An Ocsober-ing thought …

21 October 2009

Written by: Lawrie Zion

At first blush the month of October isn’t a very significant one. Winter is over and festivities in the warm weather haven’t started yet. Or so I thought. Maybe I wouldn’t have volunteered for the arduous task that is Ocsober if I had thought about it a little more.

On a spur of the moment, seeing a reason to go on a bit of a health kick before summer, I signed up for Ocsober along with a long list of A to Z grade celebrities. The aim is to give up alcohol for the month. It turns out that a lot happens in October, especially for journalism students like me, including submitting assignments (which surely entitles one to a drink), class celebrations, invitations to boutique brewers, good bands coming to town, the first barbeques for the season and birthday celebrations a-plenty. The thing that all of these occasions have in common is that they result in a tipple, or two. 

The Ocsober fundraiser is run by Life Education Australia, so the proceeds go to health, drug and alcohol education for our youth— a worthy cause in my view. Professor Jenny Fleming, Chair of the Alcohol and Other Drugs Council of Australia, says that each week alcohol kills more than 60 people and hospitalises another 1500. Current ADCA studies show that the lives of young people, especially young women, are significantly affected by other heavy drinkers. But the worthy cause hasn’t made it any easier.

Clearly I am not an expert on alcohol consumption in our society. I am not a reformed heavy drinker wanting to warn the community of the danger and I am not trying to reopen debates about taxation and the labelling of alcohol. I am just surprised at how oblivious I was about the extent to which drinking is part of our social and cultural activities, that is, until I was trying to avoid it. Alcohol is a “valued and powerful consumer product” that has gained a central position in our society with the emergence of our “leisure lifestyle”, according to Professor Ann Roche, Director of the National Centre for Education and Training on Addiction. The cultural norm that is alcohol, plays a part in public policy in areas ranging from free market ideals, food, social order and town planning.

Living in the inner northern suburbs of Melbourne there is a pub or bar on nearly every corner, most cafes have liquor licences, plus there’s a fabulous independent (and locally sourced) clean skin wine shop nearby. So planning activities that don’t involve alcohol, can be troublesome, even more so on a bad weather day. Yes, there is plenty of sport, reading, social media, shopping and TV to occupy myself, but I want more.  I want to go out, yet to have dinner without a glass of wine seems like salt without pepper, or tomato juice without gin. As I decide between yet another cup of tea or coffee I recall that even my nearby cinema is licensed.

I am counting down the nine days left of Ocsober (I am not counting the 31st because I figure its not my fault they picked a long month!), but I am at least a little more aware of the extent to which alcohol consumption has become a cultural norm central to our leisure time, culture and lifestyle.

Read more about alcohol and society in the Alcohol and Other Drugs Council of Australia News, October 2009.

Bree Ryan is a Master of Global Communications student at La Trobe University.