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Dec 4, 2012

It’s fun until you get herpes: students discuss schoolies

The media portrays the schoolies pilgrimage as dangerous and debauched. But what do the students think? Melbourne secondary school teacher Chris Fotinopoulos asks his year 11 students.

With schoolies drawing to a close, it seemed a good time to ask some of my students what they thought of the high-profile rite of passage. Is it really the debauched, dangerous event shown in the media?

One female year 11 student told me there were idiots at schoolies who “do nothing more than get drunk and fall over, however people like that are found everywhere”. “Besides,” she said, “do you really think the media would bother reporting on a group of teenagers sitting on the beach making new friends, talking and having a laugh?”

Over the last fortnight we’ve heard from educators, social commentators, parents, and politicians, but apart from a brief sound grab from boozed-drenched teenagers on the Gold Coast or Bali we rarely get to hear what teenagers themselves think. So I asked a group of year 11 students for their take on an event that has become, as the student welfare co-ordinator at the school I teach put it, “a rite of passage that most students feel pressured to be part of”.

We started out by checking out, which the students inform me is the official website. Images of teenagers dancing in nightclubs and frolicking in the surf tell a story of “fun without limits”, as the slogans that scroll across the screen say. A boy points out these wholesome images seem to be in stark contrasted with what’s on Facebook: “Nearly every schoolies picture posted on Facebook includes a drink and someone passed out on the sofa or the pavement.”

“Schoolies is all about getting drunk, popping pills and not remembering who you slept with that night, which might sound like fun — until you get herpes,” one girl said, adding “although I believe it’s over-rated I’m still planning to go”.

Her friend, a self-confessed seasoned partygoer, said she too was looking forward to “drinking, popping a few, throwing up and helping out mates in bitch fights”.

But don’t you think you should be focusing on your studies rather than planning a social event that is, according to the official countdown clock, 353 days, two hours 38 minutes and 40 seconds away? A girl who was trawling the site “for info” looked up, gave me one of those “what-ever” looks, and continued browsing.

Most of the boys were happy to leave it up to the girls to organise things. “They’re much better at planning parties,” pointed out a boy who didn’t seem enthusiastic about schoolies.

I asked how their parents felt about them attending schoolies. “My parents are letting me go, but reluctantly,” said one girl, adding “as any caring and loving parents, they are quite concerned by the images we get fed by the news”. One boy didn’t seem to care what his parents thought. “I will be 18 by then and there is not much they can do to stop me.”

A student whose sister attended schoolies two years ago explained that her sister was particularly impressed with the way the police related to her and her friends: “The cops were quite different to how they talk to teenagers on any given Saturday night in Melbourne, they treated my sister and her friends like adults, which led them to behave like adults.”

So how do they explain the ugly side of schoolies? “Of course there’s an ugly side to schoolies, there’s an ugly side to everything,” snapped one seasoned party-goer.

One girl described schoolies as “another Australian tradition, which has developed in the same way as Australia Day, grand final day and the Boxing Day Test celebrations … which is just another excuse to get drunk”.

“If I’m going to spend that much money on a trip, I’d want to use it as more than just an excuse to get wasted and throw up on myself.”

While some students didn’t want to miss out, they felt official schoolies events were far too costly. “I have a part-time job and I want to hopefully save up at least half of the money I’d like to spend for schoolies, which is roughly $5000,” one said.

One girl said she was not going to schoolies because “if I’m going to spend that much money on a trip, I’d want to use it as more than just an excuse to get wasted and throw up on myself”. Another girl was planning to spend her hard-earned money on partying with friends at a later date. And a couple of boys were contemplating a road trip with their mates.

The industrious types said they would be taking advantage of the summer break to increase their work hours to earn enough money for an overseas trip next year. A girl who enjoys live music said she would need every cent of her savings to see her favourite bands at summer music festivals.

There were a group of students who made it clear they would not be going anywhere near those who didn’t have anything do with them at school. As a self-described “nerd” put it: “Why should I join them on the Gold Coast, Byron Bay or Bali when they had nothing to do with me for my entire school life?”

For this student, schoolies had nothing to do with the studious. These so called “traditional” schoolies’ events were, as his friend put it, “for those who party virtually every week”.

