Put that bottle back in the bathtub, society won’t do it
I’m *hick* having trooble righting this *hick* column because I’ve had too much to drunk. I can’t talk ploply, I’m photocopying my privates and bumping into lampposts like a pin-ball. But I’m Australian, so that’s funny, right?
Well, as funny as the behaviour of the three Welsh tourists who woke up in their Gold Coast hotel last week to find Dirk the penguin in their room. Though the men’s wrists will be slapped, our culture is incredibly accepting of alcohol-fuelled larrikins. But if you drink to the point where you can’t remember your actions, surely your hobby is nothing less than amnesia.
Dirk remembers and if Dirk could speak he too might have phoned in to the radio station I recently heard inviting callers to share the most unusual place they had woken up after a big night out. In prison, on the roof of a car and in the middle of a roundabout were some of the improvised beds the everyday Aussies had occupied. Park benches are only for full-time drunks it seems.
Regardless of how you define it – ‘a few noisy ones’ if you’re a participant; ‘binge drinking’ if you’re in public policy – alcohol is a social lubricant in Oz. It’s the liquid equivalent of loosening your tie. In most social situations we need a drink to kick things off. No XXXX, no party.
But according to the latest poll by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE), the party has got out of hand and Australia has a drinking problem. Here are the sobering stats:
- 76 per cent of Australians believe Australia has a problem with alcohol abuse
- 79 per cent believe that alcohol-related problems will worsen or stay the same in the next 10 years
- 36 per cent of drinkers (approx 4.1 million people) and 61 per cent of Gen Y drinkers consume alcohol with the intention of getting drunk
Relax. Have a drink. I’m no Eliot Ness and this is no hypocritical rant. Drink was far from untouchable when I was growing up and I too overindulged with my mates. Though our actions were often immature, a few beers made us feel quite the opposite. We’d go out on St Patrick’s Day and come home greener than our highrise hats.
I never really questioned why we drank – it was the done thing, part of the culture, almost a rite of passage. Unlike my Italian wife and her friends, as kids we hadn’t been offered alcohol by our parents and so we encroached upon the legal drinking age salivating for the illicit drop.
Drinking had been demonised. I remember the ‘Alcohol: it’s no good for growing bodies’ anti youth-drinking campaigns on telly, featuring a group of kids trying to cross a river by tight-roping across a fallen tree trunk. The kid who drank fell in, unbalanced in more ways than one.
But when my sporting heroes triumphed and had microphones shoved in their winning grins, their first comments were invariably: “We’re going to have a few tonight.” The change room was awash with champagne. And Rodney Marsh was a legend for drinking 50-odd cans on a flight to London. In stark contrast to what the government was telling me, drinking was the stuff of champions.
From the Fosters Australian Grand Prix to the VB Tri-Series Cricket, drinking almost seemed the patriotic thing to do. Alcohol was as everyday to a young Aussie as water to a fish. But then I moved to Europe and became a fish out of water.
The café culture was a sobering experience. I realised it was possible to let your hair down (well, perhaps not in my case) without encouragement from alcohol. I participated in sober singalongs with my Italian friends which would have taken my Aussie mates several cases of beer to attempt. And their city pavements on a Sunday morning are far less technicolored than ours.
I once told an Italian friend that at housewarming parties in Australia we fill the bath with booze. When I then went to his housewarming he led me excitedly to the bathroom and – “da-dah!” – standing proud by the plug hole were six bottles of Nastro Azzuro on an ice cube container. In Italy, when it comes to alcohol, quality drinks quantity under the table.
Europe has a cocktail of problems at the moment and you’d think I was drunk if I suggested their way of life better than ours.
But when it comes to attitudes to drinking, if the FARE statistics are correct and Australia truly believes it has a drinking problem, the cafe culture is perhaps the one European lead we could follow. If an Italian radio station asked callers for the most unusual places they had woken up, listeners would hear stories from callers intoxicated by passion rather than alcohol.
But who’s responsible for our new-found moderation? The drinkers? The suppliers? Dirk the penguin? The most sobering FARE statistic is that only 5 per cent of Australians believe the alcohol industry is doing the best it can to address alcohol related harms, compared with the gambling industry (12 per cent), the tobacco industry (15 per cent) and the fast food industry (21 per cent).
It’s sobering because that means people think we should be saved by others rather than by ourselves. It’s up to us to drink responsibly, to heed that half-hearted warning on the wine bottle. If we wait for the alcohol industry to help us, we’ll be driven to drink.
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