Groggy

An exhibition by Therese Ritchie and Todd Williams—Northern Centre for Contemporary Art

When Adam Giles and Dave Tollner the duo guest speakers at the Australian Hotels Association annual awards dinner, described the territory’s drinking culture as a core social value and that "having a coldie" in a pub should be "enshrined" as part of Territory life, Todd and I were disappointed in their lack of critique but also in accord with the view (creepy as it may have felt).

Our confusion, however, was with why only a small percentage of the population are vilified and held responsible for alcohol related issues that are problematic; why it is only distasteful when certain people drink in certain circumstances and why there is differential treatment for some drinkers than others.

If the Northern Territory were a country it would be the second biggest drinking country in the world. Yet, out of a population of 233,000 all ‘blame’ for the excess and consequent problems, seems to be with the 64,000 Aboriginal people, out of which only 20% (a total of 12,800) demonstrate hazardous drinking.

So, on the subject of Grog, both Todd and I agreed to go the track less travelled, and focus on the culture of ‘Territory drinking’ that is much more agreeable; ie when white people do it.

Our research is digested and on the walls for your enjoyment, but I did do a little bit of extra homework involving ‘language’ and its usage; because paralleling the work on Groggy—I was—and still am working on a wonderful project, Yan-nhaŋu Atlas and illustrated dictionary of the Crocodile Islands. My client is a great Australian, her name is Laurie Baymarrwaŋa—a 97 year old woman from the Crocodile Islands. Along with Bentley James, she has recorded over 4,000 words of her near extinct language, Yan-nhaŋu. Nothing short of inspired by this woman’s integrity, the absolute love for her language and her children, and the more cohesive understanding that a culture is revealed through it’s mother tongue, I did some searching for meaning through my own mother tongue—English.

On the subject of emotions I looked up how many synonyms there were for Love: 97; Compassion: 34; Sobriety: 59; involving the act of warfare or engaging in war I found 1,370 words (and it is growing); involving the act of the ‘getting pissed’ Chips sent me a link to a book called Intoxerated, the definitive drinker’s dictionary by Paul Dickson. Paul had collected 2,985 synonyms for various states of intoxication (that is over 12,000 tweets).

Taking that on board, it appears pretty hypocritical and delusional to attribute blame for ‘problem drinking’ on a marginalised group of people—even if they do make a good go of it. Groggy challenges us to shift our gaze onto our own history and habits, because in the 4,000 words I have been designing for Laurie I have not come across any words that mean, getting hammered, shitfaced, trashed, maggoty, shickered or fucked up. Her words are about this country and it’s seas; the country we walk all over and think we can buy, own and carve up; or the sea that we fish and dredge or mine. Her words are about her people; the people our culture is suspicious of and question; disrespects, and send to the fringes until they learn how to behave like ‘civilised’ Australians.

Speaking of civilised, let me finish with a brief history of the first 20 years of Australia’s colonisation, from the perspective of Grog. (taken from Under the influence Ross Fitzgerald and Trevor L. Jordon.)

On 26 January 1788, Arthur Phillip, a company of British marines and 40 male convicts gathered around a flagpole after a hard day of cutting down trees, clearing land and erecting tents… a well-earned thirst…the officers drank a toast to the health of the royal family and the new colony. The first recorded alcoholic drink by Europeans on this land. 12 days later, the last of the fleets 11 ships carrying female convicts, disembarked. A night of drunkenness and rape ensued. Alcohol had begun playing its part in bringing European ‘civilisation’ to Australia.

England sent no currency out with the convicts and for the next 17 years, rum became the medium of exchange, monopolised by the corrupt NSW Corps or ‘Rum Corps’. The population of New South Wales soon became divided into two classes—those who dealt in rum and those who were paid with, and drank it. Rum could buy anything. The wages for the construction of buildings—some of our most famous landmarks were paid out in rum. Rum was offered as a reward for the capture of bushrangers. Men sold their wives, farms, and stock for rum, whilst the Rum Corps officers maintained their monopoly by controlling liquor licenses and or becoming publicans.

All sounds a little too contemporary to me.

Groggy is not advocating prohibition or telling anyone to get off the grog. Lets exercise our right to drink and when we find ourselves unable to stop sipping on our share of the Territory’s ‘core social value’, no matter how expensive or special, lets not delude ourselves—we are on the same continuum as any other drug addict. Pretending otherwise would be colluding with one of our biggest cultural lies and it really is time to stop telling lies.

Thank you for being here tonight, Todd and I are grateful for your support and audience, we do hope you enjoy Groggy and in closing I quote Adam Giles our current leader "This is our lifestyle, this is the way we live".