The discussion ended with one boy predicting it “won’t be long before all hell breaks loose at these events”. Why? “Given that these ‘traditional’ celebrations essentially attract white Anglo-Saxon groups on a mass scale, it’s just a matter of time before we witness a violent ethnic clash reminiscent of the Cronulla riots.”

“Just wait ’til large non-Anglo groups start encroaching on Gold Coast turf during schoolies,” added a boy who was from a non-Anglo background. I noticed a few of his friends nodding.

I found the students were just as interested in how older blokes like me celebrated the end of their secondary schooling. “So what did you get up to, sir?” We played up a bit on the last day of school. “Did you get wasted?” Most of us drank at the local park throughout the night and played pranks on teachers and students the following day. “What did you do after that?” Many of us caught up with friends over the summer break. But unlike you we didn’t have the option of attending official schoolies events.

Seems quite tame really.

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9 thoughts on “It’s fun until you get herpes: students discuss schoolies

  1. Andrew McMillen

    Great read Chris, thanks for sharing this. You’re right in that the students themselves aren’t heard from much when it comes to Schoolies coverage – the vast majority we hear is from adults moralising the choices of teenagers.


    in my day we went to Lorne for two weeks. There were the “Children of God” types loitering around the beach trying to turn us on to Christianity. At least these days they hand out jelly baby frogs and don’t seem to be too much like a cult. Good Times. Oh yeah on the last day of school we covered each other in flour then ran down the beach to dive in fully clothed into the sea. The nuns at school said we’d have to behave ourselves when we got to university and we nodded politely and said ok.

  3. Bob the builder

    I finished school 20 years ago in Sydney and schoolies at the Gold Coast was well and truly entrenched them … though not as ‘organised’, read commercialised.
    I had no interest in going and it wasn’t something that everyone did, but lots of people did go. Probably not much has changed – ugly then, ugly now.

  4. pritu

    I wonder how the average school leaver today copes with the barrage of pressure to consume the commercialised touristy stuff and keep the breweries and grog shop in business at the stage of life when being part of the crowd is so important for most of them. Seems to sort out the well adjusted from the rest.

  5. James Butler

    Schoolies, just like spring break or whatever is purely commercial event. Majority of high schoolers are often ‘pressured’ to be with the crowd, to be popular, so they go to this event. In my Generation (Y), being popular and part of the crowd was important but not as psychopathic at it is with the current generation. We would never really go out of our way like getting od from drugs ,or getting overdrunk or even HIV or herpes.

    I also feel bad for the ethnic high schoolers from all backgrounds, who are usually left out of schoolies, because the white high schoolers dominate this event and usually don’t approve of ethnic minorities.

  6. Gerry Hatrick, OAP

    [Lower-performing students]
    Yep, spot on. I shed a tear whenever I hear that Australia has lost another checkout person due to a schoolies incident. What a waste of a perfectly mediocre life.


    @gerry hatrick
    does oap mean old age pensioner? or troll? I would comment that your post seems needlessly unkind, classist not to mention ageist but that’s probably what you’re expecting me to do. Will I never learn?


    Lord, give us the wisdom to utter words that are gentle and tender, for tomorrow we may have to eat them.
    -Sen. Morris Udall

  9. Gabi Crawford

    I’m in year 11, and planning my schoolies trip for next year at the moment. I’m going to Byron Bay because I have been there with my family, I know the area, and it’s a nice place. I just want to go away with my friends because we are all going separate ways after school. I have no interest in following the crowd, nor do I have any interest in taking drugs, getting drunk to the point of vomiting, or sleeping with strange boys I’ve never met. I don’t think the media representations of these few weeks are outrageous as I know there are some groups who do go out to do these things, but from my personal experience, it is not the majority. My parents are usually fairly strict but they aren’t hesitant whatsoever in letting me go to schoolies next year. It really depends on where you’re going and the type of groups that go. Of course there are some wild groups but that is just 17-18 year olds in general. As stated by one of Chris’ students, they are usually the ones who party every week anyway. And lets not forget the ‘toolies’ – the older people who go to schoolies and often times wreck more havoc than us school leavers!