OUR TRAGIC DRINKING CULTURE
Does Australia have an “incredibly dumb drinking culture?”
The tragic news this week that a 19 year-old University student on the Gold Coast died after a University pub crawl comes on the back of strident calls from the Australian Medical Association for raising the legal drinking age from 18 to 25.
It’s not known yet if Bonnie Whitehead’s tragic death last weekend was alcohol related – the coroner’s findings have not yet been released – but the circumstances in the 24 hours leading up to her death are.
According to The Brisbane Times, the Bond university law scholarship student and former Wenona student (pictured left, pic via The Mosman Daily) “joined 600 fellow students on the pub crawl – promoted by the university and student association as a fundraiser and approved by police – about 3pm on Friday.”
According to friends Whitehead went home around 9pm and that she “seemed fine.” The next day when they went to wake her at 1.40 in the afternoon – they thought she had been sleeping – they found her unconscious and not breathing.
It is almost too terrible to contemplate these circumstances. Who among us can say we didn’t experience similar situations around that age?
If the Australian Medical Association had its way, Bonnie Whitehead would have been refused service on that pub crawl.
“We don’t want young people to go out drinking to unsafe levels, “ said AMA president Dr Steve Hambleton (right) this week. “We need a culture that encourages people to say no and to be congratulated for saying no.”
But would it have made a difference?
Time and again prohibition has been found to be ineffectual. And the AMA knows very well its call for the legal drinking age to be raised to 25 years is an ambit claim.
But it’s their way of starting an urgently important conversation about what Hambleton calls our “incredibly dumb drinking culture” – a culture that finds emergency doctors in every hospital in the country dealing with the tragic aftermath of excessive drinking on a nightly basis.
According to The Herald Sun this week, the Centre for Alcohol Policy Research says that only one in 20 Australians can identify safe drinking levels.
Dr Hambleton said yesterday that we need to foster a “culture that encourages young people to say no and to be congratulated for saying no.”
He also said last week: “Public drunkenness has lost its stigma. People look the other way. Being drunk doesn’t attract the disdain that it used to.”
Is he right? Has our drinking culture changed, or is it the same as it ever was?
How do your teenagers drink? Do you want the government to step in?
Join the conversation.
Lucy (Editor of The Hoopla) is a journalist and editor with almost thirty years experience in newspapers and magazines in Sydney, London, and New York. She has been published in The Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, The Daily and Sunday Telegraphs, Vogue Living, Australian Art Review, and Gourmet Traveller. Most recently the Books Editor of the Sunday Telegraph, she has also contributed to the non-fiction books, Australia Through Time, and What Women Want.