Are we a nation of drunks?

Or is it that we just know how to have a relaxed good time and always have?

Today the UK’s Daily Mail had a dig at our expense featuring pictures of shoeless and sozzled race goers at the Melbourne Cup.


‘Punters’ at The Melbourne Cup at Flemington. All images by AAP via The Daily Mail.

“And you thought Ascot was going to the dogs! Things get a little messy at Aussies’ big day out at the Melbourne Cup”, said the Daily Mail.

“Down by the course, men and women were flaked out on the grass after a boozy day, girls drank straight from champagne bottles – one even staged an impromptu pole dance – while the detritus from the day built up shamefully around them.”

British readers piled on to condemn our bad behaviour and Aussies were in the fray too, quite rightly pointing out that it was all a bit: Pot. Meet. Kettle.

Anyone who’s been in central London on a Friday night and battled the crowds of bladdered “Hooray Henrys” who pour out into the streets from every pub will attest to that.

Ever been on a train in Scotland and been caught in between rival football club supporters? Hundreds of lager louts right in your face? I have and I never want to repeat the experience.

Of course the tit-for-tat insults are all rather unedifying , but it does lead us back to the question – can Australians ever get together and celebrate without sinking mind-bending quantities of alcohol?

The Melbourne Cup, Australia Day, New Year’s Eve… even Christmas are all excuses to get on the turps. 

I’ve long lamented that we don’t have a national day like America’s Thanksgiving when we can look a little deeper and count our considerable blessings. That’s what Australia Day is supposed to be for, but that ship, captained by Arthur Phillip, has long since sailed. The day has been hijacked by jingoistic sentiment – and beer and wine aplenty.

Let’s all sing: “Australia’s girt by grog“.

In August this year, former Senator Steve Fielding wrote in The Punch an article headlined “Our Drunk Nation.”

“Now I’m no wowser,” he wrote.

“I drink and most Australians drink, but something needs to be done to stop the $16bn a year in taxpayers’ money from being wasted on cleaning up after drunks. That’s not to mention the 40 percent of police work which is related to the excessive consumption of alcohol.”

His article was met with some derision by readers.

“Why don’t you move to Iran?” said Lord Grognard (!).

“How about Pollies stop trying to shape some kind of idealic Utopian society! Why can’t we just live with the fact that some people will drink too much? Why is it so hard to take? Why must we hyper-analyse every single every little flaw in our society? People get drunk. Get over it,” wrote BMJ.

Others grappled with what seems to be a hopless cause – getting our fellow country men and women to step away from the bar.


So, are you concerned about our alcohol intake?

And, if so, what’s to be done about it?

Or, should we relax, knowing that we are a nation that leads the world in knowing how to enjoy ourselves?




Our Tragic Drinking Culture

Back When Jimmy Knew the Odds

Cocktails Up Close


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  • Reply November 7, 2012

    The Huntress

    Well, going by my experience of working in a major trauma unit, gastroenterology and having been in 2 relationships with alcoholics I definitely believe Australia needs a cultural attitude shift towards alcohol.

    As a disclaimer, yes, I drink. Not every day. Sometimes not for a week or a month, sometimes it’s sharing a bottle of wine over dinner, sometimes it’s a couple of glasses for a few days in a row and sometimes I might overdo it on a night out or an occasion (Well, I used to, chronic medical conditions got the better of me, now). So I’m certainly not calling for an alcohol free society. The world would be joyless without wine.

    But the attitude of drinking for the sole purpose of getting drunk and nothing else is really what makes me angry. Drinking awful pre-mixed vodka’s or Redbull and vodka (honestly, WHY?) so one can get drunk quickly is completely and utterly stupid. Shouldn’t you drink because you enjoy wine or spirits or liqueurs? Appreciate their production and take pleasure in the flavours they impart. No, can’t be having that, must get absolutely sloshed and QUICK, lest I be called ‘Unaustralian’.

    That is the attitude that needs to be dropped, drinking for the sole purpose of being intoxicated. If it we were to drop that attitude it would have to be a cultural shift and over some generations. As for current social standards my ex lost his whole family because he wouldn’t even TRY to give up alcohol (he was well and truly alcoholic and even showing signs of alcohol induced dementia). I did everything I could to try and help him, but in the end I couldn’t do anything and he wanted to be a drunk. Countless patients I’ve nursed with alcohol induced traumatic injuries – one man being so drunk he didn’t even realise he had been stabbed until he woke up the next day. The other countless patients I’ve nursed to their early graves, their children standing by their bed to say goodbye as their liver fails from huge alcohol consumption. And those who drink so much they gravitate themselves into Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome – brain damage caused by thiamine deficiency, which is most commonly caused by chronic use of alcohol.

