If you drive through the bush, you can tell that you’re getting closer to the Northern Territory by the number of green VB beer cans that litter the sides of the highway.
Venture down the dusty tracks and you come to the drinking camps, by law, supposedly two kilometres from a licensed outlet. These are the bush beer gardens that find their counterpart in pubs and wine bars.
City Emergency Departments provide detailed analysis of weekly trauma, often to staff, but out in the bush, you can clearly see the black eyes and split heads of women, many of whom are so addicted that they cannot stop drinking even when they become pregnant.
In 2015, Australia’s long, costly and escalating love affair with alcohol is in the news.
Yet despite growing awareness of alcohol harms, the alcohol industry continues its expansion unabated, with takeaway outlets proliferating in the Australian landscape.
As if there isn’t enough, there have been six requests for new takeaway liquor licenses in the Northern Territory since a moratorium was lifted late last year.
Nationally, shameless alcohol industry advertising continues to compete for the teenage dollar, and with alcohol harms costing the nation $17 billion each year its clearly not a lucky country for all Australians.
It’s partly against this background that I wrote my novel Dry Crossing, the story of an Aboriginal rock ‘n’ roll band that wins a national music industry award and decides, against the odds, to tour once more from the outback to Sydney, in the hope of recording a new album of songs.
Reviewing my book, Professor Marcia Langton refers to Dry Crossing as grappling with “the war of ideas that make claims on people’s souls”.
In an earlier Drink Tank post, I described how my friends were being destroyed by daily alcohol consumption.
I watched up-close and personal in a remote central Australian community, cartons of beer stacked from the floor to the ceiling as a seven days a week supply serviced and cultivated addiction in a welfare situation where employment wasn’t available.
The last five years of writing my novel convinced me that it was a story worth taking to a wider audience.
Dry Crossing is a cross-cultural gothic romance, which is to say that it looks back on the mistakes of a life lived in a sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll culture, based around music, pubs, relationships and drugs.
Dizzy Roundabout, the protagonist, has come to a crossroads. Far from being the life and soul of the party, he jumps from this cultural train wreck and finds redemption in an outback town at the hands of a missionary who steers him onto a road not previously travelled.
Change never just happens. The missionary is a watchman who warns the people that they are in grave danger. His letters to government ministers have fallen on deaf ears, but Dizzy hears his message and begins to turn his life around, from one of drunken degradation to walking through the river of grog at a dry crossing.
Changing the culture requires strong people sending a strong message so that the health of the nation prospers as its soul prospers, and its soul must surely be in its people.