To my fellow Australians, I want to wish you all a Happy Australia Day. May yours be a day of fun, frolics and fond memories with friends and family. May yours be a day with no fistfights, foul behaviour or fatalities fuelled by alcohol and drugs.
May your loved ones get home safely. No husband killed by a drunk driver, no woman by her ex-partner or son felled by a coward punch.
And not just on Australia’s national birthday but every other day.
May ours become a society no longer tolerating the intolerable. No longer excusing the inexcusable.
No beer pressure at client lunches, after-work drinks or office parties.
No music festivals marred by tragic teen overdoses.
No schoolies wreaking havoc as part of a misguided rite of passage.
No plastered selfies plastered all over social media.
No drunken spectators scaring kids or abusing umpires at the MCG.
I believe we’re seeing a groundswell of momentum to shake off the boozy shackles of our colonial heritage.
The all-night swill is giving way to goodwill; binge drinking to fringe drinking. Alcohol is becoming a (small) part of life, not a way of life.
I’m not talking prohibition. Rather it’s about finding new ways to celebrate, commiserate and communicate with each other.
And everyone gets on board. Government, alcohol giants, community leaders and parents alike pulling together to create a proud legacy for our children and grandchildren.
Early signs are promising, with the latest statistics revealing our young people are delaying their first drink and drinking less than their forebears.
The shift is already happening. But so much more still needs to be done.
As a cornerstone of our culture, sport is uniquely positioned to influence this generational shift away from our love affair with alcohol.
I imagine a future in which our limited health funding is spent funding life-saving cures and prevention strategies rather than dealing with the havoc wreaked by excessive drinking and drug-taking. In which police fight crime rather than break up pub brawls and clear up car crashes. A future in which people freely socialise together at family-friendly events, women walk home safely and parents with teenagers sleep soundly at night.
Drunkenness is scorned rather than worn as a badge of honour.
Yes, we’ve still got a way to go. The popular Clean Up Australia Day will carry greater meaning if we can clean up our act as well as pick up litter.
Let’s restore some healthy dignity to the way we celebrate not just our national day but also all events that make us feel proud to be Australians — Anzac Day, grand final day and Melbourne Cup day.
And when this happens — when alcohol finally takes a backseat to spirited celebrations and personal integrity — then the next generation of young Australians can truly look forward to a brighter, safer future.
Happy Australia Day.
John Rogerson is CEO of the Australian Drug Foundation. This article was first published in The Daily Telegraph, 23 January 2015.