Our dangerous culture

Screen shot 2015-07-22 at 2.56.35 PMIn  A coach, his killing and our dangerous culture, long-time anti-violence campaigner, Phil Cleary writes that unlike mainstream Australia, he didn’t respond with disbelief when he heard the news that Adelaide coach Phil Walsh had been killed, allegedly by his own son, for since the murder of his sister at the hands of an ex-boyfriend nearly 28 years ago, Cleary has long ceased being shocked by “domestic murders”. He reminds us that in Australia each year around 60 women are murdered by partners or ex-partners.

But while the football community mourned the loss of Phil Walsh there were few journalists who dared to place the alleged murder in the context of family violence. In Inside Football former AFL player Peter “Crackers” Keenan wrote, “Our community is wracked by too much domestic violence …”. Even so the reality of family violence remained absent from Walsh’s memorial service and the media’s reportage.

Cleary calls for an examination of the culture that breeds such a desire for success that was evident in Phil Walsh – a man who went to bed at 8.30pm and rose at 2am. A man who admitted that football consumed too much of his life and that he was trying to change and spend more time with his son.

But he lives in hope: Cleary recalls pictures of the Adelaide Crows players hugging each other and their opponents in a grief-stricken tribute to Walsh. These were men who were really struggling to come to terms with their loss and grief. Cleary is hopeful that these young blokes and their followers might come to treat the killing of women with the same passion and suggests that Phil Walsh’s death might yet emerge as an important force in the campaign against family violence.

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Similarly there is a chance that after we have seen the new movie Ruben Guthrie we might want to support a campaign that addresses our booze culture. Ad man Ruben Guthrie is at the top of his game until he finds himself lucky to be alive after diving while very drunk from his roof into his swimming pool at one of the many extravagant parties held at his waterfront Sydney home.

Ruben Guthrie is based on a play by Brendan Cowell, and takes an unapologetic look at the country’s drinking problem. After his accident, his gorgeous fiance Zoya, played by local model Abbey Lee, leaves him. Forced to confront his alcoholism Guthrie (Patrick Brammall) attends Alcoholic Anonymous and for almost a year is sober despite his boss telling him that since he’s been off the booze he has ‘lost his edge’, and his parents trying their hardest to get him back on the drink. His parents are his worst adversaries in his struggle to mend his life. His mother starring Robyn Niven has been dumped by his father and now finds solace in her expensive lifestyle and the bottle. His grossly overweight father played by Jack Thompson is  suffering from pancreatitis but still manages to drink all day and night. They are not pleased with their progeny who now drinks only water and regularly taunt him about his new clean habits.

The film asks us to consider the place of alcohol in our lives. Although humorous its overall message is strong. Why does this man need to drink so much? Why do his friends also need to drown themselves in alcohol? What does this say about our culture?

The audience encourages Ruben Guthrie to stay strong. Ruben knows that he has become healthy – this partly achieved by his bonding with Virginia, another AA member who loves him and buys organic food and cooks for him. But then there are his family and his so-called friends who do their best to drag him back into his former existence – the ‘life’ of the party and inevitably becoming like his father, on a dangerous journey to ill-health and early death.

The tragic death of Phil Walsh can if we seize the opportunity force us to look at male violence and do something about it. Ruben Guthrie should also make us wake up to our alcoholic culture before it’s too late.

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