Schoolies — the full story
Schoolies — the full story
The term ‘schoolies’ can instil fear in parents, but graduation celebrations can be safe, fun and rewarding.
By Briar Jensen
Schoolies, or school-leavers week, is seen as a rite of passage for those finishing high school. It’s a chance to unwind, have fun and celebrate independence. Festivities start when final exams finish, traditionally mid-November. Official drug and alcohol-free schoolies events include concerts, dances and parties, which require photo ID registration for entry, ensuring only school-leavers can attend. Several companies specialise in organising schoolies trips and offer secure accommodation and exclusive events.
So where is safest – Australia or overseas? Phil Sylvester from Travel Insurance Direct says, ‘Most of the trouble schoolies get themselves into is self-inflicted – and they can do that anywhere’.
Queensland’s Gold Coast is regarded as the home of schoolies and attracts the largest numbers, but other popular spots are Airlie Beach, Magnetic Island, Byron Bay, Coffs Harbour, Lorne and Phillip Island. Festivities in Queensland run for three weeks, with Queensland, NSW and Victorian students holidaying at different times. Queensland students celebrate first, and as they are mostly 17 and unable to visit licenced venues, the Queensland government and local councils organise alcohol-free events. However, any school leaver can attend any of the three weeks.
Comprehensive security arrangements, together with involvement by local councils, police and volunteer organisations like Red Frogs, make Australian destinations extremely safe. Of the 25,000 students that attended the first week of Gold Coast schoolies in 2018, there were just 66 schoolies arrests and 99 non-schoolies arrests; but, as Jot Lynas of Unleashed Travel says, ‘It’s the maturity and behaviour of the individual that plays the largest role in safety at any destination’.
Image by Jürgen Jester from Pixabay
Fiji, Vanuatu, Bali, Thailand and Europe are fast becoming popular due to specialist companies like Unleashed Travel, and the all-inclusive costs are sometimes comparable to travelling to the Gold Coast. Options take in cruises, resort stays, island hopping, adventure activities and coach tours, including alcohol-free options. Safety is paramount with exclusive use of resorts, no duty-free alcohol and accompanying Unleashed Crew and Red Frog volunteers.
While drink spiking or methanol substitution, robbery and drugs are perceived as problems in Bali, most schoolies companies provide additional security at resorts, and work closely with local support services and Red Frog volunteers to keep kids safe. Matt Lloyd of Schoolies.com suggests reading up on local laws and customs before travelling, as they may differ significantly to Australia. See the Smart Traveller website for advice on overseas schoolies. https://smartraveller.gov.au/guide/Pages/schoolies-leavers.aspx
Some teens prefer a cultural experience or to volunteer abroad. World Youth Adventures (WAY), a division of World Expeditions, offers trips in Nepal, Vietnam and Thailand. Brad Atwal of WYA says, ‘These are not the usual “stay-in-the-samehotel- for-the-week” schoolies trips; every day is somewhere different’. Visit https://www.worldyouthadventures.com/School-Leavers-Schoolies-Adventures
Unleashed Travel has Project Cambodia, a two-week trip involving work at an orphanage and teaching English. Visit https://www.unleashedtravel.com.au/trips/cambodia-volunteer/#!/Cambodia+Volunteer
Scripture Union offers alcohol and drug-free schoolies trips to Fraser Island, the Whitsundays, Melbourne and Hawaii. https://su-schoolies.com/
Destiny Rescue is a Christian-based, non-profit organisation dedicated to rescuing children from sexual exploitation. They offer a 10-day schoolies team trip to Thailand, visiting rescue homes and helping out at learning centres. https://www.destinyrescue.org.au/get-involved/teams/schoolies/
Schoolies is often a teen’s first experience of independent travel, so help them with booking, interpreting accommodation contracts or ‘house rules’, preparing a realistic budget, planning menus and shopping lists. Consider hosting a BBQ or setting up a Facebook group to discuss these things with your child’s friend group and their parents. Establish a schedule for staying in touch with your child, ensure they have enough phone credit and contact numbers for local help organisations, such as Red Frogs. https://redfrogs.com.au/programs/schoolies
While having fun is paramount, the longterm consequences of rash decisions can be devastating. An inappropriate photo on social media, a dodgy tattoo, broken jaw, sexually transmitted disease, unwanted pregnancy or criminal conviction can change a life forever. So talk about these things and the legal implications of drinking in public places, being underage on licenced premises and lending IDs. Help them form strategies to stay safe in any situation. See these websites for parental advice. Queensland Government schoolies site: https://www.saferschoolies.qld.gov.au/information/parents-guardians or Red Frogs: https://redfrogs.com.au/programs/schoolies/information-for-parents
Teens need to take responsibility for themselves and their friends and be mindful of other people living and working in schoolies areas. Encourage the teens to stay together, look out for each other, organise dedicated meeting spots and have the address of their accommodation written down.
