Bitter feud between Aussie icons explodes
Wallabies player turned author Peter FitzSimons has spectacularly fallen out with former mate, Indigenous broadcaster Stan Grant, over the portrayal of him and his wife Lisa Wilkinson in a new book.
Last week, Grant contributed to The Australian 's serialised murder mystery, Oh Matilda : Who Bloody Killed Her? - setting his chapter at "Fitzy and Lisa's Australia Day barbecue at their grand house overlooking Sydney Harbour".
His unflattering description of FitzSimons and his The Project host wife reignitied a deep-seated rift between the pair.
The former friends publicly fell out last April over a dispute about Captain James Cook's legacy - the subject of FitzSimons' latest historical tome - trading barbs in the pages of The Sydney Morning Herald.
In an opinion piece at the time, Grant - the ABC's international affairs analyst and a proud Wiradjuri man - accused FitzSimons of making Cook "the prototypical Aussie good bloke", adding that his description of the explorer as being far from "an enthusiastic imperialist" was "ludicrous".
In response, FitzSimons defended his work, saying it had been meticulously researched by his team over the course of four years.
But their feud came to a head with Grant's Oh Matilda chapter, ending in a terse text message exchange, according to reports, and "the complete collapse of their relationship".
FitzSimons' and Wilkinson's annual Australia Day party - the backdrop of Grant's piece of fiction - has for years been one of the most prestigious events on Sydney's socialite calendar, with a carefully curated list of guests where "everyone brings a plate, people coming and going all afternoon".
"It's like one of those 'end of year cartoons' you see in the newspapers: every time you turn around, you bump into somebody more famous than the last person," one former guest told The Australian today.
But from the perspective of one of Grant's characters, "what a woke leftie love-in that was".
"Journos, actors, writers, a couple of ex-Wallabies (well it was the north shore), a few washed up politicians, even a couple of Liberals (small 1 of course) and a former managing director of the ABC for good measure," the chapter reads.
"Everyone there voted yes for same-sex marriage - the year before last, they'd all tearily applauded their first gay married couple guests - they hated the Catholic Church and had cried when Kevin Rudd said sorry."
As for FitzSimons and Wilkinson, they "adored Indigenous culture. There were dot paintings on the wall, a photo with their arms around Cathy Freeman at Sydney Olympic Stadium and a framed copy of Paul Keating's Redfern Statement signed by the last great Australian Prime Minister himself."
Things "did get a bit weird" for the novel's titular character, Indigenous woman Matilda Meadows, "when Fitzy excitedly gave her a copy of his latest book, a biography of Captain Cook".
"Apparently Cookie was actually not a bad bloke once you got past his order to open fire on the blacks at Botany Bay," the character notes.
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While Grant told the paper he had hoped to take the opportunity to contribute to the "progressive novel" and "be a bit silly and have a crack about race, political correctness, left-lovey society", for FitzSimons, the jokes fell - literally - far too close to home.
"It's always been Chatham House (rules) - nobody takes photos or tweets or hashtags; it's private hospitality, and I think what's put Pete out is he invited Stan into his home, and three years later got sideswiped," the former party guest said.
According to The Australian, FitzSimons told friends he was genuinely wounded by what he felt was an unfair and unprovoked attack, and that he was concerned that many of the details - like him owning a framed copy of the Redfern Speech or a picture of himself with Cathy Freeman - were false.
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But Grant has maintained the chapter was obviously satire and clearly fictional, telling The Sydney Morning Heraldthat "I mock myself as much as anyone else in it".
The 57-year-old told friends "there are more important things to worry about in the world" than FitzSimons' reaction to the piece.
"People who can't laugh at themselves aren't one of them," he added.
FitzSimons told The Herald he "will leave it for others to judge", and while he "sounded dejected" when asked for his take on the chapter by The Australian, he took the high road, telling them: "I've moved on and wish Stan the best."
Originally published as Bitter feud between Aussie icons explodes