A couple of months ago at a function I had the pleasure of meeting Kellie Sloane who is the CEO of Life Education. Plenty of you will be familiar with the work of Life Education. I most strongly associate the organisation with visits from ‘Healthy Harold’ during primary school and the subsequent education around making positive decisions not just about my own health, but also to help influence positive decision making amongst the people around me in relation to their own health.
After telling Kellie a bit about myself, she asked whether I would be interested in becoming an ambassador for Life Education – an opportunity I jumped at! Through my media company, ‘Ladies who League’, I am passionate about advocating for women involved in sport, but more importantly advocating so every young girl growing up across Australia has the opportunity to participate in whatever sport they like. I know how important physical activity is not just to physical health, but also mental health, so to be so closely linked to an organisation passionate about young people, their health (and also to Healthy Harold) was something I thought was very special.
A couple of weeks after agreeing to be an Ambassador, I received an email from Kellie asking if I would be interested in doing ‘Ocsober’ – a Life Education initiative for the month of October which encourages people to give up alcohol for the whole month to reduce drug and alcohol related harm in young people.
There was awkward silence on the phone. I said ‘Kellie, I’m more than happy to help… but I don’t think Ocsober is the campaign for me, because I don’t really drink’. And it’s been the case that ‘I don’t really drink’ for basically my entire life.
My relationship with alcohol is an interesting one. My decision not to drink is not an absolute prohibition and I wouldn’t go so far as to call myself a teetotaller, but the reality is I can’t really remember the last time that I had a drink. It was probably at my brother’s wedding earlier this year.
My decision not to drink alcohol is one that frequently comes up in conversation. People think it is slightly odd, think I’m slightly odd and some even wonder how I can function at social events. I find that some people seem more invested in my decision not to drink than I do!
My reasons are fairly simple. I enjoy the weekend and with a busy job, a loving family and a full on side business, I have plenty to do. I enjoy waking up in the morning and getting my day started and having a cup of tea with my mum and dad – something I can’t do with a hangover. I don’t really enjoy the taste of alcohol and would much rather spend my hard earned cash on shoes. Anyone who has met me will also vouch for the fact that I am energetic enough without needing the extra rush and adrenaline kick from alcohol.
Additionally, I don’t need alcohol in social situations. I don’t need alcohol to be brave. I don’t need it to hit the dance floor at a function or to walk up to someone new and introduce myself to them. I don’t need it to have a good time and I don’t need it to give me the courage to do things I wouldn’t normally do. I do all those things already and a long time ago decided that I wanted to live a life led by courage and authenticity. So I work hard every day to make sure I lead my life via those values which can only come out in their purest and most genuine form when you are not under the influence and you are truly showing who you are.
But I am not the norm and the relationship between Australians and alcohol is one that I have watched with fascination for many years.
It is so much part of our national culture and our national identity. How many Australians get home from work and think ‘I just need a glass of wine’. How many young people go out on the weekend to get ‘maggoted’ – on purpose. I joke about it frequently, but following the Sydney Roosters win over the Melbourne Storm in the NRL Grand Final this year when asked what he was going to do that night, we all laughed along when Victor Radley screamed ‘beers, beers and more beers’.
I’m certainly not against the consumption of alcohol – but in a country where, according to the Australian Government, 1 in 5 Australians aged 14 and over have reported being a victim of an alcohol-related incident in 2016, 1 in 4 people have consumed alcohol at levels placing them at risk of harm on a single occasion, at least monthly and 1 in 6 people consume alcohol at levels placing them at lifetime risk of an alcohol-related
Leading into Ocsober, Life Education conducted a survey about parental attitudes to alcohol and underage drinking. More than 92 per cent of respondees said that they were concerned about underage drinking and listed one of the biggest influencing factors as ‘Australia’s drinking culture’. I wonder how many of those parents though model positive behaviour for their children in the way that they consume alcohol.
But it is more than just about alcohol consumption. What impact does that consumption have on our wider behaviours. Last week six women were killed as a result of domestic violence – consider that – six people dead in the space of seven days. Domestic violence is a national emergency in Australia. What is its link to alcohol consumption?
But what is the link between alcohol and sport? Being a woman that loves sport, alcohol is frequently part of the conversation, particularly when it comes to whether athletes should be role models and how important their behaviour is when they are not on the field. In rugby league, some of our most signficiant condemnation of our players has come following their consumption of alcohol – Josh Dugan and Blake Ferguson drinking Bicardi Breezers on a rooftop, Todd Carney and his decision to do the bubbler, Adam Elliot dancing to ‘Sweet Caroline’ at the pub on Mad Monday and Mitchell Pearce and the poodle.
When people ask me whether athletes should be role models. My response is generally – I have an expectation that athletes will be decent humans on and off the field. If athletes want to use their profile off the field to be more than decent and use their powerful voices to be advocates for issues important to them, I welcome and encourage that.
The reality is that the men and women that represent our clubs and countries playing sport are human beings too and do things that other human beings do – like drink alcohol. Just because they are in the public eye does not mean that their ability to do normal human things should be taken away or criticised.
But how can we zero in on athletes and consumption of alcohol, when alcohol companies sponsor almost all our national sports and our consumption of sports is littered with advertisements for alcohol.
Our conversation about alcohol needs to be far wider than just role modelling – we need to consider why consumption of alcohol touches almost every single part of our society and whether it is a deterrent to a happy and healthy Australia.
And as for my participation in Ocsober – as well as my norm of not drinking alcohol for the month, I’ve used this month as an opportunity to do at least 30 minutes of exercise per day.
Like many other Australians I lead a busy life – I have a day job as a lawyer and also run a sports media company on the side with a particular focus on rugby league, cricket and women’s sport. My winters are taken up by the footy and my summers are taken up by the cricket. That sometimes means that exercise falls by the wayside (even though I know that I will feel better after half an hour of exercise instead of sleeping in for an extra hour).
I know that I will go into November feeling much healthier and happier. And I hope that others that have participated in Ocsober will as well, perhaps also whilst taking the time to consider their own relationship with alcohol and how we can alter our habits to make our country a happier and healthier one.