Five sober weekends in a row? Must be what death feels like

Australia doesn't need to stop drinking, it just has to grow up a little.

Australia doesn't need to stop drinking, it just has to grow up a little.

ANOTHER month, another killjoy public health campaign. FebFast was alarming enough when it sprang onto the national calendar in 2008. Now there's Dry July, which is much the same concept only this time it rhymes. The point of each being to encourage Australians to be miserable for a month by swearing off drink.

February's 28 days of teetotalism pales against this monster month of July 2011 with its five Fridays, five Saturdays and five Sundays all meant to be faced without the aid of alcohol. Five sober weekends in a row must be what death feels like.

This 21st-century temperance drive has been hatched by a self-described online social community that dares Australians to commit to a month-long sponsored abstinence from alcohol. All funds raised go to worthy charities, which is wise because otherwise no one could possibly see the point in staying sober so long.

"Our vision is to make Dry July the standout campaign of the calendar year where not consuming alcohol is considered the 'thing to do'," the website declares. And once they've achieved that, what next? Ban television? Censor the internet (if Stephen Conroy doesn't beat them to it)? Discourage laughter?

Dry July's cheerful rallying cry of "Clear Your Head, Make a Difference" is devious and misleading. It camouflages the inevitable pain of withdrawal, the diminished sense of self and the yawning emptiness of life without alcohol. It should be called Joyless July or Forlorn July, not Dry July.

FebFast has a similar shtick, asking Australians to "imagine what 28 alcohol-free days can do for your waistline, your wallet and your liver". It's unlikely anyone ever imagines their liver.

Health insurer MBF, a key sponsor, suggests taking a month off the bottle will make you "a nicer person to be around". Rubbish. I'm much nicer to be around when I'm tipsy.

The new push for sobriety seems to be tapping into a national shame or embarrassment about how much we like a drink. And of course we do like a drink - the Australian capacity to hold liquor is world renowned. It's part of our DNA in a country that, according to Tim Flannery in The Birth of Sydney, celebrated its 10th day of European settlement with a rum-fuelled orgy in a biblical thunderstorm.

We haven't changed so much since that blowout in February 1788. Bob Hawke, our most popular prime minister of recent times, was admired perhaps less for his politics than for setting a world speed record for beer drinking (2? pints in 11 seconds) while at university. Legend.

Kevin Rudd's political stocks never soared higher than when he confessed to getting smashed and visiting a strip club while in New York on UN business. And we're repeatedly transfixed by the foibles of sporting heroes, TV personalities and Brendan Fevolas who get wasted and behave shamefully. They make us feel better about our own failings.

With the exception perhaps of the AFL, most people recognise excessive drinking is A Bad Thing and try to keep a lid on it. Apparently that's not enough. Dry July's evangelist founder, Brett McDonald, says his aim is for it to "make a real difference, providing experiences, hope, support, treatment, therapy, encouragement, prolonged life, lasting memories and fulfilment".

It's the sort of creed you might expect from some austere religious order, except austere religious orders like a drink as much as the next bloke. I regularly give thanks to the Trappists for their lovely ales, the Franciscans for Frangelico and the winemaking monk Dom Perignon for the miracle of champagne.

Alcohol can ruin lives, this we know. But it can also significantly enhance them, which is why there are still many more events that encourage alcohol consumption than discourage it. The footy, for example. Six whole months of state-sanctioned weekend boozing. The Melbourne Cup. Christmas. Summer generally.

Australia doesn't need to stop drinking, it just needs to grow up a bit.

As a nation we've had a nihilistic attitude towards alcohol since that wild inauguration party in 1788. We'd do better to follow the lead of European cultures like the French or the Portuguese, who pack away relatively prodigious amounts of grog yet have lower rates of heart disease and alcohol-related illnesses than we do partly because they drink with meals, for enjoyment, rather than just for the sake of it.

Or the Italians, who tackle their first snifter in the late morning and then top up at intervals through the day. They drink frequently but in smaller quantities, which is a genius solution because it allows them to stay pleasantly buzzed all day.

We should have a month-long trial of drinking Italian style and see how we like it. We could call it Awesome August. All proceeds to charity, naturally.

Kendall Hill is a freelance writer.

Join the Conversation...

There are comments posted so far.

If you'd like to join this conversation, please login or sign up here

Related Articles