At the end of my Year 12, we were given a stern lecture by the headmaster to leave the school grounds quietly and to remember that we were still in uniform and that we had also to remember the reputation of our school as a respectable place where decent people could send their sons.
Rebel that I was in 1966, I actually loosened my tie once liberated from the headmaster’s disapproving gaze. At 17, I threw caution, good taste and faithful obedience to the winds although not without a cautious backward glance.
And after making all sorts of promises to my classmates to stay in touch, I went home. And that was that for my schooling.
Today, some 70,000 Year 12 students mark the end of their school year by taking over popular resorts and, for many, it is a week of binge drinking, casual sex and, sometimes, mindless violence.
At the end of last year the “Australian Journal of Primary Health” published a survey done by the Flinders University (South Australia) School of Nursing and Midwifery. Alarmingly, it found that none – not even one – of their teenage survey group had the slightest bit of interest in hearing about the dangers of alcohol abuse.
In fact, no amount of safe-alcohol messaging would deter them from binge drinking and most said that they expected to get drunk every night of the week-long celebration. Now I can safely call that shocking because I didn’t start binge drinking until I was about 20. The high moral ground for me, to be sure.
Most alarmingly, according to the researchers, is that considerable planning was done about when to drink cheap alcohol. One Adelaide girl wrote in her survey response, “We actually organised a meeting that went for five hours deciding what alcohol we would spend our money on” while another wrote, “By the time you’re drunk enough on the nice drinks, you can just go to goon and it goes down really well anyway.”
I’m guessing that “goon” is whatever the cheap grog of choice is today – the equivalent of those bloody awful flagons of wine in my innocent youth.
A review of Schoolies Week at Victor Harbour in South Australia found that almost one-quarter of the young revellers sought on-site care for alcohol-related issues and half of them had to be admitted to hospital.
Schoolies Week began at Broadbeach on Queensland’s Gold Coast in the mid 1970s and quickly spread inter-State. Since then we have seen “Foolies”- kids as young as 10 – and “Toolies” – older tourists or locals attracted to the party. Among those are sexual predators just waiting to find a drunken teenager alone.
Queensland’s Gold Coast is the largest of the several destinations for schoolies and the most studied.
Over the years, it has developed a reputation for violence, vandalism, drug-taking and casual and unprotected sex even on the Surfers Paradise beach. To think that I could have innocently sat on my beach towel exactly where two randy teenagers were at it the night before make me feel sick. Well, perhaps not sick. Perhaps jealous would be more accurate.
Pharmacists have reported that sales of the morning after pill spike significantly during the week. The most violent schoolies week was in 2002 when local police were under-resourced and there were serious clashes every night. The following year the State Government took over the organisation from the Gold Coast City Council and far more police are deployed.
However, while that has been reasonably effective in controlling anti-social behaviour, the week at the Gold Coast sees a peak in the number of rapes, usually by older predators. Drug taking is also widespread with marijuana and ecstasy the drugs of choice although the dreaded ice has appeared.
From time to time there are calls to ban Schoolies Week which is a plainly ludicrous notion as it is not an event that is hosted like a concert but a now long-standing tradition. After all, the schoolies who party at the end of this year weren’t even born when the tradition began. No doubt some of the schoolies’ parents nowadays were schoolies themselves so I suppose for some of them at least it could be a case of “do as I say, not do as I did”.
As I have matured – I prefer that to “aged” – I have come to realise the truth in Shakespeare’s line in “Macbeth” about grog that, “It provokes the desire but takes away the performance”. It was in about 1989 that I decided that the night was going to be spent drinking or spent making love but doing the first and trying the second was an exercise in embarrassing futility.
Now there’s another reason why I hate these brash, arrogant kids. They can do both. Aren’t I pathetic?