Thousands of school leavers have descended on the Gold and Sunshine Coasts as unofficial schoolies celebrations kick off across the state for Queensland’s year 12 cohort.
This year’s senior school cohort have endured a particularly disrupted year due to the coronavirus pandemic, with many formals cancelled and much of their study done via home-schooling in lockdown.
When the state’s Chief Health Officer cancelled official schoolies celebrations on the Gold Coast, many graduates opted to head to other coastal areas or have their own private gatherings at home.
Kalani Ripley, 18, from Miami High on the Gold Coast is one of 80 students in his cohort headed to the Sunshine Coast, where he and five friends plan to stay in an apartment.
He said the class of 2020 had a lot of pent up stress they will be looking to release in coming weeks with “a few pub crawls” planned.
“I think it’s been one of the most stressful years as a cohort and for the rest of Year 12 in Queensland, it’s been a lot more stressful than any other year has faced in a long time, so I think there’s a lot more stress relieving to be done,” he said.
“There is a sense of ‘wow we’re finally done’ but [school] isn’t over until December 19th when we get our final results.”
An end to a turbulent year
Kalani said the stress of doing their final year of school during a global pandemic was compounded by the class of 2020 being guinea pigs of an education overhaul.
“We were the first Year 7s, we were the first original preps, we were the first with the new ATAR system,” he said.
“It’s been a lot of stress — we were the test dummies and it did have an affect on us but the class of 2020 is extremely resilient.
“At the end of the day, we’re young and allowed to let our hair down and it’s very important just to enjoy this small time in our lives because you only get it once and we’re just having a bit of fun.”
Kalani said overseas jaunts had become increasingly popular with previous school-leavers but travel bans meant Bali was off the cards.
“The thought of schoolies is changing from the Gold Coast to broader Queensland,” he said.
“It’s definitely changed the general consensus about where to go and I think it’s going to change it in the future as well.”
‘The guinea pig generation’
At Sunnybank State High School, very few Year 12 students were participating in the traditional schoolies celebrations on the Gold Coast.
Monica Vu held back tears as she walked out of the school’s hall for the final time on Friday.
“We are the guinea pigs with Year 7 and ATAR, we thought 2020 was our year but it was hectic. We persevered and we graduated,” she said.
“We will celebrate with friends and family at home … then I’ll have a gap year because this year nearly killed me.”
On the Sunshine Coast, students from Noosa District State High School rushed out of the school gate on Friday and dove into the ocean, marking the end of senior year.
As authorities prepared for an expected 5,000 school leavers to descend on the popular tourist spot, many local teenagers were opting to leave, instead bound for Fraser Island, Teewah and Rainbow Beach.
Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service confirmed 1,540 people were camping to the north of the Sunshine Coast this weekend.
The Department said it was concerned about campfires being lit on Fraser Island where large swathes of bushland has been burning for more than a month.
Specialist police units called in
Police in the Wide Bay region said they were particularly concerned with the influx of inexperienced drivers to Queensland’s beaches given the recent spate of fatal four-wheel-drive accidents.
“We’ve had a fatal traffic crash up there and a number of serious traffic crashes,” Inspector Pat Swindells said.
“We just want to make sure that everyone [who] goes up there has a great time and comes home.”
He said police would be patrolling the beach to help young drivers if their vehicles get bogged.
Sunshine Coast Superintendent Jason Overland said specialist units from Brisbane, such as police on horseback, had been called in to help with the police response.
“We scaled up when we became aware that the Sunshine Coast was a destination for school leavers,” he said.
The Noosa Ambulance Station said secluded beaches can be difficult for emergency services to access but paramedics were trained in four-wheel-driving.
It said the helicopter service would be available to respond to emergency call outs and reminded revellers that drugs, alcohol and hot temperatures do not mix well together.
On the Gold Coast, Queensland police said it was unsure how many revellers would celebrate on the tourist strip but assigned the same resources as last year’s event, with 200 police officers on patrol from this weekend.
Chief Superintendent Mark Wheeler said police will be targeting drug activity, anti-social behaviour and gatherings in accommodation.
“People who are in control of short-term accommodation, so the person who’s booked that accommodation, need to be very mindful that they only have the capacity allowed in that room,” he said.
“There is a $1,334 fine attached if you’re found to be breaching that Chief Health Officer direction.”
Under eased restrictions which came into effect on Tuesday, gatherings in homes and public spaces have increased from 40 to 50 people.
“If you’re going to stack a small room with 50 people, that would be a problem — we’d be looking at the meterage of that room,” Superintendent Wheeler said.
“We ask people exercise common sense because ultimately all of these rules are in place to prevent COVID-19 from spreading.”
‘Watch out for your mates’
Queensland Ambulance Service (QAS) and Gold Coast Health are operating a temporary emergency treatment centre in a Surfers Paradise carpark, which will be open from 9:00am to 2:00am.
QAS Senior Operations Supervisor Grace Elliott said this year’s celebrations were different to previous years due to the pandemic.
“We have had to adjust our strategy but ultimately we are providing a pre-hospital service for the school leavers this year on the Gold Coast,” she said.
On an ordinary night during schoolies week in previous years, up to 80 teenagers would be treated on site.
“Irrespective of whether lots of school leavers choose to come here and celebrate on the Gold Coast or not very many at all, we’ll be ready,” Ms Elliott said.
“Our message will always be, if you require assistance, especially in a medical emergency please call triple-zero, watch out for your mates and be safe.”
Emergency Consultant Dr Jeffrey Hooper said the treatment centre will also be focusing on mental wellbeing.
“It has been a really stressful year for Year 12 school leavers, it’s been a year like no other for them,” Dr Hooper said.
“We have a consultant psychiatrist and some of the people from our emergency psychiatric service, we also have a social worker on site too.”