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An Appalling Undeniable Vision

1 December 2015 204 views No Comment

Going Out Backwards: A Grafton Everest Adventure
by Ross Fitzgerald and Ian McFadyen
Hybrid, 2015, 185 pages, $26.95

“An Appalling Undeniable Vision” by Michael Wilding.

Thirty-five years ago I took the first of Ross Fitzgerald’s Grafton Everest novels from a publisher’s heap of unread manuscripts. I found it an unmitigatedly vulgar, politically incorrect, tasteless and offensive slapstick farce set in an allegedly fictional university. ‘Publish it,’ I recommended. ‘Nothing else has captured the world of academia so convincingly.’

In the intervening years the universities have accelerated their headlong rush into degradation, and Fitzgerald has continued to chart their decay. The University of Mangoland, now rebranded as UniMang, runs ‘an integrated, cross-collateralised and diversified series of enterprises’ including MangoSuper, Mangoland Cellars and GoManGo Tyre and Brake Services. UniFresh feminine hygiene products are labelled as developed by the University, though in fact only the label was so developed, a Graphic Design student assignment, not the product. Grafton Everest is now emeritus professor of Lifestyles and Wellbeing. His daughter has completed her PhD in pole dancing. His old flame Annie Angel has received her PhD and a professorship for a one-woman avant-garde nude performance piece and is now Dean of Global Studies.

The university offers degree courses in Tectonic Change, Peace Studies, Apocalypse Studies, Phone Apps and Future Genders. History, Mathematics, Chemistry, Law are still available, though only at diploma level. Most of the courses are delivered on-line via licensing arrangements with international universities. Tenders are called from private enterprise to provide teaching courses.

But Grafton has now entered politics as a federal senator. The possibilities for satire are irresistible and they are gleefully made use of. The senate is awash with single interest parties , the Orgasm Party, the Involuntary Euthanasia Party, the Australian Beer Drinkers Party, the Brownies, and such like , all of which have done deals with the two major parties. Grafton, his loyalties undeclared, is wooed by both to commit his vote. Tectonic Change and the danger of Crustal Sliding is the hot topic, with the chattering classes expressing anxiety about the effect of vibrations, aircraft landing, and jogging unless action is taken.

Grafton’s duties as a politician are not onerous. When he delivers his maiden speech ‘he saw that only the President, a couple of clerks and a tired looking Hansard reporter were left in the chamber.’ He is appointed chair of the commission to review university teaching staff, with the aim of sacking half of them, a prospect that appeals to him. He dutifully appears on ABC television’s ‘Bathroom Cabinet’ in which political journalist Yolanda Yabbie visits politicians’ bathrooms to discuss their health, beauty and medical issues. The national broadcaster’s other jewel in its crown, ‘QED’, Grafton found too tedious to watch though discovered that being on it was effortless, like being on a runaway train. ‘Every time you formulated something to say on a topic, the discussion moved onto something else.’ He realised the participants ‘were just fodder: they had no more control over the final product that a pine log being fed into a wood chipper.’

As for his essential Twitter and Facebook posts, his blog, and his contributions to the press, these are all dealt with by his attractive young personal assistant Petra. It is an ideal world for Grafton, neither having to write his tweets or speeches, nor to read them when they appear. But others do, or are purported to. ‘Grafton, almost everything you say on Facebook gets hundreds and thousands of likes.’ This is achieved by the university paying Indian companies to get half a million people to say they like his posts.

Petra’s naked charms are revealed towards the end of the book when she attempts to engage in some sex therapy with Grafton. Earlier Grafton is painted in the nude , the female artist naked, Grafton himself clothed. A couple of naked trainee pole-dancers disport themselves in his house. 2015 was the year in which Murdoch’s ‘Sun’ newspaper called an end to its topless page three female persons, and Hugh Hefner accepted that nudes were no longer to feature in Playboy. But Fitzgerald and McFadyen refuse to surrender to the pressures of political correctness, and there is no shortage of female nakedness in Grafton’s world.

But in the interests of balance, and Fitzgerald and McFadyen know the importance of that in modern media, Grafton is operated on for prostate cancer and ends up impotent. In an attempt to resuscitate his hopes of sexual performance, he volunteers as a subject to an experimental drug trial underway at the university, supervised by Professor Horton, Grafton’s long time patron, a shadowy figure involved in the security services of the secret state.

In addition there are bikie gangs (and the attempt to outlaw them), a bat borne virus that turns people into werewolves, and an attempt to assassinate the prime minister, the hugely obese former lover of Grafton’s, now turned lesbian, possibly as a result of his earlier attentions. On the margins lurk unlikely figures like Bevan Fudd, Tim Flummery and Judy Gillies. We see a large display of French Empire clocks in the National Museum of Labour and Unionism, a small part of the collection of former Prime Minister Kent Pauling’s collection. A ceiling fresco depicts the creation of the Modern Party showing Edmund Goss Whitman, naked and swathed in a cloud, arm outstretched, handing a cappuccino to a muscular board shorts-wearing Adam.

The book is delightfully awash with such verbal and visual innuendoes and insights. No doubt offensive to many readers, and cheerfully excessive in its scattergun satire, ‘Going Out Backwards’ is a most engaging and readable romp, marvellously combining McFadyen’s comic skill as creator of the Comedy Company and Fitzgerald’s somewhat more tragic expertise as a professor of History and Politics, and political columnist for the ‘Weekend Australian.’ They have produced an appallingly undeniable vision of the way we live now.

Michael Wilding’s latest books are ‘Wild Bleak Bohemia: Marcus Clarke, Adam Lindsay Gordon and Henry Kendall: A Documentary’ (reviewed in Quadrant, March 2015), winner of the 2015 Colin Roderick Award, and a memoir, ‘Growing Wild’ (Australian Scholarly Publishing). He is emeritus professor of English and Australian Literature at the University of Sydney.

Quadrant Magazine, December 2015, Vol LIX, Number 12, No 522.

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