My speech at the Sydney launch of Pandemonium
Here is my speech at launch of the ninth Grafton Everest political satire, Pandemonium.
The Olsen Gallery, Sydney, 6.30 pm, 14 November, 2023
Many critics have claimed to know how Grafton Everest – the bumbling, overweight, teetotal Professor in Life Skills from the University of Mangoland, who’s the central character in all my political satires – got his name.
Two claimants stand out.
The first – A professor of linguistics who stated that, after analysing my first four fictions, it was obvious that Grafton Everest was a code for ‘Graft and Avarice.’
The second – Some mean soul ( I mean a person, not a fish) who claimed that the name was derived from Grafton prison at which I was allegedly incarcerated.
Apart from two nights in the cells for ‘drunk and disorderly’ – in Albury/Wodonga when I was eighteen, the only time I was imprisoned was at Boggo Rd Jail in Brisbane – in 1966.
This was because, when I was a drunken leader of an illegal, anti-Vietnam War march I was charged with an attempted assault on the Assistant Commissioner of Police. Remarkably, a few years later the copper who arrested me, and the lawyer who represented me, both became members of Alcoholics Anonymous – which had enabled me to stop drinking on Australia Day 1970.
But I digress.
In early June 1975, I traveled to South Africa with Jonnie Sheens, an ex-student with whom I played cricket for the University of New South Wales.
When Jonnie expressed a desire to drive through the Kalahari Desert, I responded, “It’s dangerous.”
“Instead”, I said, “Let’s drive to Mozambique and see how the revolution’s going!”
We drove via Swaziland, where we won a motza at the casino, playing poker. When we converted our winnings from South African rand to Portuguese escudos, Jonnie and I were filthy rich … for a while.
When we stopped at the Mozambique border to drive into Lourenco Marques (now Maputo), I asked a border guard, “How are things now that the Portuguese are leaving?”
His response, “It’s the same pile of manure, only the flies are different!”
While we seemed to be the only Europeans driving in to Lourenco Marques, loads of Portuguese were fleeing Frelimo fighters, led by Samora Machel, who soon became Mozambique’s president.
Jonnie & I saw a number of large vans heading fast for South Africa, via Swaziland. On them all, in bold letters was written GRAFTON EVEREST REMOVALS.
“Grafton Everest”, I said to Jonnie. “What a wonderful name for a character in a novel, whose mother hovers over him like a mountain.”
So that’s the truth of how my anti-hero got his name.
Although I didn’t know it then, this led to my first Grafton Everest fiction. Featuring the uber-left-wing University of Mangoland, where Grafton lectured in life skills, and Mangoland’s authoritarian premier, Sir Otis Hogstratten, Pushed from the Wings was published in 1986.
But in 1975, Jonnie and I were lucky to escape Lourenco Marques. We vividly remember playing croquet on the manicured lawns of the opulent Hotel Turismo, where we were inhabiting a top floor suite, hearing the staccato sounds of machine guns firing in the middle distance.
It was all very much ‘After Us The Deluge’.
Pandemonium, the ninth Grafton Everest adventure, is the fourth that I’ve written with Ian McFadyen.
Working together has been a hoot. At least for me, if not for Ian.
Can you imagine what it’s like having me constantly emailing and ringing at least twice a day for a year – and persistently doing so for the duration of four big books?
What other co-author could cope with me saying, out of the blue, “When he becomes the first president of the IRA (The Inclusive Republic of Australia), I’d like Grafton Everest to ride a donkey. Grafton loves donkeys.”
Plus, “I want the Australian prime minister to be a former lover of Grafton’s who is now a morbidly obese lesbian with a Chinese partner, and who, eventually, becomes a werewolf.”
And, in the seventh Grafton Everest adventure, The Dizzying Heights, published in 2019, for Ian to accommodate me!
I haven’t revealed this publicly, but it was McFadyen who was responsible for the title of a Grafton Everest satire that I didn’t write with him – namely So Far, So Good.
When we were co-authoring Going Out Backwards in 2015, Ian came to Sydney to support one of his daughters, who was hoping to be accepted at NIDA.
The night before her interview, Ian took Claire to a Chinese restaurant in Kensington. They were the only Europeans there.
Ian told me that, straight after their first course was served, the Chinese owner came to their table and said, “sofasogood.”
Immediately after their mains arrived, the Chinese owner again came to their table and repeated, “sofasogood.”
To Ian in particular, this sounded ominous. It seemed that sometime during the rest of their meal something terrible was about to happen. They didn’t stay for dessert!
I was so intrigued by Ian’s story that I decided to call the next Grafton Everest fiction, published in 2018, So Far, So Good.
Especially Piers Ackerman, Chris Mitchell and Rowan Dean might like to know that, in the eighth Grafton Everest satire, published in 2021,The Lowest Depths, which is set in Russia, the dictatorial president-for-life Vladimir Putrid is assassinated.
Will real life in Russia soon mirror fiction? I fervently hope so.
Finally, for those who can’t, or won’t , buy copies tonight, I feel obliged to reveal that in Pandemonium, Doctor Professor Ross Fitzgerald ( that’s a Freudian slip!). I meant to say that Doctor Professor Grafton Everest, the first Australian Secretary-General of the shambolic United Nations, is part of a plan, implemented by a rough-edged Australian diplomat, to avert a looming global disaster.
This plan, strangely, involves Scandinavian furniture and Australian Rules football – the Collingwood football club in particular.
Hence the black & white Collingwood scarf I’m wearing tonight!
Ross Fitzgerald AM is Emeritus Professor in History and Politics, at Griffith University.
Pandemonium, The Dizzying Heights, & The Lowest Depths, by Ross Fitzgerald & Ian McFadyen are all available from Hybrid Publishing in Melbourne, and are also available on-line.