Imagine this. An Aussie bloke walks into a country pub and orders a water - and no-one bats an eyelid. That’s the day Shanna Whan will know she’s achieved her life’s goal.
After almost losing her own life to alcohol addiction in 2015, Shanna’s spent the past seven years working tirelessly to create change, advocacy and community connection in the bush when it comes to our love of booze.
After 15,000 solo volunteer hours, in what she describes as a ‘hard, long slog’, Shanna created the not-for-profit Sober in the Country (SITC) in 2019 and the ‘OK2SAYNO’ campaign.
The campaign has saved countless lives across the bush and created huge change when it comes to how we talk about alcohol. It hasn’t come through telling people what to do or how to do it either. After all, Shanna says she would never have copped that approach herself. Rather than being an anti-alcohol message, SITC aims to support those who simply say ‘no thanks’. Enjoy that beer - but make it okay when your mates pass.
There’s not a day that goes by without someone reaching out to Shanna to share how SITC has changed their course. A self-described ‘very ordinary’ person, it’s that exact quality that connects Shanna with the everyday, country person - she is them.
“I never claim it as an individual because I can't save anyone's life but because of the conversations that have been generated, we're saving lives every single day and it blows my mind,” Shanna says.
“This charity and the message in this conversation is literally changing the course of outback Australia and how we talk about, and do alcohol, and it's not because I'm extraordinary. I’m a girl from the bush and my story, my face, my background is infinitely relatable to almost every country person.”
When Shanna travels the country chatting with 18-year-old jillaroos, she’s talking to her younger self. When she’s supporting a woman in her 40s who’s finally reaching out for help after 20 years of alcohol abuse, she’s throwing out her own lifeline. From 18-year-olds to 80-year-olds, her story has resonated with thousands across the country.
Today, Shanna’s found her passion and purpose - something that seemed unimaginable to the woman just trying to survive seven years ago. She’s redefined her own version of success.
“To me success now would be a continuation of this work well beyond my life,” she says.
“It means amplifying what I’m doing, exponentially, and continuing to save lives in the bush. I think that if my near death experience was to give me a gift, then I’m on target to do exactly what I was put on this earth to do.”
And while she’s certainly no stranger to the accolades - hello Pro Bono Impact 25 winner 2021 where she was recently acknowledged as one of the top 25 influencers in the pro bono space across Australia - Shanna won’t be putting her hand up for the term ‘influencer’ or ‘guru’ anytime soon. It’s the peer recognition she says continues to humble her daily.
“I’m not in it for prestige or money, because there’s certainly none of that. I do it because it’s the right thing to do so when my work is acknowledged by peers from one end of Australia to the other, it’s truly mind-blowing,” she says.
SITC receives no government assistance in its mission to make rural and regional Australia sustainable. It is funded through generous individuals and organisations. If you recognise the value in the work SITC continues to do daily and you’re in a position to collaborate, or support SITC, please make a donation at soberinthecountry.org