    We must ask ourselves if we’re really that comfortable using an excess of alcohol are we also comfortable with broken families, alcohol related traumas, early alcohol related disease and death and alcohol induced brain damage. I’m yet to meet someone who is comfortable with all these things, but so many are still happy to do vodka jelly shots until they can’t stand on a Saturday night.

  • Reply November 7, 2012


    Yep, Wendy (and Sen. Fielding in something of a broken clock moment) is 100% correct. Excessive drinking is the biggest blight on Australia and tragically there seems little appetite to have a frank conversation about it.

    The grog-pushers scream ‘nanny state!!’ whenever anyone suggests that *maybe* it isn’t desirable for the default mode of drinking to be “get paralytic”. Booze causes a huge proportion of family violence and other assaults. It places an enormous burden on our health system – both in the short and long term.

    And I drink. I got drunk on a weekend as an 18 year old. But you know what? I grew out of it within a couple of years – many don’t seem to anymore.

    I’m not for prohibition, but we need to make some changes from the near open slather that seems to be the case now. For one thing, I think we could have a real talk about whether 18 is the right age to let people start drinking. We understand much better now how much brains are still developing at 18. Is letting someone legally buy grog at the exact same time we toss them the car keys a great idea? Reckon raise it back up to 21.

  • Reply November 8, 2012


    I watched my father die a horrible death from the effects of long-term, excessive alcohol consumption. I used to boast that I was from “a long line of drinkers” as my mum was a barmaid and I saw the inside of the local pub every day after school.

    I too, was probably one if the first “ladettes” before the word was even thought of. But I have seen the light; I don’t feel I have anything to prove anymore. Not to my friends, nor myself by getting shitfaced as it were. Now I do enjoy a good wine or Cointreau over ice.

    I think young women in particular these days are feeling that they have more to prove than I ever did which is puzzling to me. They are better educated, more articulate and well in formed about most things and yet the ones that we see on the telly are probably the extreme, yes, but what an extreme and at what cost?

    Yes we need to talk about alcohol and I am convinced that the sweet, alcopop style drinks have got a lot to do with kids drinking to escess. It’s too easy. What did we have? Blackberry nip & lemonade. Or beer. Or scotch, rum or Ben Ean wine (bloody hell, why wouldn’t you spew)!

    As far as the Poms are concerned – what a joke! They are not Australia’s big brother of sister so just shut up you pompis prats!

  • Reply November 8, 2012


    I see groups of young people having a lot of fun. The litter is awful, agreed. But the images of people lying down, dancing, kissing, wresting etc say to me that a great time was had by many. That’s the sort of thing you do when you’re young, and it’s not particular to Australians.
    The Daily Mail are tapping into the bitterness of lost youth 🙂

  • Reply November 8, 2012


    My daughter went to live in Italy for a year as a 16 year old. There is no minimum drinking age there, and it is quite normal for teenagers and even children to enjoy a glass of wine. My daughter drank a bit as part of meals with the family she lived with while she was there, and it was no big deal.

    However – while the Italians love their wine, they utterly despise drunkenness, and it is virtually unknown. Being drunk was one of only three things that would have seen my daughter sent packing home from Italy, it was made clear to us, as the italians find drunkenness so abhorrent.

    What this taught me is that it is not alcohol itself that is the problem, or the minimum drinking age or whatever, but our whole society’s attitude to it. We pretend to dislike drunkenness but we actually promote alcohol heavily in our own lives – most of us can’t imagine an occasion without it, and our kids see this dependance. We also think regular drunkenness, particularly in the young, is normal, a part of growing up, even funny. Very Australian, mate! But the Italians don’t – they love wine, but find over-imbibing distasteful and wrong.

    So nothing will change unless we change the culture. Unless we make it okay NOT to drink. Unless we reduce the heavy advertising, and the way alcohol is promoted as being necessary to every occasion. My daughter, now in her early twenties, is still pretty indifferent to alcohol, because it wasn’t banned when she was a teenager, it wasn’t a big deal, and she had good role modelling of people enjoying wine but not to excess.

    Ban it, or increase the drinking age, at your peril. You will only make the problem worse.

