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Here’s my speech at the Launch of The Ascent of Everest

12 May 2024 No Comment

Launch of The Ascent of Everest : The Outrageous Adventures of Grafton Everest by Ross Fitzgerald & Ian McFadyen.(Hybrid Publishers, Melbourne, $49.99)

The Olsen Gallery Woollahra, Sydney 6pm May 9, 2024.

Tuesday morning, when I was stumbling around Surry Hills, a middle-aged woman asked: “Are you Professor Fitzgerald, author of the Grafton books?”

After I responded “Yes”, she said , “You look much better on the television!”

When, as many people do, she then inquired, “Is Grafton you?”, I responded : “Of course not. He’s what I could become if I let myself go!”

But by referring to the Grafton books, this lady had inadvertently hit upon something.

As it happens, the William books that I devoured when I was at school were a prototype for Grafton Everest’s adventures.

Richmal Crompton wrote more than thirty books featuring an unruly English schoolboy. These included such classics as Just William, William has a Holiday, and my favourite, William Pulls it Off.

When my first Grafton Everest fiction, Pushed From The Wings, was published in 1986, who could know that it would lead to so many more entertainments. I certainly didn’t.

Pushed From the Wings was a satirical novel about a professor of history and politics, Grafton Everest. My overweight, work-shy anti-hero was trying to steer his career through a Queensland university divided between far right and far left academics, while at the same time being threatened by a corrupt right-wing government and groups of fanatical Marxist revolutionaries. It was a surreal snapshot of academic and political life in Australia in the Eighties.

It seems spooky that, in the Grafton books, many of their fictional offerings have come true.

In one of his early adventures, Grafton’s loyal, long-suffering wife Janet was made a lecturer in Fibre Art. Lo and behold, a year later a Queensland regional university appointed a woman to such a position. Soon after Grafton had referred to absurd courses that could be in the offing, an institution on the Gold Coast added to its curriculum two more subjects, ‘Beach Studies’ and ‘Golf Management.’

The climax of the third Grafton Everest book, Busy in the Fog (1990), features the flooding of Brisbane due to a collapse of the Wivenhoe Dam, which is actually built on a fault. Eerily, this anticipated the 2011 floods that ravaged south-east Queensland.

In the first political satire coauthored with the remarkable Mister McFadyen, Going Out Backwards, (2015), Grafton reviews the courses offered at his alma mater, the University of Mangoland. He finds that all the subjects in the traditional humanities curriculum have been relegated to a single faculty called ‘Legacy Studies.’

Since then, we have seen the role of the humanities increasingly diminished in the universities, with students charged higher fees because humanities subjects are deemed ‘non-contributory’ to the economy.

In The Dizzying Heights (2019) Grafton visits America where civil war has broken out between supporters of former president Ronald Thump and a left-wing coalition named the Sandersnistas. Shortly after publication, supporters of Donald Trump attacked the Capitol building in Washington in a violent attempt to shut down the government.

In The Lowest Depths (2021), Grafton heads a United Nations delegation sent into Russia to uncover electoral fraud. There he uncovers an ancient secret about the Romanovs, and a surprising fact about Grafton’s mother, Avis. In this fiction, Russia’s dictatorial president for life, Vladimir Putrid, is assassinated. As of tonight, this prophecy has yet to be realized.

As the first Australian Secretary-General of the shambolic United Nations, in Pandemonium Grafton is part of a plan concocted by veteran Aussie diplomat, Tony Murphy, to avert a looming global disaster. This plan involves Australian Rules football – in particular the Collingwood Magpies.

While we don’t have masses of money to foster alliances with small countries, Murphy explains to Grafton that Australia can offer something far more attractive – to move here and enjoy our way of life.

Immediately after the publication of Pandemonium, Anthony Albanese informed the people of Tuvalu that, should their island be submerged, they were welcome to relocate to Australia.

As Tasmanian artist and critic, Neal Price, argued in Quadrant Magazine, it is unprecedented in Australia, indeed in the English-speaking world, for a series of political satires to be written chronologically, following the development of the same set of key characters. As he writes “Perhaps the closest are P. G. Wodehouse’s comic novels about the bumbling Bertie Wooster and his hugely intelligent manservant, Jeeves. But, unlike Grafton Everest’s adventures, Wooster and Jeeves do not develop, and Wodehouse has a stationary sense of time.”

In the Grafton books, our corpulent, teetotal, anti-hero moves accidentally and inexorably upwards as he goes. In Going Out Backwards, Grafton, unwittingly and utterly unprepared, had entered into Federal politics, where he held the balance of power.

In later fictions, Grafton journeyed further and further into uncharted territory. He went to London to foil a right-wing coup and soon after became the first President of the IRA (Inclusive Republic of Australia).

The common factor in all of his adventures is that Grafton has no idea how he got into these perilous situations, nor what he is supposed to do, but somehow, he not only survives but succeeds.

As Ian McFadyen writes “The Ascent of Everest is one of the few boxed sets of Australian books for adults ever to be produced in Australia, and certainly the only set of satirical novels telling a continuous story. Scarcely any aspect of modern life from the political fracas in America, to modern parenting methods, cryptocurrency, and non-binary language has been overlooked. The books are a unique niche in the realm of Australian publishing.”

But to place The Ascent of Everest in context, in Australia a sale of 5,000 books comprise a best-seller. In China, until it was censored last year, a homoerotic novel was perused by 50 million people. How about that!


Emeritus Professor of History & Politics at Griffith University, Ross Fitzgerald AM has collaborated with Brisbane-based actor and television producer, Ian McFadyen, on four political satires – Going Out Backwards, The Dizzying Heights, The Lowest Depths, and Pandemonium.

The Ascent of Everest, published by Hybrid for $49.99 is also available on-line.

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