober, I still need to be vigilant and to realise that what matters most in my life is that I don’t pick up the first drink of alcohol, one day at a time.

    Twenty years ago, I was waiting for my friend, Jim Maclaine, then a psychologist at Sydney’s Langton Clinic when it was abstinence-oriented. Through the paper-thin walls, I overheard Jim talking to a new patient whose name, I recall, was Boris. Said Maclaine, ‘Boris, now that you’ve been admitted to this hospital as an alcoholic, for as long as you live you’ll be spending a lot of your time with other alcoholics. The big question is whether they’re going to be drunken ones or sober ones.’

    Maclaine continued: ‘If you cross the road outside the Clinic, get run over by a truck and break your hip, depending on your personality it may take three months, it may take six months, it may take a year, but eventually you’ll forget the dreadful pain of breaking your hip and be able to cross a road without a qualm.’ That forgetfulness, he explained, is an important part of human evolution. If we remembered all the dreadful pains of existence we’d never get out of bed. ‘That forgetfulness is enormously helpful—except for what you’ve got Boris, except for alcoholism. You need to remember organically what has happened to you. The best way that I know of achieving this is to regularly attend meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous and listen to other alcoholics tell what they used to be like, what happened, and what they are like now.’

    An alcoholic’s journey
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    Sunday 21 July 2013
    Find out more about Ross Fitzgerald and his struggle with alcoholism at Ockham’s Razor.

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    Psychoanalyst Carl Jung, who was instrumental in the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous, explained that the Latin word for alcohol is ‘spiritus’ and that we use the same term for what he termed ‘the highest religious experience as well as the most depraving poison’. When dealing with alcoholism, said Jung, the most helpful formula is ‘spiritus contra spiritum’: spirit against spirit, or power against power. This is why AA suggests that newcomers to the program try to develop a belief in what it calls ‘a power greater than oneself’.

    This notion can apply equally for theists and for non-theists, for agnostics and for atheists like myself. All that is required is the realisation that, like cancer or diabetes, usually alcoholism cannot, over the long term, be vanquished by an isolated exercise of the individual’s will.

    To most people it is obvious, given the damaging, life-threatening consequences of alcoholism and other drug addiction, and the proven inability of alcoholics and addicts to control their drinking or drug use, that the goal of treatment should be total abstinence. Yet in the past 30 years in Australia, and elsewhere in the West, an anti-abstinence orthodoxy has become entrenched in health department and corrective services practice and policy, with extremely unfortunate results. What is particularly damaging is that alcoholics and other addicts and their families are given the false hope that controlled drinking is a viable option and that abstinence is no longer necessary.

    As Harvard University’s Professor George Vaillant succinctly put it in his groundbreaking study, The Natural History of Alcoholism Revisited: ‘Training alcohol-dependent individuals to achieve stable return to controlled drinking is a mirage. Hopeful initial reports have not led to replication.’

    Yet despite overwhelming long-term evidence to the contrary, the proponents of controlled usage remain in favour with government bureaucrats and health professionals, while those who advocate a strategy of abstinence are often marginalised or ignored. The fact is that while four to five years of abstinence is adequate to predict a stable future, return to controlled drinking is a much less stable state.

    This is not to dispute that alcoholics and addicts are resistant to adopting a goal of abstinence and often strongly deny the assertion that they cannot safely use alcohol or other drugs. Indeed, such resistance and denial are integral parts of their disorder. Theoreticians who advocate controlled usage do so precisely because it is difficult for alcohol-dependent and other drug-dependant people to consider abstinence. But there is no empirical evidence that controlled drinking or drug-usage strategies work for such people for any extended period.

    The truth is that an alcoholic’s or an addict’s best chance of recovery lies in practising total abstinence. And Alcoholics Anonymous is by far the most successful agency in achieving this vital goal.

    Ross Fitzgerald writes for ‘The Weekend Australian’ and is the author of ‘My Name Is Ross: An Alcoholic’s Journey.’
    Ockham’s Razor, July 23, 2013

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