I was driving back on the highway when I spotted the sign overhead. The words were big enough to be unmissable, followed by an 800 number. It was as if I temporary amnesia and woke up in a non-English speaking country at 110 kms an hour.  Dob a hoon?

Fortunately, there are any number of ‘strine’ (Austalian slang) dictionaries to consult, so I jumped on the computer.  Dob means to inform on somebody. A hoon is a hooligan. In this particular case I’m guessing that it refers to a guy who has recently been indicted for driving 250 kms an hour on the Hume highway.  In a Subaru, believe it or not.

It is odd that the authorities here feel that they have to encourage dobbing dangerous drivers, but then, this is an odd place, not dissimilar to Montana, the place I spent my early years. Montana has always been very attractive to outlaws, or ‘bushrangers’ in Australian terminology. Montanans do not ‘dob’ their neighbours, even if they know they have broken the law.

The man who came to be known as the ‘Unabomber’ holed up in Montana. He was turned in by his brother, not his neighbors. There is a deep-seated suspicion of authority, of anyone who wants to break the spirit of a man or put him behind bars. They call it ‘the last, best place.’

Like Americans, who transformed killers like Jessie James into heroes in the popular imagination, Australians have deified outlaws like Ned Kelly. In so doing, they have imbibed a dangerous mythology, one that almost encourages violence. The one redeeming difference is that in this country, at least, every man, woman and child does not own a handgun.

A young, Indian taxi driver was stabbed the night before last. The incident led to a protest by cabbies outside Flinders Street station, tying up traffic in the city for most of a day.

By mid-afternoon, the public transport minister agreed to the drivers’ request for safety screens. Half of the taxi drivers hail from India or Sri Lanka. Many are students, and it may be the only job they have in Australia. Drivers interviewed by the ‘Age’ reporter said they were robbed as often as once a week by drunk, belligerent passengers. Assaults are not uncommon. Many cited racism as a factor, but high alcohol intake is at its core.

A culture of binge drinking is the issue. It has been a serious problem since colonial days and continues to plague the land, especially among the Aborigines. Although natives of Detroit would find the level of danger in Melbourne trivial, the bars and clubs downtown have seen a troubling escalation in violence of late.

Authorities are finally attempting to tackle the issue. On April 28, a tax on the ready to drink alcoholic beverages known as ‘Alcopop’ was doubled, targeting the liquor that appeals mostly to young, female, underage drinkers. In June, a 2 AM lockout on pubs and clubs (covering four inner-Melbourne areas) will help put a stop to ‘venue hopping’, which seems to be a trigger for the surge in assaults.

I will surprised if it turns out that alcohol was not a factor in the tragic deaths of six young people in Sydney Harbour. Young people will always believe that they have to get drunk to have a good time. It’s time for their elders to stand up and say it simply isn’t so.

I think it is time to change the culture.  Too many lives have been lost already.