  • Reply November 8, 2012

    Pam Newton

    I haven’t been to the races for many many years – not since the horse mad teenage girl eventually opened her eyes to underlying cruelty of many racing practices. I have friends who live near Randwick and they have complained of cleaning up vomit from their front yards, footpaths after the races.

    But this past weekend I saw something I’ve not seen before. I was staying at a hotel directly opposite Rosehill racecourse for a weekend convention. There was an envelope outside my door on Saturday morning warning me that it was race day at Rosehill.

    I was supplied with a ticket that would ensure my smooth entry to the hotel in the afternoon, past the “extra security and police” that would be there. It sternly warned me that should I drink too much I would be returned to my room by security/police.

    Evening came. I stepped out of the lift on the ground floor as a uniformed police stepped into it. The hotel bar was full and uniformed police stood in the bar on the fringes of the crowd …. arms folded, a look of resignation on their faces.

    Seems to me that yes – racing and binge drinking go hand in hand.

  • Reply November 8, 2012


    I agree with Jennie – it’s not so much alcohol that’s the problem, it’s our attitude towards its consumption. I too come for a ‘long line of drinkers’ – one of my grandfathers died for a combination of mental health issues and the (not unconnected) effects of a life of excessive drinking – and it has sometimes been an excuse for my own excesses. My mother was a publican for almost a decade and I began serving behind the bar at age 12. She’s now married to a man who co-owns a vineyard/cellar door. So I’m no stranger to the joys and sorrows alcohol can bring.

    I still drink – in fact I would call myself a regular drinker – but it’s rare these days that I drink to excess. Whether from no longer being willing – or able at 38 – to suffer the consequences as when I was young, through maturity, watching costs or, heaven forbid, actually not wanting to drink, I have seriously curbed my consumption. But even among close friends, the refusal of a drink often prompts the question ‘what, are you pregnant or something?’ (which they should really know better, but that’s another article LOL).

    The concept that you can’t enjoy an occasion without a drink – nay, without getting drunk – is one we need to overcome, and quickly.

  • Reply November 8, 2012

    Janet G

    That’s a bit rich coming from the Daily Mail. Britain is also a nation of drunks. Remember Hogarth’s picture of Gin Lane, the Rum Rebellion wrought by British soldiers, and the many young British tourists who routinely get drunk and go past our houses on the way back to the local backpackers.

    We may have a drinking problem but I say it is the headache left over from British colonialism.

  • Reply November 8, 2012


    As a teetotaller, I dislike the assumption that one ‘needs’ a drink in order to have a good time. I still celebrate all those special occasions, but I do so by talking and eating and soaking up the atmosphere. It means you still remember the occasion clearly and you’ve got a bit more money in your pocket at the end of it!

  • Reply November 8, 2012


    Love your freudian slip – “a hopless cause” 🙂

  • Reply November 8, 2012

    Michael P

    To protect teenagers and mainly young adults of over drinking, we should set limits on what is acceptable in public places and in private ones as well (e.g. to protect family members). We set limits for drivers; why could someone drunk is allowed in our streets or in our home. Our society condemn violence but we do very little to stop one of the root of it. Breathalyzers should be used right on the footpath or when someone calls for help.

  • Reply November 8, 2012


    At various stages of my life I’ve been a teetotaller and what I learnt was how much of Australian life revolves around drink and how threatened we are by those who don’t drink.
    “Wowser” is not exactly a compliment in the land of Oz.

  • Reply November 8, 2012

    Aeron Winters

    I agree Wendy. We (and I mean we the nation) need to back off the grog a bit (or maybe a lot). No, I am not a teetotaller, but I only have the occasional one or two and not very often. I have learned that I can have a blast without getting smashed. I think those who are defending getting wasted on alcohol as a valid pastime need to take a long hard look at themselves. Alcohol overconsumption costs our country a fortune in policing, medical care, etc….don’t even get me started on the lives destroyed by alcohol. I guess if all the drunks just stayed home alone and got drunk and didn’t expect anyone to rescue them when they over did it, I might not mind it so much.

  • Reply November 8, 2012


    Where’s the Responsible Alcohol Service that is supposed to be applied by those selling alcohol, never see it anywhere if you can push your cash over the bar you can have a drink, what ever condition you are in.

  • Reply November 8, 2012


    I agree with so much that has already been posted.
    It seems to me that acceptance of public drunkenness has changed, but I wonder about self esteem. Even as a 18-21 year old, I hated getting drunk and vomitting- it was embarrassing!!
    Friends on mine own and operate a boutique distillery, I live in a wine region and I drink occasionally to enjoy the taste. But we need a culture like the Spanish and Italians. The Brits are no better.

