‘Chilled’ schoolies celebrations began last week as school leavers headed to Byron for sunburn, self-discovery, and the occasional loss of dignity.
Delayed exam timetables saw a slower than usual start to festivities, but numbers increased rapidly over the weekend as NSW and Victorian schoolies descended in droves. A total of 10,000 are expected over the three weeks.
Schoolies chose Byron, now Australia’s second largest destination, as an alternative to the ‘hectic’ Gold Coast. They also tend to focus on daytime activity rather than nightlife. A raft of services support them, all designed, according to Red Frog Team Leader Dan Joy, to be ‘the fence at the top of the cliff rather than the ambulance at the bottom.’
A roving team of 120 ‘Red Frogs’ meet schoolies on the streets, or bribe their way into their digs with offers of free candy.
‘Our DJs run a legendary stage on the Gold coast and this year we’ve brought them down to play in the park’ says head frog Dan, whose main aim is ‘show kids that they can have fun without drinking.’
Red Frogs also walk schoolies home safely, and help them clean their hotel rooms rather than lose their bond.
The Hub on main beach has a free chai stall, DJs and an undercover chill-out space.
‘We provide a safe place for schoolies, a focal point for them to meet, and anything they need,’ says Hub co-ordinator Nicqui Yazdi, whose 130+ volunteers ply schoolies with water, suncream and bandaids. Volunteers are trained to cope with serious incidents but these are rare.
‘Mostly we do a lot of mothering, they lose their phones, their friends, their wallets, sometimes their dignity, and we can help them get some of those things back.’
The Hub also runs ‘blow zero’ – an innovative program which rewards teeenagers who abstain from alcohol, or at least delay drinking until sundown.
‘Alcohol and teenage brains do not mix.’ says Yazdi.
Police presence increased significantly since last year, with 42 officers, four horses and one sniffer dog supplementing the local force. Schoolies response to the high presence was mixed, with some reassured, others intimidated.
‘We’re focusing on the responsible service and consumption of alcohol’ says Superintendent Wilkins of the Tweed LAC, who reports 150 policing incidents in the fist week of schoolies, mostly alcohol tip-outs – a drastic improvement over the 450 incidents recorded in the same period last year.
Byron Police Inspector Jago reported no serious incidents in the first week.
As for the kids, Chilled is the word.