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Fitzgerald, Alan John (1935–2011)

by Malcolm Brown

Alan Fitzgerald, an astute observer of life in Canberra seen through a satirical lens over 45 years, parodied everything and everyone from career public servants to self-serving local, state and federal politicians. Through his newspaper columns, work on commercial radio and regular contributions to The Bulletin, Quadrant and The Open Road, as well as the ABC, he gained national notoriety.

His work on The Sydney Morning Herald highlighted the popularity of satirising the idiosyncrasies of life in Canberra. Readers of the Herald embraced his style of humour, for saying such things as: ''The best thing about living in Canberra is that your relatives are interstate.''

Reflecting on the social side of life in Canberra, Fitzgerald wrote that ''finding something to do in Canberra is easier than finding something to do after it".

But it could hardly be called destructive criticism. There was a serious and constructive side to his outlook. Fitzgerald had a warm relationship with politicians on both sides of parliament, including prime ministers Gough Whitlam, Malcolm Fraser and John Howard, as well as the former deputy prime minister Doug Anthony.

Conservative by nature, Fitzgerald had a passion for the preservation of constitutional democracy in Australia. He was a committed member of the Australians for Constitutional Monarchy group, working closely with Tony Abbott, and was a staunch opponent of those wishing to change the national flag.

He served on the Canberra Advisory Council and for nearly 20 years worked for the National Capital Development Commission. In The Canberra Times, the Herald, The Age, The Bulletin, The Sun-Herald and The Sunday Australian, he provided insightful social commentary on Canberra as it evolved from a large country town into a city.

Alan John Fitzgerald was born in Sydney on November 5, 1935, the son of transport manager Patrick Fitzgerald and his wife, Ursula (nee Meade), who lived in Clovelly in Sydney's east. Fitzgerald was educated at Marcellin College, Randwick.

Leaving school at the age of 16, he joined an advertising firm, then became a journalist, starting with the Sydney and Melbourne Publishing Company. He then went to Europe, worked in London and spent two years there, also travelling around the European continent. He returned to Australia and in 1961 married Maria McFadden, an employee of the department of navy.

In 1964 Fitzgerald took up an invitation from John Pringle, editor of The Canberra Times, to join his team. He joined the parliamentary press gallery during what has been called the golden era of the 1960s and '70s, working alongside the likes of Alan Ramsey, Laurie Oakes, Peter Luck, Mike Willesee, Caroline Jones, Wally Brown, Bruce Juddery and Max Walsh.

Having parodied local politicians, Fitzgerald aspired to become one and first ran for the ACT Advisory Council. His approach to being elected was somewhat unusual. He formed a True Whig party, which was a ''joke party'', promising as it did to ''do nothing'', based on the model of local politicians. Fitzgerald refused to make a campaign speech, later describing his silence as ''meaningful''.

But such was his stature that he was elected anyway, gaining the third-highest primary vote. Fitzgerald served two terms, taking his role seriously, helping many in the community in ways that were never publicised. He then decided on a broader arena and accepted an invitation by the Australia Party's Gordon Barton to run for the federal seat of Canberra. He tried twice but was unsuccessful.

Fitzgerald was prominent in establishing the National Press Club, where he served two terms as president, from 1969-71. And despite his satirical comments about Canberra he loved the place with a rare passion. In his 2001 autobiography, Some of What I Have Done and Failed to Do, he suggested that ''my life had been shaped by living in the national capital in ways that I could not have imagined possible had I lived elsewhere''.

Fitzgerald was an avid reader and a prolific author. Over his career, he wrote thousands of satirical newspaper stories, hundreds of serious articles and a dozen humorous and historical books on Canberra, including Fitzgerald's Canberra and Life in Canberra. He also wrote The Italian Farming Soldiers – an account of Italian prisoners of war in Australia between 1941 and 1947 – of which he was particularly proud.

He was nearing completion of another book, on the history of the Irish in Australia, in the last weeks of his life.

Alan Fitzgerald died of cancer on March 31. He is survived by Maria and sons Dominic, a paediatrician, and Julian, a member of the Canberra press gallery, and six grandchildren.

Original publication

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 6 April 2011

Additional Resources

Citation details

Malcolm Brown, 'Fitzgerald, Alan John (1935–2011)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/fitzgerald-alan-john-16952/text28835, accessed 18 September 2019.

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