Dry July a time to reflect on Australian drinking culture

DRY: More than $4 million has been raised for cancer research during Dry July. Picture: Supplied
DRY: More than $4 million has been raised for cancer research during Dry July. Picture: Supplied

The first historical evidence of alcohol was found in Northern China dating back to about 6500 BC. 

This is according to a 2004 essay from America’s National Academy of Sciences.

The primitive mixture of fermented fruits and rice was presumably an elixir to fight against trying living conditions and a form of entertainment in an existence with few other options.

Fast forward more than 8000 years later and Australians still love slugging back cans of Boag’s Red, or a mainland equivalent, despite having literally endless sources of potential entertainment at their disposal.

Put simply, Australia is a country that likes a drink. 

Figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed that one in five Tasmanians, and almost one in three male Tasmanians, drank more than the recommended two standard drinks a day in 2014-15, putting them at lifetime risk of harm from alcohol.

Dry July provides a chance for adults across the state to consider their drinking habits and the role alcohol plays in our society. 

The relatively new initiative encourages people to go off the booze for just one month, either officially or unofficially. 

JULY: Wendi Snow-McClean with a mocktail. Picture: Supplied

JULY: Wendi Snow-McClean with a mocktail. Picture: Supplied

Those who have registered through dryjuly.com to raise funds for cancer have managed to contrbiute $4.35 million to the cause thus far.

One Launcestonian involved in Dry July this year is 52-year-old nursing student Wendi Snow-McClean. 

Ms Snow-McClean said she often wondered why humans so happily chose to put what she describes as “basically ethanol” into their bodies on such a regular basis. 

“It’s like getting a petrol bowser and pouring petrol into your mouth, but they’ve sugared it up and made it sweeter,” she said.

“You do get that euphoric feeling when you first drink, but as you keep going it takes more and more to get that feeling. 

“Why are we putting poison in our body?”

Ms Snow-McClean said while she wasn’t a heavy drinker, she still worries about the health risks related to alcohol consumption.

It’s the second time she has chosen to go alcohol-free in July.

“It’s just good to have a break and reset the system again, and there’s lots of horrible diseases that come with drinking,” she explained.

Australians live within a culture that celebrates drinking as a part of its national image and makes heroes out of those that excel in the pastime. 

To many, David Boon is known as a champion for drinking 52 cans of VB on a flight to London, instead of his efforts on the cricket pitch. 

Brendan Fevola’s drunken Brownlow highlights package from 2009 is likely rewatched more frequently than any of his eight-goal bags for Carlton. 

If you said, 'I’ve given up eggs' they wouldn’t look at you twice, but if it’s alcohol you must have a problem or you’re pregnant or on medication.

Wendi Snow-McClean

The corollary of this is that those who choose not to drink on a night out, or at a social occasion, are pestered with questions as to why they could possibly have chosen that particular course of action. 

Ms Snow-McClean said she regularly experienced this type of treatment during her first Dry July experience and subsequent spells of alcoholic abstinence.

“Friends would say on a night out, ‘oh, what are you drinking?’ and I would say, ‘it’s a mocktail’ and they would exclaim ‘are you not drinking?,” she recalled.

“When I said, ‘no’, the reply was, ‘well you won’t be much fun tonight’.

“I had another friend say, ‘aren’t you drinking’ and I’d say, ‘no I’m giving it a bit of a break, because I’m a bit over it’ and they replied, ‘why don’t you try a different drink?’

“They just didn’t get it.”

She lamented Australia’s attitude towards teetotalers, both permanent and temporary.

“If you said, ‘I’ve given up eggs’ they wouldn’t look at you twice, but if it’s alcohol you must have a problem or you’re pregnant or on medication,” she said.

“People think you must have a problem with it if you have to give it up.” 

With July only halfway through, Ms Snow-McClean said she may have several nights ahead of her to soberly watch drunken buffoonery in full flight. 

She said it served as a reminder for why drinking in excess is not a great look. 

“I was out with a group of people last weekend … and by the end of the night, they were swaying and stuttering and still putting their hand up for the next drink,” she recalled.

“[Drinking like this] is really wired into our society and I don’t think people realise just how bad it is.”