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NT Young Achiever of the Year Hugh Dawson shares his thoughts around our booze culture.

If you haven’t met Hugh Dawson (pictured above) then allow us to introduce you. In addition to being an all 'round top young bloke, Hugh was recently named the 2021 NT Young Achiever of the Year for his work with the Barkly Pastoral Company, his contributions his participation in the Future Northern Territory Cattleman’s Association program for young industry leaders, and for his work in raising awareness of men’s mental health. His award recognised this significant work as a young advocate for Northern Australia. SITC met up with Hugh early in the year in Alice Springs at the NTCA (Northern Territory Cattleman’s Association) and we’ve stayed in close contact. He's been kind enough to share some thoughts with us below ....

< Image generously donated by the talented Stacey Ford Photography. >

Hugh's words...

“Must be about that time?”

It's a phrase so many of us live for. You get that little jitter of excitement and you know it won’t be long before it’ll be tools-down, feet-up and a cool drink in your clutches.

Now that laughter and radical yarns have replaced the busy noise of the yards, you can’t help but entertain the thought it just wouldn’t be the same without the ice-cold beer so tenderly cradled in your calloused hands.

Or, would it?

Earlier this year I was extremely fortunate to meet the incredible Shanna Whan, who I had a very thought provoking conversation with. Listening to Shan set off a few lightbulbs for me and got me thinking...

Maybe we DO give alcohol far too much credit?

Like many (I’m sure), I’d accepted the idea that I was having fun because I was drinking but when I thought long and hard about it, I quickly realised I had fun when I was surrounded by people who made it impossible not to have fun.

As young Australians, we discover alcohol at almost the exact same time we develop independence, start meeting new people, leave school and get our first jobs. I think because of this – having a drink is somewhat a coming of age and a rite of passage. As a social drinker myself, I have no qualms with that sentiment.

What does alarm me is how heavy-drinking or binge-drinking has become so ingrained in our culture that we title our mates as legends if they can ‘handle’ their booze and similarly, as Sober in the Country has been pointing out for almost a decade now … someone can literally be outcast from a social stratum if they can’t or choose not to drink.

I know I’ve been guilty of pressuring friends into drinking - and the ironic part is, I only wanted them to have as much fun as I was having. When I think about it now, however, I was only successful in making them uncomfortable and almost certainly would have inhibited their ability to have fun.

So, I do think ‘it’s about that time’ we shifted the conversation around alcohol consumption particularly in rural Australia.

What I have learned after months of processing these thoughts and looking at my own behaviour is this: If you care about your mates, don’t humbug them if they turn down a drink or opt for an alcohol-free alternative; and before you encourage the mate who always drinks themselves into a gutter, be mindful of what could be happening under the surface and reach out to see if they are ok - that is, if you truly care.

I’m fairly outspoken when it comes to the importance of making mistakes and learning from them and it is experience which I believe shapes perspective so I’m not here to say 'don’t drink,' or that there is no place for alcohol in our society; but I do think collectively we have an opportunity to rewrite a pretty common narrative where for a lot of people, habit turns into addiction.

By looking out for our mates and being mindful it’s #OK2SAYNO, together we can help the bush charity Sober in the Country (SITC) to keep shifting towards a more inclusive and positive culture around drinking in rural Australia …

We might not even know some of our mates are struggling so it’s important we include them in life if they choose not to drink and encourage those who are actively seeking help to do so and support them so they aren’t suffering in silence.

SITC’s foundational quote resonates strongly for me – and it’s this: “There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they're falling in.” – Desmond Tutu

ends //

The Hon Lauren Moss MLA, Minister for Youth, with Hugh Dawson. Image : Awards Australia.

** We want to thank NTCA's new President Will Evans for making SITC so welcome at this year's conference in Alice Springs, and for the introduction to Hugh. That's how this stuff works, every time. Will has also graciously offered us a keynote spot at the 2022 conference - and we are thrilled to say, we'll be there with bells on.

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