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Alcohol and Us: Sydney


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In our backyards, balconies and beer gardens – Australians get along famously with booze. Drinking is an entrenched part of our national identity: it’s a recurrent theme in our pop culture, a scene-setter for friendship, a supposedly inherent part of work and play.

Lately, though, as the personal, social and public health costs of drinking become clear, many Australians are reconsidering our indulgent traditions. Some have even suggested that alcohol will go the way of the cigarette once its connection to chronic or life-threatening illnesses is fully acknowledged.

Writer Jenny Valentish’s book, Woman of Substances, tells her own story (as well as those found in rehab facilities, halfway houses and AA groups) as she explored the paths people take into and out of addiction. In the process, she discovered that women’s experiences of substance abuse and treatment differ greatly from those of men.

Valentish joins researcher Michael Bowen, broadcaster and author Wendy Harmer and host Kate Jinx for a fresh discussion about Australia’s changing relationship with alcohol, and how we can anticipate and deal with the side effects. Actor Nikki Shiels (The Rover) will perform a short piece to open the conversation.

Presented in partnership with Sydney Writers’ Festival and Belvoir.


Jenny Valentish

Jenny Valentish is a regular contributor to the Sydney Morning Herald and the Saturday Paper, and former editor of Time Out Melbourne and Triple J’s Jmag. She grew up in Slough, a satellite town of London, and moved to Australia in 2006. She quit drinking in 2009, whi... Read more

Wendy Harmer

Wendy Harmer is one of Australia’s most versatile entertainers – broadcaster, author, journalist and stage performer – and is the editor-in-chief of The Hoopla, a daily online news and magazine website. She was a contestant in Celebrity Masterchef in 2009. As a stand-up comedian she performed ... Read more

Michael Bowen

Michael Bowen is a National Health and Medical Research Council Doherty Biomedical Fellow and Senior Lecturer based at the University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Centre. Dr Bowen’s expertise is in applying cutting edge cellular and preclinical research techniques to central nervous system drug di... Read more

Kate Jinx

Kate Jinx is a writer, broadcaster and film curator (mostly). She is the director of programming at Golden Age Cinema in Sydney, and appears regularly on ABC TV’s arts and culture programs The Mix and The Critics. Jinx is currently a PhD candidate at UNSW in cinema and cultural history, and has pr... Read more

Nikki Shiels

Nikki Shiels made her Belvoir debut last year in Twelfth Night or What You Will. For Malthouse Theatre, she has appeared in Night on Bald Mountain, The Dragon, Elizabeth – Almost by Chance a Woman and Picnic at Hanging Rock, which subsequently toured to Edinburgh in early 2017 opening at the Roya... Read more


Belvoir St Theatre

25 Belvoir St, Surry Hills, NSW 2010

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The Wheeler Centre acknowledges the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung people of the Kulin Nation as the traditional owners of the land on which we work. We pay our respects to the people of the Kulin Nation and all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders, past and present.