When Elspeth Muir’s younger brother, Alexander, hit the town with his mates in 2009, he was like many other university students celebrating the end of exams. But unlike his friends, Alexander didn’t make it home that night.
Instead, Alexander walked on to the Story Bridge, put his phone, wallet, T-shirt and thongs on the walkway, and jumped into the Brisbane River. He was 21 years old, and when police divers pulled his body out of the water three days later, his blood alcohol level measured almost .250 – about five times the legal limit for driving.
Alexander's tragic death is the focus of Muir's haunting memoir Wasted: A Story of Alcohol, Grief and a Death in Brisbane. In it, she examines her family’s terrible grief, her own experiences of drinking and her brother’s behaviour in the years leading up to his death.
“After Alexander died I became fixated on figuring out how he arrived at a point where his drinking was so out of hand that he jumped off a bridge, and why none of us who knew the extent of his drinking thought he had a problem,” Muir told Good Reading Magazine.
Muir tries to make sense of her brother’s death, placing it within the broader Australian binge drinking culture. She returns to Schoolies, speaks with victims and advocates, and wonders about her own complicity and culpability in excusing Alexander’s drinking.
“It never occurred to me that I had a problem with drinking or that Alexander had a problem with drinking, despite the many incidents that indicated we did,” she writes. “The way we drank was just how everybody we knew drank.”
With king hits, coward punches, and alcohol-related violence and sexual assault dominating the headlines, there has never been a more important time to question the costs of Australia’s excessive alcohol consumption. As Muir concludes of her brother’s death, “What a waste of a life that was.”
Hear Elspeth Muir discuss her deeply personal memoir and Australia’s drinking culture on Sunday 11 September at 10am. She will also read excerpts from her book on Friday 9 September at 2pm.