THE FUNNY thing about scary stuff is how soon you get used to it. Freddy Kruger, the severed head in Jaws, Malcolm Fraser and hack-iographer Margaret Simons – they make your skin crawl at first encounter, but after that the reaction seldom goes beyond mild bemusement.
There are exceptions, even for hard-to-shock sorts who, as irregular readers of the Fairfax press, may believe a familiarity with the grotesque has rendered them immune to sudden and involuntary dropping of the jaw. Such was always the case with blogger Dick Gross, whose very name suggests an entire lack of foresight on the part of his parents. That is a good start for a horror movie right there. The short-trousered waif whose youthful torments at the hands of a bullying, uncaring world set him on the course to a life of bloody revenge.
The unfortunately named Dick Gross.
That would be the Hollywood version, but in Melbourne we have own special transmogrifications and, just like a bad horror flick, the villain is never entirely driven from the scene. Always there is a sequel and, as Gross continues to demonstrate, the threat to sanity and wallet comes back in another toxic form.
Some will remember Gross’ first public incarnation as councilor and mayor of Port Phillip, about which Victoria’s ombudsman had some harsh things to say when it emerged the municipality had spent $620,735.50 on the services of a white witch-cum-management consultant, Caroline Shahbaz. This did not go down well with council staffers, who accused her of bullying, intimidation and sexual harassment. Nor were ratepayers impressed to learn that Gross & Co had paid $2750 for a council exec to attend a management seminar that, for reasons quite possibly related to eye of newt, toe of frog etc., needed to be convened in India. As Gross was also an ardent supporter of a much-criticised proposal to redevelop a plot of land beside Luna Park, his constituents gave him the flick. Things looked pretty grim for the ousted city father.
"I'm scared. My career is in the toilet. I lose in the election, then I'm also gone from the MAV (Municipal Association of Victoria)," he told the Sunday Phage. As to Ms Shahbaz, who, as the ombudsman was informed, sometimes allowed conference participants to give her a pedicure, Gross remained under her spell:
"We needed to embrace change and she got results … there were massive savings and service improvements … So part of the problem is, she was so good at her job, everyone wanted to use her. And initially she was popular. And then … the rest of it was terrible."
The bullying? "Things that were alleged, yes. Terrible."
So what was a booted councilor to do? What options were available to a fellow whose career and reputation were, as he put it, “in the toilet”?
Fretful as he might have been, the anxious mood did not last long. In Melbourne, where we are all very green and eco-conscious, there are are at least two institutions prepared to reach down, scoop up and enthusiastically recycle material which may reek but has not yet been entirely flushed.
The first of those is the Age, which lifted Gross from the depths of life’s dunny, dried him off and anointed him the resident voice of atheism, which he advocates online under the banner Godless Gross.
And the second of his career saviours? Well that would be the Parkville Asylum, which soon added Gross to its roster of great minds and inspired teachers.
And what wisdom, you may wonder, could a chap with an abiding faith in witches and little to recommend him as an oversee of public funds possibly impart? Let Gross explain, as he does in the opening paragraph of his latest column:
"I have just finished marking climate change essays and then exams for the climate course I teach at Melbourne University. My head is full of the stuff. Moreover, with the emissions trading scheme legislation recently behind us, I thought it was a propitious time to look at the issue from the perspective of faith and ethics, the principal concerns of this blog."