Schoolies: a “rite of passage” or just plain wrong?
The concept of “Schoolies” grew up around southern Queensland – some would argue far too quickly - since the 1970s, when kids from elite private schools were let loose, following their final exams, to wreak havoc around the Broadbeach hotel.
Nearly 50 years on, do today’s parents in Central Queensland join with the Queensland Premier in commiserating this year’s graduates are missing out on a “rite of passage”, with all the solemnity and sanctity that phrase implies?
“I didn’t even know Schoolies existed,” wrote one gent from Mt Morgan.
“It was something some Brisbane kids did,” said a Rockhampton woman about her summer of ’91.
No doubt the government’s mindful just how much money the annual event turns over for the Gold Coast alone; it was reportedly about $60 million back at the beginning of the noughties.
What with all the downturn in business north of the border related to Covid-19, the absence of throngs of cashed-up teen descending on their hotels and entertainment venues will no doubt cause grief to innumerable businesses who have come to rely on the Schoolies sugar hit.
But it seems parents of Year 12 students in 2020 are silently offering a prayer of thanks they’re not faced with the annual “But everyone else gets to go to Schoolies!” argument.
Is the Premier wildly out of step with CQ parents in asserting that Schoolies has become a normal part of a young Australian’s life?
“Most probably the pompous families kicking up a stink to be honest,” wrote one CQ parent on an online forum.
“I think the money they would’ve spent should be put into savings.”
“Save for a trip!” wrote another parent. “Save for the first car, those kind of things.”
So first, there’s the question of money. Not just in this particularly difficult year, for many working parents, the cost of taking a week out of life to stay in a hotel and eat out and party hard with friends is something they can’t afford for themselves let alone for their 17-year old son or daughter.
Second, there’s the danger.
“Too many irresponsible unsupervised people in such groups often spells disaster,” one Mum said.
“Now, more than ever, it should be cancelled… better still, banned for good.”
Numerous attempts have been made by (taxpayer-funded) organisations to disassociate Schoolies from the image of a booze-and-drug fuelled orgy of violence to little avail.
There were calls to ban it following the summer of 2009, when 30 arrests were made in one night.
In the past two years alone, two teenagers fell to their deaths from balconies of South Queensland hotels. Meanwhile a Monash study suggests about one-fifth of Schoolies are subjected to alcohol-fuelled harm.
And as the swell of cashed-up and undersupervised teenagers grows, so too do the number of attendant drug pushers and sexual predators who comprise any parents’ worst nightmare.
“If you’re worried about your precious children and their rite of passage, then take small groups to places like Keppel or the awesome camping spots we have all around Queensland,” said a mum of four.
“Crank the music up, have camp fires, party.”
Third, there’s the very notion of “rite of passage” which the Premier bandies about. If it marks an important transition in a teenager’s life, one needs to ask, “transition from what”?
How many 17-year olds, in 2020, have spent their lives to date in a state of perpetual, studious abstinence, protected by their parents from drinking alcohol and prevented from partying hard with their pals?
And if by chance there are a few pure-as-driven-snow such teens remaining in Central Queensland, did their parents intend to let them loose at Schoolies?
“I went to Schoolies. I got absolutely plastered,” said a Rockhampton gent.
“Passed out in some questionable locations, got in some rum induced fights.
“Would I let my kids go to Schoolies… yeah, look, probably not!”
Is Schoolies a “rite of passage”, as the Premier puts it, which has become normalised as a family tradition all across Australia?
Or is it an overhyped marketing plot which puts kids at risk and their parents in the unenviable position of having to justify saying no to just one more thing their kids think they need and want?