  • Reply November 8, 2012


    I lived a party life for a long time but decided to give up alcohol, which I did about ten years ago.
    It really is interesting how much people resent you not drinking. I am always being urged to have just one, to try this wine etc.
    I didn’t give it up because I had a problem with alcohol, just didn’t want to drink anymore. I found I enjoyed never feeling seedy or feeling like I may have been a bit outspoken.
    I certainly did lose a good part of my social life by not drinking but try to stick to occasions where drinking is not so prevalent.
    Boozing is totally engrained in our society, not sure if it is possible to change that. Although the introduction of RBT brought about a change in behaviour so maybe it is possible.

  • Reply November 8, 2012


    While everyone is talking about the Australian habit of overdoing the booze on every possible occasion to celebrate the cost in human tragedy is enormous. The injuries alone to drunk pedestrians, drivers, passengers and often innocent bystanders changes peoples’ lives, their families and may leave them permanently crippled and brain damaged forever. The dismissal of these issues by people as the complaints of wowsers also fail to deal with the aggression that often marks the increase in alcohol consumption and its causal relationships with assaults in the street, domestic violence and can be a factor in issues such as sexual abuse of children. Do we want to keep putting our blinkers on as people are injured, assaulted and harmed psychologically as well as physically.

    Once upon a time it was not considered ok for women who were drunk to be taken advantage of in any sexual way. Now there are even porn sites devoted to it. If we could somehow present the notion that getting obliviously drunk was a serious health issue and not at all cool we might get somewhere, but I sometimes despair of the young men in particular who want to stay 18 for the rest of their lives without any notion of what this means in terms of parenting, commitment and the multiple long term effects of alcohol on every aspect of their lives.

  • Reply November 8, 2012


    I do not like getting drunk.I like to sleep~ which is where alcohol assists~ though I gather from research that one gets a lighter sleep. Better some than none. I have been a teetotaller more years than I have been a consumer.. My ex was an alcohol and drug counsellor who liked a tipple~ and now I am apparently afflicted with a substance use addiction..from her. I cannot imagine getting drunk and vulnerable in public~ it spells a lack of safety to me….

  • Reply November 8, 2012


    Australians need to learn “How” to drink and appreciate what they’re drinking. They appear to drink for the sake of drinking and that’s the problem.
    Most Europeans drink (a lot) but slowly and appreciate what is in the glass and will taste it. I’ve found most Australians don’t taste their drink, they simply swallow it. Big difference.
    Isn’t it better to have a good quality drink to appreciate than swallow half a dozen horrid concoctions?

  • Reply November 9, 2012


    Both my parents and my 1 sister are alcoholics. They all acknowledge this but my mum and my sister are long termers of AA and have been sober around 15 years. They have found it nearly impossible to socialise outside of their AA social group because of the pressures and culture of drinking that is ingrained in our society. They do so because their sobriety is strong but they enjoy it less than being around sober people. Hell who doesn’t? If everyone around you is pissed you’re talking to the bottle, who incidently thinks it is THE most FASCINATING person on earth! Wine is divine. Love a cold beer. Moderation as part of culture as the Italians and French do it. Grow up Australia.

  • Reply November 10, 2012


    Horse Racing in Australia has been ruined by the young drunks….we responsible adults get served drinks in plastic cups!! My thought is that they must be made to pay for the Paramedic and Hospital care they get as a result of this behaviour….as it is now there are NO consequences……….I went to the Melbourne Cup last year and they drink on the train, so this is where they should have security patrolling and taking it off them, then breathalise at the gate…..over 0.3………go home………..The sad thing is, they will tell their friends they had a great time

  • Reply November 13, 2012


    Can’t get over how many people preface their comments with “I used to drink when I was younger but no longer see the point” or similar. Its a classic case of because you no longer go out and/or socialise and chose to live a life indoors over an occasional convivial glass of wine, you suddenly gloss over the fact you were young once and did exactly what today’s youth are doing. Alcopops of today were the gin&tonics/West Coast Coolers of yesterday. Yes, I agree that culture needs changing, but being a preachy old hypocrite with killjoy solutions isn’t the way to go about it.

  • Reply September 24, 2013


    I have a beer in my hand. because i am depressed by the coalition government. i got here through a google search of #oneTermTony …. surely there are worse things in the world … AND Australias beer consumption is at a 66 year low.

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