On the Sauce: Taking a sobering look at alcohol

In his new three-part ABC documentary series On The Sauce, Shaun Micallef takes a look at Australia's attitudes to alcohol and how they've changed over time.
In his new three-part ABC documentary series On The Sauce, Shaun Micallef takes a look at Australia's attitudes to alcohol and how they've changed over time.


For his new three-part documentary series On The Sauce, Shaun Micallef did a little suffering for his art.

A teetotaller for around three decades, he decided to have a drink for the series, which looks at Australians and alcohol.

It was all under medical supervision at Melbourne's Swinburne University, where he had a few drinks and underwent some tests to see what effect it had on his motor skills and cognitive function.

While it meant breaking the drought - if only briefly - Micallef was more concerned about whether he might end up tipsy and make a fool of himself

"That was the one I was really worried about," he says.

"I don't mind looking like an idiot, but only if it's deliberate. I could lean into it and have some laughs if I'm in control but if I'm out of control it just gets a bit sad. So I had some trepidation there but when I watched it back I thought I wasn't too bad."

Micallef had his first drink at his 18th birthday and his last one sometime in his mid-20s.

Prone to "over-drinking" in his university years, he admits in the first episode that he had a wake-up call when his fiancee and her mother found him unconscious outside the university bar.

While talking about that and other exploits on camera was "embarrassing" he realised it was only fair that he exposed himself first.

"I really couldn't expect to get people to talk about it in this documentary if I wasn't equally prepared to bare my neck to them, so I came clean at the beginning," he says.

As a non-drinker in Australia he has been faced with having to knock back an offer of booze, and he finds that some people don't take too kindly to that.

"This is the thing - when when you do say no, it's instantly taken to be a judgement about the person who has offered you the drink," he says.

" 'What are you saying about me by saying no?'. So it's kind of really got nothing to do with the person who's said no. It's got more to do with the feelings of guilt, they start to question themselves."

On The Sauce journeys to 18th birthdays, B&S balls, wine tastings and boozy book clubs, while also visiting a hospital ER on a busy night and talking to a family friend who lost her brother when he drowned after a drinking bender.

It looks at how deeply embedded alcohol is in Australia; it's used to celebrate births and marriages, to mourn at wakes.

It's there when you're sharing an experience with others and it's there when you're alone and lonely.

"If you went through life without thinking about it at all, you'd assume it was pretty normal," he says.

"If this documentary achieves nothing else, it's just to be able to stop and think about it [alcohol] for a moment."

If part of the aim is to educate people and make them stop and think about alcohol, then the series has already done that for Micallef.

"One of the big takeaways that I got from this doco was that alcohol is a class one carcinogen," Micallef says.

"I knew it was bad for you, but I didn't know it was that bad. You will up your chances of cancer if you have a drink, it's just the way it is. That was big news to me, I didn't know that."

On The Sauce

Tuesday, 8.30pm, ABC