Graduating high school raises a number of existential questions about the future that are often contemplated while celebrating at Schoolies.
“What are we doing tonight? Where are we doing pres? Will you get sloshed?” one particularly pragmatic girl asks her friends as they forage for alcohol and enough packets of chips to fill an Aldi trolley.
It’s Saturday night and week two of schoolies is kicking off in Byron Bay, with graduates from New South Wales and Victoria descending on the zen paradise for a week of peace, love and vodka Red Bulls. There’s not a bottle-o in town that hasn’t been ravaged.
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Locals are in hiding, trying to escape the weeks of predicted destruction and chaos. In their minds, schoolies swarming the streets of their town is not unlike that scene from A Bug’s Life where the army of grasshoppers pillage the colony of ants.
“They do not look 17, they look 14,” one woman says as she flees the city centre.
Maybe it’s the mullets that add to the extra-youthful appearance of all the kids. The bogan Aussie hairstyle is the style du jour this year.
“Your first mullet is always cut in the bathroom at ya mate’s house,” Melbourne graduate Charles Kilburn explains his hair care tips while all his friends, who have matching mullets, nod.
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A cafe worker says some vacationing families have cut their holidays short and escaped the shire upon realising the hell they’d accidentally stumbled into.
Upstairs at Loft, a hip cocktail bar on Jonson Street, a waiter is run ragged. The first week of Schoolies attracted all the Queensland kids and he looks like he needs to see the nearest energy healer, stat.
“We had a heap of schoolies earlier. Rowdy. Rowwwwwdy,” he exclaims. “We had to kick them out, actually. They just come in here and stand in a crowd and take up space.”
No one knows how to loiter quite like a pack of Schoolies.
The waiter looks out at the Beach Hotel across the street. There’s a line of kids snaking around the block, waiting to get inside the pub that’s vibrating with thumpy music and flashing with blue laser lights. “The poor Beachie,” he sighs.
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Down on the street, some kids are displaying the height of arrogance by wearing all-white linen outfits. The gall.
When you’re in Byron, it only makes sense to do what the locals do and seek life advice from a clairvoyant in the park. Inga’s sitting at her rickety little table under a tree, surrounded by crystals and tarot cards, as the night rages on. What are her predictions for the week?
She closes her eyes and inhales deeply. “I’m connecting,” she says.
“The energy in the city is very different from last year and I wonder if there is something that is building up for something big that is going to happen. The vibe in the air. The energy’s changing. Something energetically changed in the schoolies in the way their psyches are working because so much happened in the last year.”
Fires, floods, a pandemic. The world basically exploded. But while last years’ schoolies were raring to party, this year’s aren’t as wild.
“I feel it’s very, very different,” Inga says, before covering all her bases. “But at the same time there’s a feeling of ‘f*ck you, I’m going to live life!’ People going on the edge of danger.”
The tarot cards are splayed out. That’s when Inga issues an ominous warning.
“It looks like for a while it’s going to be quiet and then there’ll be, like, a big wave of something big that’s going to happen,” she says.
Huh. Spooky. But maybe Inga’s wrong. Walking the streets of Byron, it becomes clear this group of school leavers is incredibly mature and responsib-
Police riot squad 4WDs do laps of the city throughout the night, but it’s nosy mothers who are really keeping the kids in check.
“Ugh, mum, leave me alone!” one girl, sitting on a boy’s lap in a doorway, groans as she stops the make-out session to glance at her buzzing phone.
Across the road, some schoolies have escaped the never-ending line-ups and are crowded around a piano at The Northern pub for a singalong.
They scream-sing “Summer of 69” and seamlessly transition into Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler”.
And just like Kenny Rogers, on this warm summer’s evening, the schoolies are on a train bound for nowhere. At midnight, the bars shut. They wander out into the street and contemplate their next move while eating hot dogs and kebabs.
Alex Langford is sitting in the gutter with her girlfriends. The first nights of partying have been “pretty trashy,” she declares. “The actual Schoolies parties, not good.”
Across the street, in a different gutter, a group of Melbourne girls are killing time.
“They played Abba, that’s all a girl needs,” Amelie Smith says.
On a random corner, a group of mullet bros are left to make their own fun.
“Schoolies is overrated – I’m not gonna lie,” Harry Stall says. “It’s just ‘cause all the people here are NPCs.”
“Non-playable characters,” he explains, like in computer games where there are random characters that appear in the background.
He points to a group of people gathering across the road. “You think those people are real? Who gets an Uber in Byron? We’re the only real people here.”
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