Alan Gregory’s review of Fifty Years Sober
Ross Fitzgerald Fifty Years Sober: An Alcoholic’s Journey
Hybrid Publishers, Melbourne, 2020, $27.50.
reviewed by Alan Gregory
Ross Andrew Edward Fitzgerald was born on 25 December 1944, and attended Melbourne High School from 1958 to 1961.
A highly intelligent student, he won the Economics prize in year 12 and gained Honours in every Matriculation subject and so gained a Commonwealth scholarship which, as he came from a poor family, enabled him to attend university.
He had a great admiration for his teachers at the school, particularly Neville Drohan, Norton Hobson, Graham Worrall, Arthur Cocks, Ben Munday, Brian Corless and David Niven. He was a contemporary of Gareth Evans. He was also good at sport, football and cricket and he captained the school second XI and also featured in debating.
His left wing political bent meant a close association with Graham Worrall who he kept up with in later life.
He was also close to Norton Hobson who told him he was an ASIO man.
Fitzgerald, who is now one of the best known public intellectuals, became also well known as an alcoholic.
He states that his first alcoholic drink was as a school boy in school uniform at the Her Majesty’s hotel which was near the school.
Before being served, the barman for his first drink asked him to take off his school cap!
He also had his last alcoholic drink at Her Majesty’s hotel, commonly know as Maisy’s, where a group of Melbourne High teachers regularly drank after school.
He also seemed to collect a number of high profile friends like Barry Humphries, and on his many overseas trips recounts (to his great advantage) being mistaken for the eminent Dr Stephen FitzGerald, a former Australian Ambassador to China.
His university days at Monash University were taken up mainly drinking alcohol and the dreadful consequences of his frequent drunkenness. Intellectually brilliant he still managed to do well.
While no Adonis he seemed to be attractive to people and especially women and somehow engendered something in people who helped him out of his frightening escapades.
He treated people appallingly. His alcoholism saw him get a 2A rather than a first, but his brilliance got him tutorships.
He tells the story frankly of a chaotic passage of jobs, girl friends, benders, being institutionalised both here and in the USA. An only child, he was uncontrollable and gave his parents hell. The story is told frankly with all the dreadful things he did revealed.
He ended up completing a doctorate at the University of New South Wales, which led to a job at Griffith University during the time when Joh Bjelke-Petersen was Premier. To his detriment, Ross opposed the decision by the University of Queensland to award Sir Joh a doctorate.
He was a prolific writer of both scholarly works, including two volumes on the History of Queensland as well a biography of ‘Red Ted’ Theodore, and also novels and humorous books. This is his second book about his alcoholism and celebrates being fifty years sober.
It also gives a vivid picture of AA – Alcoholics Anonymous and the importance of AA to him all his life, both for staying sober as well as his general welfare.
After many women he lived with and who supported him, his marriage to Lyndal (photographic model of the year) changed him totally and gave him a wonderful married life which also produced a much-loved daughter, Emerald.
He is full of praise for his wonderful Lyndal for while now sober, his eccentricities were not always easy to live with.
Sadly, the much-loved Lyndal Moor Fitzgerald, to whom Fifty Years Sober is dedicated, died on 22 January this year.
It is a very personal book. Fitzgerald is self-deprecating about his own ability and achievements but frank about his faults.
AA urged recovered alcoholics to try and apologise to all he had hurt and offended in his alcoholic life. Some refused to accept his apology!
It is a superb book for the reader to gain insight into alcoholism and addiction. While still needing to attend AA meetings himself, Fitzgerald also tries to help those trying to fight their problem.
A moving read.
Emeritus Professor of History and Politics at Griffith University, Ross Fitzgerald AM now lives in Sydney and continues to write books, and is a regular contributor to The Australian newspaper.
Melbourne High School Old Boys Association website newsletter, April /May 2020.