Dean Saffron

Schoolies make their own choices

FROM November 19 to 26, thousands of Year 12 graduates will throw down their books, pack their bags, and hit the beach to soak up the fun of Schoolies' Week.

While the thought of the 2011 Schoolies' Week activities may fill them with excitement and anticipation, their parents may be less than enthusiastic - concerned for their children's welfare, safety and well-being and finally realising their youngsters are all grown up.

Since its inception in the 1980s, the week has represented a coming of age for youth from all over Australia, who head to popular destinations such as the Gold and Sunshine Coasts.

One Sunshine Coast teen who is ready to ride the schoolies' rollercoaster is Kawana State College student Meagan MacKenzie.

Eagerly planning for the upcoming celebrations since last year, Meagan said she could barely wait to start the week-long festival.

"I am most looking forward to getting away and partying for a week," she said.

Together with her four friends from school, the 17-year-old has already saved up enough money for the trip, prepared photo IDs, and organised transport to and from the Gold Coast.

The girls also managed to book a room at a prominent Gold Coast high-rise hotel and are now making solid plans for how to spend their week.

"We wanted a good location and many places book up quickly," she said.

"We are just going to have fun and enjoy the time away."

Meagan said she had no expectations of Schoolies' Week, but advice from past Schoolies' Week partygoers encouraged Meagan to want to make the most of her time on the Gold Coast.

"It's really going to be what you make it," she said.

As a former schoolie, 20-year-old Anthea Woodburn agrees wholeheartedly.

"Schoolies' (Week) was really fun. I would definitely go and do it again (if I could)," Anthea said.

"Every kid deserves to experience Schoolies' (Week) on the Gold Coast, or anywhere."

However, Anthea said that apart from the beach parties, few other activities were organised for school leavers, who were forced to make their own fun.

The Siena Catholic College alumni caught a train to Gold Coast for Schoolies' Week in 2009.

Instead of staying in a hotel, Anthea and her friends opted for a week in a Broadbeach caravan park.

"It was pretty cheap which was good," she said.

"It was a lot better than staying at a hotel. It's a lot more social and open and you wouldn't have to worry about breaking things.

"We were three kilometres away from Surfers (Paradise), so we were also pretty close to the action."

Anthea admitted to witnessing wild schoolies' antics, but she believes the idea the celebrations were dangerous was overstated.

"There were fights and people getting done for drugs, but it wasn't dangerous," she said.

"It wasn't as crazy as the media portrayed it to be.

"But they might be a lot stricter now, since drugs and alcohol with kids is more of a common issue."

For students in the middle of preparing for Schoolies' Week, Sydney-based social worker Dominic Mapstone has established an ultimate schoolies survival guide at www.schoolies.org.au.

"It is a site where schoolies can go to look at the dos and don't that are relatable to young people who attend Schoolies," Mr Mapstone said.

The survival guide covers forum topics such as violence, sexual assault, drink spiking, and interacting with police and security.

Compiled by former schoolies, Mr Mapstone encourages parents and students to read up on the website's safety tips and necessary information before leaving for Schoolies' Week.

"It is an education program where we engage young people to talk about issues they may face or have faced during schoolies," he said.

"The site mainly gives insight and information rather than advice.

"It certainly gives a lot of information that they might not have access to until they have actually been there themselves."

The website also gives advice on where to find accommodation, places to eat, and activities for schoolies.

Mr Mapstone said he wanted the website to relate to young people.

"We use language that is relatable to young people and so they feel engaged, rather than being lectured," he said.

"It was designed to allow schoolies to decide what was right for them before celebrations begin."


SCHOOLIES' SURVIVAL GUIDE

Safety tips from schoolies.org:

  • Make sure your friends know where you are and who they should call in an emergency.
  • Think before you drink. Underage alcohol consumption is illegal.
  • Drink spiking happens, so avoid leaving your cup unattended.
  • Emergency points include Police Beat and businesses
  • Travel in groups, and make sure you have enough money for a phone call or taxi fare if needed.


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