Drugs, alcohol-related violence and DUI tragedies aren’t brought to town by school-leavers argues Nicqui Yazdi
The third year of the Byron Schoolies Safety Response and the Schoolies HUB has come to an end. Once again this year, it has been a very successful event, helping to protect the local community and keep the youngest of our visitors safe while they were here on their special end-of-year-12 celebrations. Not everyone in the Byron community is happy about these types of celebrations; in fact, many would say that this type of rite of passage is unnecessary and should be stopped. Unfortunately, there’s pretty much nothing that can be done to stop Schoolies, so the best we can do, as a community, is to respond to the influx of these visitors each year, and do what we can to keep these celebrations under control.
There has been much said these past two weeks about the heavy police presence in town and as the coordinator of the Byron Schoolies Safety Response and the HUB, I felt it was only fair that the community be better informed as to why the police presence was important to this year’s response. Schoolies anywhere is traditionally a time of high police activity; Byron is no exception to this. In fact, in Byron Bay, the highest number of police events have traditionally been in the month of November. Whether or not this is because of Schoolies isn’t really the point. The point is that it is a problem time here. Last year, the national media did a total beat-up of Byron, reporting incorrectly on a small fight that took place on Main Beach during Schoolies. They made it out to be an all-in-brawl, which it wasn’t, but the damage was done and we needed to respond to the potential that this kind of thing can actually happen here, and particularly during Schoolies.
Another issue is the fact that we do not have any actual state government funding to assist with our safety response. The funds for what we do are gathered throughout the year, through small grants, donations and sponsorship. This is an all-year-round effort to find this money. Having had the police declare Schoolies in Byron a police event will now assist us to look for much needed state government funding.
In defence of the police that came here to help out – they actually did a great job. There has been a reduction in crime this year during Schoolies and the main two reasons for this are the police presence and the Schoolies HUB in Main Beach Park.
I understand that for many, the first weekend of having these extra police in town was quite confronting. But the question needs to be asked, why were people so confronted by this? If you’ve got nothing to hide and you’re behaving appropriately, then what is the problem?
I had much feedback about the RBT in Byron over Schoolies and the drug dogs. Another very important point that needs to be understood by the Byron community is that our statistics here for crime are extremely high all year round, especially for alcohol-related driving offences and alcohol-related violence. We have ranked number one in all of NSW for alcohol-related driving offences for more than a decade! Our road death toll also reflects this, particularly with very high numbers of youth deaths. During Schoolies, there are young people walking the streets of Byron, often long distances, at night, in order to return to their accommodation. This is especially problematic if they are intoxicated. Add into that the high numbers of people who get in their cars intoxicated on alcohol and other drugs and the potential for disaster is obvious. But of course, this is actually a problem all year round: there is no night transport here, other than taxis, which of course, most young people just can’t afford, so they walk – to Suffolk Park, Sunrise and even as far as Ewingsdale and Tyagarah. And they run the risk of being hit by cars with intoxicated drivers. If you look at the statistics of these drink-drivers, many of them are local people, not visitors. If you drink or do drugs and drive, you are more than a bloody idiot, you could potentially become a murderer!
When it comes to the drug dogs, they are here to stay. They’ve been here for a few years now and if you’re not carrying drugs, then, once again, where’s the problem? Ask any of the HUB volunteers about the night shifts in the HUB and they’ll all tell you that, other than alcohol, there were also young people totally out of it and very unwell on things like ecstasy and MDMA. Someone is selling them this stuff, as it’s not likely that they all had it in their suitcases when they flew here. Drug dealing at Schoolies is almost as traditional as Schoolies itself. And, once again, this is an all-year-round problem here. Someone sells all those drugs to our local kids too, the ones that are out and about in town and the parks every weekend. We are talking kids as young as 13–15.
As for the Public Order and Riot Squad and the Mounted Police, they are a special type of police, who are used in high-traffic events. They all came here from other places. Not having done Schoolies before, the first weekend was probably a bit scary for them too. Like anyone else, they would have had a vision of Schoolies as the media-portrayed Gold Coast-style event, thousands of out-of-control teens, with lots of fighting fuelled up on alcohol and drugs. Byron Schoolies is nothing like this (thankfully) and it took them a few days to settle into the vibe of the Byron style of Schoolies. The second weekend that they were here was more like an exercise in good PR; the feedback we got from the visiting schoolies was that they enjoyed the police presence; it made them feel safe. They loved the horses and were happy that they had chosen to come to Byron over other Schoolies destinations such as the Gold Coast or Bali. Byron Schoolies is chilled out and, most importantly, safe!
Personally, I am grateful for the extra police; they made our job a lot easier this year. They helped to keep the alcohol and bottles out of the park, they dealt with potentially violent situations and they came to the assistance of the HUB volunteers and the Red Frogs fast and efficiently. And we hope they will all be back next year, to help us to keep Schoolies in Byron under control.
The Schoolies will be back again next year and so will the Byron Schoolies Safety Response and the Schoolies HUB, hopefully with some state government funding.
Byron Schoolies Safety Response