Ensure your teens have travel insurance and abide by the conditions. As Sylvester says, insurance is a contract. ‘You sign a deal that says you’ll do everything in your power to keep out of trouble and won’t deliberately put yourself in harm’s way. That includes breaking the law, taking unnecessary risks, drinking to excess and drug use’. He offers the following advice to schoolies:
- Party at quieter bars or in a villa with invited guests.
- Drink only from sealed containers that you open yourself or see opened.
- Avoid the local spirit Arak in Bali, as it’s associated with most methanol poisoning.
- If you bump a bloke and spill his drink, offer to buy him a new one. Make a new friend, don’t start a fight.
Don’t book accommodation directly with a hotel that isn’t part of the schoolies program as many hotels do not accept schoolies or under 18 guests, and teens may be turned away on arrival.
Don’t buy party tours from street vendors. These may not give access to official schoolies activities and are often just glorified pub-crawls.
What schoolies say
Michael, went to Byron Bay
Highs: ‘The responsibility of having my own apartment; being able to do whatever I wanted; going hard out drinking every night; going kayaking and watching dolphins; waking up at 5.30 to catch the sunrise; eating at a lot of nice restaurants; drinking with other students from all around Australia.’
Lows: ‘Spending money; the fights that split up our group.’
Amy, went to the Central Coast
Highs: ‘Being with my best friends.’
Lows: ‘One of my best friends turned out to be a weirdo.’
Sam, went to Surfers Paradise
Highs: ‘The parties, non-stop drinking, people and the atmosphere; how safe it was with cops everywhere and Red Frogs to help.’
Lows: ‘Days got a tad boring due to everyone recovering.’
Eloise, went to Surfers Paradise
Highs: ‘The freedom; and the area was lovely.’
Lows: ‘So much fighting, people were immature.’
Jackson, went to Seminyak, Bali (self organised)
Highs: ‘Motorbike riding around the island; snorkelling, surfing, eating and drinking. The funniest moment was when my friend crashed and ruined his motorbike; having parties at our villa in the afternoon before going out. Going out in Kuta was pretty dirty, but fun all the same.’
Lows: ‘Getting food poisoning from a seafood calzone on the last day and having to watch from the bathroom as my mates set off the fireworks we bought.’
A parent’s perspective from Cate, a mother of three
‘Although schoolies attracts a lot of media attention and bad publicity, I've had two children attend schoolies on the Gold Coast with no problems. My daughter went in 2011. As a first time schoolies family, we were naïve regarding the popularity of the schoolies website for booking accommodation. Consequently, my daughter missed out on her preferred accommodation and ended up in an apartment further up the beach. However, although over-priced, the apartment was fine. The supervision and security provided was very good and she had a trouble-free week.
My son went two years later in 2013. He booked quickly on the schoolies website, as he was keen to secure a place in one of the more “popular” apartments. Unfortunately, when the boys arrived they were disappointed to find it was a bedsitter with no kitchen facilities, which wasn't clear when booking. The communal kitchen was filthy and didn't work for them. As a result, they spent a lot more money on eating out than they had budgeted for. My youngest son is planning on going to the Gold Coast in a couple of years claiming, “Rite of passage!”
Briar Jensen is a Sydney-based freelance travel writer, whose stories appear in a range of newspapers, travel magazines and online. She is a mother of two, the youngest of which recently spent his schoolies week in Fiji. See www.briarstravelbeat.com.au
**First published in Exploring Teens August/Septemeber 2015, Updated May 2019