Story Eve Jeffery
A weekend ahead of the official start of schoolies, Byron was a ‘war zone’ according to one youth worker who was on duty. She added that police ‘ran out’ of capsicum spray after violence escalated on the street on Friday night.
Deb Pearse from the Byron Youth Service was in town when things went awry. ‘It was shocking on Friday night,’ she said.
‘There were terrible fights. The police told me they used all the capsicum spray they had.
‘Staff at accident and emergency said there was a major head injury, other assaults, lots of stitches and treatment for pepper spray. They were all very drunk. A group of Mullum kids asked us for help and moved back to the Street Cruise bus when I told them to, but we rang the police because it was escalating. They responded really quickly. The fight moved down to the clock corner and became a really big fight. It looked like a war zone with police cars everywhere, an ambo in the middle of the road and kids all over the place. The main problem was older kids from up the coast.
‘They just wouldn’t back off.’
Police have confirmed the use of capsicum spray during a melee that took place in Byron on Friday night, but say this is usual for this time of year.
Reports of a large group of youth brawling in the CBD will hopefully not set the stage for the schoolies celebrations in coming weeks. It is expected thousands will visit the town during the annual end-of-school party.
Tweed Byron LAC superintendent Stuart Wilkins said that a team of 60 police, including police from the Tweed/Byron Local Area Command, assisted by the public order and riot squad, mounted unit, police transport command, traffic and highway patrol command, and dog unit, would conduct a high-visibility policing operation to ensure the safety and security of school leavers, and minimise the impact on the local community.
Superintendent Wilkins said that so far this year was no different from last year and he believes that the protagonists in this instance were group of youth from the Tweed area.
Elke van Haandel from the Byron Bay Liquor Accord says that self-imposed strategies are in place to help combat problems. ‘We have voluntarily agreed to not sell bombs, shots or doubles through this period as a measure to assist in the reduction of alcohol-related harm,’ she said. ‘As the demographic is so young and at risk of intoxication due to the nature of schoolies weeks we feel it is appropriate with eliminate these drink forms.’
Ms van Haandel says another strategy is that the licensed venues keep in touch with police, the BYS, Council, Byron Accommodation and Red Frogs.
She also says that earlybirds of some of the expected extra 10,000 schoolies have arrived.
‘We want the schoolies to have fun, know their limits and look out for their friends. Relax and enjoy beautiful Byron Bay with no regrets’.