Melbourne, a city known for laneway bars, comedy, live music, an abundance of cultures and cuisines, AFL, art galleries, beer gardens, botanical gardens and grungy nightclubs. These iconic ‘Melburnian things to do’ have one thing in common: they can all go drink-in-hand, and usually, they do. There is no denying that Melbourne is a city with alcohol running through its veins. And for those who love the buzz of tipsiness, it’s perfect. But does Melbourne’s allure dry up for those who don’t? And who are these people who don’t drink alcohol? Here’s a clue: you might have to rethink your stereotype of drunken twenty-somethings.
Surprisingly, Generation Y is cleaning up its act and the popularity of not drinking is on the rise. This could suggest an increasing awareness of the importance in maintaining physical and mental health. While it may be a positive side-effect of social media, the inevitable spreading of knowledge, or the natural progression of society, the general population has seemingly entered a phase wherein consciousness is trendy; health, body, mind, food and environmental consciousness. 27 year-old photographer Janaka Rodrigue has noticed this change. ‘Now I see larger groups of people not drinking… people are trying to embrace the healthy lifestyle,’ he said.
This can be seen as yoga studios have begun to open in all corners of the city. Meditation is no longer for yogis only, but anyone who wants to reduce their stress, with or without the assistance of an app. Now, organic produce is not only for those who can afford it but anyone who cares about what they put into their body. Superfoods, such as kale, chia seeds, and spirulina, have become diet staples. The stigma that has surrounded vegans in the West since the sixties seems to have diminished along with the demand for dairy, with ‘vegan’ now a popular hashtag on Instagram. It seems only natural that these changes in diet and lifestyle are paired with the realisation that, maybe, the effects of alcohol aren’t worth drinking it.
And leading this new army of socially aware, health-conscious beings is the generation that was called the ‘Me Me Me Generation’ by Time Magazine. But as the generation who grew with the rising sea levels, millennials are becoming more aware that a change needs to take place in the world. And this change must have humble beginnings, starting with the self. Although Generation Y may have an addiction to social media (perhaps the number of likes a photo of your kale smoothie gets really does make it more delicious), there is no denying that it is a generation talented at keeping up with trends. And in the most culturally active city in Australia, this new focus on healthy living has in fact unaltered the vibrant social scene that Melburnians are known for enjoying.
22 year-old art student Millicent Windshuttle periodically takes a break from drinking. ‘Every few months I like to take a month or so off because alcohol starts to make me feel sluggish and tired,’ she explained. ‘I’m always much more conversational and excited to talk to people when I’m sober, funnily enough.’ In fact, thousands of Melburnians each year participate in Febfast, Dry July and Ocsober, abstaining from alcohol for the whole month of February, July or October, in the process raising funds for various charities. Hello Sunday Morning is a more long-term commitment, with options of three or twelve months of sobriety.
For more regular social gatherings, there are groups such as Meetup’s ‘The Melbourne 20s – 30s Alcohol Free Social Group’, which currently has 2066 members. But those who stay sober don’t need to create new social activities for themselves – there are many permanent alcohol-free things to do in Melbourne that may already be a part of daily life for many. One of the most popular options is the volunteer-run vegan restaurant Lentil As Anything. Similarly, Crossways, Om Vegetarian and Gopals are all alcohol-free vegetarian restaurants run by the Hare Krishna community. Melburnians craving a kick-start to their hangover-free day can participate in Morning Gloryville, an alcohol-free rave running from 6:30 am to 10:30 am. For those who prefer to groove after dinner, alcohol-free dance events are never hard to find on Friday or Saturday nights.
Melbourne is facing up courageously to the challenge of providing alcohol-free alternatives in such a drinking-oriented city. Janaka says of the gigs and events he attends in Melbourne, ‘You’re actually going there to appreciate and enjoy the music and the atmosphere and the people… and I think you don’t need to drink to do it.’ And perhaps this attitude, which already seems to be gaining momentum, will spread beyond Generation Y and influence the younger generations to depend less on alcohol as a necessary ingredient for a fun time. Cheers to that!