Schoolies trouble a numbers game as states fail to spread the love

In Featured Home Page News, Queensland

By Philip Clark of

The tragic death of a 17-year-old on the Gold Coast who fell from a high rise balcony during schoolies celebrations underlines why the prospect of young people getting together to have fun seems to spark such annual anxiety in the national parental psyche.

I know the departure of thousands of our well-scrubbed cherubs to schoolies is a source of mass moral panic because I understand that when young people get together there is high-risk behaviour.

The annual northerly migration to Byron, Bali, the Gold Coast or wherever, leaves legions of parents at home worried and fretful, biting their nails and drinking heavily to steady their nerves. (Well OK, that last part is me and yes, I do someday hope to model other tension relieving techniques to my children.) As this week’s tragedy shows, our fears are not groundless yet I can’t lose sight of the fact that schoolies is a celebratory rite of passage that at its heart is about having fun.

My youngest is off to Byron this weekend and she can’t wait. Who could blame her? Schoolies is what kids dream of all through the long dreary days of the HSC. As they wade through Caesar’s campaigns in Gaul and wrestle with logarithms they yearn to be wading through oceans of Smirnoff Double Black cans and wrestling with each other.

Frankly I think it’s fair enough.

Schoolies is the impossible dream, a potential nirvana of drinking and staying up late and last times together with your schoolmates, of nights on the beach with just two or three and packed like sardines in a sweaty club with the rest. Of the tantalising prospects of sex and relationships. After the ridiculous pressure of the modern HSC it’s a chance to open the door and discover that the world is wide and whatever you want you can find.

Of course the reality won’t measure up. Those older and wiser know that a week-long bender always seems better in prospect that it turns out to be but that is for them to find out.

A lot of schoolies look back and wonder what all the fuss was about, of going to the same club every night, of arguments in the house, getting no sleep and being glad to get back home. That’s OK.

I suspect that parents find it easy to judge partly because we know more. We worry about pills and personal safety. That’s OK too.

Young people get a bad enough rap. Let them have this week and pray to whatever god there is that they get home safely.

Perhaps it’s the thought of all that bond money at risk that so obsesses parents.

Or perhaps it’s the tired media stereotype of schoolies as a week of lawlessness, drug taking and predatory toolies. Every year you get the impression that reporters on the Gold Coast just dial in the story.

Perhaps some of the parental anxiety bubbles from the wellspring of jealous longing. After all schoolies only began on the Gold Coast in the late 70s. When I finished school it was a Thursday afternoon. I had stashed a bottle of Boags beer in my schoolbag and was hoping to drink it on the library steps with my mates. The headmaster promptly ordered us off the grounds so I went home on the bus and spent the summer painting the garage with Dad. I raised this issue once on radio and a listener told me that at his school there was a final assembly where the year 12s were invited to stay behind. They gathered at the back of the hall and were treated to a bottle of Fanta and fairy bread. Kids have no idea how to have fun these days.

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