Alcohol a 'ghost' in regional Australia

·2-min read

Sober in the Country founder Shanna Whan asks the same thing of every crowd she addresses.

"Raise your hand if you don't know a single person impacted by alcohol, whether that's harm, addiction or accident," Ms Whan asked a regional Australia audience in Canberra on Tuesday night.

Not a single hand appeared in a room of hundreds, as has been the case in her more than seven years of work to tackle the alcohol-centric culture of country Australia.

"Despite that, I remain the sole advocate driving this discussion across rural and regional Australia from a lived experience point of view," Ms Whan said.

"Why? Because it's a bloody hard conversation to have.

"But we all know someone impacted by grog. We've all lost someone to drink driving. We've all experienced our own battles at one point or another and yet we keep on insisting that conversation be wrapped up and tucked away in the dark.

"That's exactly why we need to bring it to light."

Ms Whan, who survived a 25-year battle with alcoholism, founded Sober in the Country to share the message "it's OK to say no to beers in the bush".

She was named 2022 Australian of the Year Local Hero and has been chosen to attend Queen Elizabeth II's funeral in London next week.

Despite the recognition, Ms Whan said the national charity operated with one other staff member and limited funding, while alcohol harms kill one person every 90 minutes.

"Why are grassroots organisations on the ground in the bush - going upstream speaking the language of the people in the bush, making real impact - continually overlooked?," she asked the Regional Australia Institute national summit.

Ms Whan said Sober in the Country needs $500,000 a year to cover operating costs. Its goal is to visit every state to share the stories of country people who have tackled alcoholism.

She said all major mental health charities deal with the effects of alcohol abuse.

"What happens when people are suicidal? Do you reckon they're sober? No way, not often," Ms Whan said.

"What happens when you're in the middle of a 10-year drought and your mental health is declining?

"What happens when you're a mum home alone and all your kids have gone to boarding school?

"Alcohol is the binding, concurrent thing that pops up in every single area of rural and regional mental health - OH and S, farm safety, staff performance, productivity. Take your pick.

"It's a ghost, a mongrel thing sitting there at the base of all of those things."

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