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Ross Fitzgerald’s memoirs demand to be read

12 February 2010 5,413 views One Comment

Review by Peter Beattie, Former Premier of Queensland, Australia

The raw honesty of “My name is Ross: An Alcoholics Journey is compelling, confrontational and breathtaking . To reveal so much of himself in such candor show Professor Fitzgerald was deadly serious in his stated aim to help and encourage other alcoholics in their struggle with the demon drink.

Few well-known authors would have had the guts to write such a book .

By a third of the way through this painful journey I felt compelled to offer a silent prayer of thanks that I had escaped the destructive clutches of alcohol. This is a moving, authentic story, made more powerfully so by the warts-and-all way in which it is written.

I am amazed that Fitzgerald actually survived his alcoholism to write this book. He should be dead . As his early life races through the clouds and excesses of alcohol it takes him to the brink of destruction time and time again ; in and out of mental hospitals, subjected to electric shock treatment, suicide attempts, driving a car off Camden Bridge in Sydney all as a result of alcohol, drugs including LSD, amphetamines and barbiturates (all of which he swallowed, but never injected) .

The author says that ‘subtlety has never been my strong point’, but I suspect the frankness of this book is due in a large part to Fitzgerald’s ‘process of admission, reparation and repair’ as part of his beloved AA’s recovery program .

When I had come to terms with the initial shock of the book’s rawness, I realised that an alcoholic could read it and conclude that its utterly revealing honesty was helpful in that difficult journey from despair to seeking help.

One thing is certain : readers will conclude that the author’s much-loved wife, Lyndal is absolutely correct when she tells Fitzgerald when he is under going medical examination that he is ‘lucky to still have a brain from which to bleed’ .

The emotional struggle in dealing with his feelings for his mother and father is another painful recurring theme, and probably contributed to his anxiety and constant search for happiness. His love for his father is contrasted with his dislike for his mother, and ironically he was left with the final decision to turn off the life-support machine to end her unconscious life .

One of Fitzgerald’s few regrets is that his father never got to meet his wife. The three loves of his life are Lyndal, his daughter Emily and his father. These relationships are not just a powerful thread through the whole book. They have shaped his life.

The author loves to tell stories. The book unfolds as a conversation in a relaxed style as if Fitzgerald is telling the story over a few orange drinks at an Australian BBQ. His guests may be drinking alcohol, but Fitzgerald is standing fiercely with his non- alcoholic beverage in his hand.

He tells of his encounters with a long list of real life characters, mostly ordinary Aussies, and his yarns such as being mistaken for Dr Stephen FitzGerald, Australia’s Ambassador to China, bring a genuine chuckle to the reader.

Naturally Fitzgerald makes passing references to his numerous other writings and literary works, including the history of Queensland, his anti-racist views about indigenous Australians and, of course ,his love of AFL and life’s deadly sins. These provide a strong contrast to the boozing destructive behaviour of his youth and act as a beacon of hope for alcoholics.

His career as a political commentator and academic compels him to literally throw in the occasional political barb, such as his criticism of Gough Whitlam’s treatment of East Timor and even his opposition to my Christian generosity towards Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen.

For all the years I have observed him, Fitzgerald has lived by the motto of ‘speak the truth to power’, which is why he is both admired and disliked from one end of Australia to the other. He has genuine friends and enemies who will go to their graves either hating this book or admiring his guts for writing it.

His enemies will pick out his excesses and mutter behind his back as they have always done. His friends and the objective reader will see the journey of his life from near-death to a successful academic and literary career as nothing short of amazing.

As Ross Fitzgerald struggled to survive alcoholism, he came to understand that actions have consequences. In a world where alcohol daily destroys lives and costs the community a small fortune, this book is a significant contribution to understanding the struggle of alcoholics. As it dramatically illustrates, alcohol has no respect for position or wealth.

Now 40 years sober and 65 years old on Christmas Day 2009, Fitzgerald has by writing this book used his profile to shine a light on the ugly social effects of alcoholism.

I now better understand the demon drink from within the soul of an alcoholic, and it is not a pretty picture. This book has given me a better understanding of some of the homeless people I see every day in Los Angeles and the ongoing struggle they live with hourly.

This is Ross Fitzgerald’s best book and will make a lasting contribution to public debate on this complex and difficult issue. It is also a gutsy book. It took guts to write and, frankly, guts to read. But it must be read.

Review by Peter Beattie , former Premier of Queensland, Australia
‘My Name is Ross: An Alcoholic’s Journey’, by Ross Fitzgerald, New South, pp 240 , $34.95
Spectator Australia, February 12, 2010

One Comment »

  • James said:

    Great review Mr Beattie! I went out and bought the book based on your review and am finding it to be an engaging recollection of substance abuse and alcoholism. It’s true what you saw about the honesty of the way Fitzgerald writes and I think so much of the compulsion to read comes from the naturalness and believability of the way the work is written. Well done Ross, well done Pete.