Alison Mau caught up in an ugly bar brawl: 'It's time to address NZ's alcohol carnage'
OPINION: Last Saturday night in Queenstown, I stood in a group of friends outside a bar, belting out a raucous and tuneless version of I Will Survive, in the rain. We'd arrived at that moment via a long lunch to celebrate my fiancée's 40th birthday, and dinner at a toasty warm bar for the rugby. Every single bar in town, had by then a long queue of wet, puffered punters waiting patiently to get in.
Probably because of the aforementioned afternoon and evening's activity, our group was not keen to stand in a long line. And so we had a brilliant idea; we would sing so beautifully for the impassive bouncers that they would accept our brilliance and have to let us straight in.
The bouncers did their job superbly and showed us to the back of the queue.
I rarely get drunk these days, in fact the last time I threw up after drinking, (that I remember; please feel free to set me straight) was aged 19, in the bushes outside my parents' home in Melbourne. Shamefully, this being the 1980s, I probably drove home that night too.
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These days I Uber to and from, and even on a "big night" out I cut it off as soon as I sense I'm losing my grasp on crisp, lucid conversation. But once a year we go to Queenstown and, well.
I am a happy drunk. The same night as the rain and the singing, and once we'd got into a bar, we joyously went nuts to the live band's excellent version of Daft Punk's Get Lucky. It was great, the crowd were great, everyone was happy – until they weren't.
One moment I was right in front of the speakers, jigging about and losing the hearing in my left ear, and the next I was whirled around as someone flashed past and into the crowd.
There was a fight right behind me and my fiancée, who once headed security for touring music acts, had ripped in and broken it up. By the time I turned around she was standing between the scrappers, staring directly at me and mouthing "don't move". She is tiny, but the look on her face at those moments would make the toughest eejit step back.
Why am I telling you this? Because you'll probably recognise it. It's a pretty standard sight for anyone who's been in a place where too many people are drinking too much. Almost 80 per cent of Kiwis regularly use alcohol, and close to a quarter of us drink in "hazardous" ways. Not everyone's a happy drunk.
Alcohol creates way too much violence and death. But it's legal, so we mop up the results and make stern, finger-waggy public health ads at the same time as we allow booze companies to sponsor our national sports teams.
Then – while ignoring the massive hypocrisy inherent in the equation – we vilify, arrest, and often imprison New Zealanders who take drugs (but not usually the white ones, mostly the brown ones. Forty per cent of prisoners in for drug offences are Maori despite making up only 15 per cent of the population.)
When we want to scare ourselves, we're all about the meth rage. It's relatively new, and it's scary alright. We're not talking so much about the alcohol rage though, despite the fact that both substances appear to work in similar ways on the brain. And anyway, rage in a substance-impared person is rage, it leads to the same kinds of carnage.
I grew up post-Nixon; came to political consciousness in the Reagan era. "Just Say No" was a serious goal. But those who still think we can police and convict our way out of this mess look like simpletons, standing with their hands over their ears and chanting "LALALALA, I CAN'T HEAR YOU".
What we now do about it is the thing. Other countries have seen the carnage, recognised the hypocrisy and addressed it in slightly different ways. You can argue that none of their systems are perfect, but in treating drug users as people who need health advice and intervention, they are better than the clusterf*** we have at the moment.
Election year's a great time to be having the drug tete-a- tete, concentrated as we all are on policy and such. This week the Drug Foundation is hosting a conference, where the world's top drug law reform experts will tell us what they've done in their own backyards to help stop the harm.
International Lawmakers, Criminologists, Public Health experts. Kiwi Politicians from all parties will be grilled on their positions. There is a whole morning devoted to the effect of drug use on the Maori population.
The entire two days is sold out, like a public policy Glastonbury. It will be riveting, and challenging, and we might just come away with a plan. I'll keep you posted.
* Ali Mau is the host of RadioLIVE Drive, 3-6pm weekdays.
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