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Schoolies History

History of Schoolies Week

Schoolies first began at Broadbeach in the 1970s. Over the past four decades, Australian high school graduates have celebrated their graduation with a week-long party at a popular tourist destination.

Known as 'Schoolies Week,' it is the most significant youth event in the national social calendar.

Schoolies as a 'Rite of Passage'

Schoolies Week is considered by some as a cultural rite of passage in Australia, it is an in between phase or transition time in terms of social status. After graduating high school, young people can emerge into the adult world, beyond high school and into a life of their own design. Schoolies Week is a celebration to mark this event or transition.

Schoolies Tradition

The most enduring Schoolies Week tradition is the first run down the beach and dive into the ocean after school is finished forever. That plunge of freedom is the essence of freedom Schoolies symbolises.

Schoolies Destinations

Initially celebrated on Queensland's Gold Coast at Surfers Paradise, It expanded in the early 1990's to other Queensland destinations including the Sunshine Coast, notably Mooloolaba, Airlie Beach in the Whitsundays and Magnetic Island (off the coast of Townsville).

In New South Wales destinations include Byron Bay, Coffs Harbor and Port Macquarie. In Victoria destinations include Lorne and Torquay. In South Australia, Victor Harbor is the only destination, being the second largest destination in Australia.

In Western Australia Schoolies is referred to as Leaver's Week and destinations include Rottnest Island, Busselton and Dunsborough.

Overseas, destinations that have gained popularity include Bali, Fiji and Vanuatu.

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Schoolies Terminology:

  • Schoolies or Leavers are the graduating class of that year. The words associate with 'leaving' 'school'.
  • Pre-Schoolies - school students celebrating prior to Schoolies in the school holidays between third and fourth (the final) term. The word associates with preschool, an educational program before the start of school in Australia - suggesting pre-schoolies are not yet schoolies.
  • Foolies are younger kids, often locals attracted to the spectacle aged as young as 10 years old. The word associates to kids playing the fool.
  • Toolies are older tourists and locals who in some cases have clashed violently with schoolies. The word associates with an Australian slang word 'tool' referring to someone as a tool is to say they are an idiot or unpopular. Also referred to as 'hangers on,' suggesting some former schoolies won't move on and realize it's not their party anymore.

Volunteer Groups:

In 1987 Oblate Priest Fr. Paul Costello founded Rosies Youth Mission QLD to provide support to young people during Gold Coast Schoolies Week. While founded initially in response to Schoolies Week, Rosies went on to provide support service for homeless people on the Gold Coast and grew to include outreach programs in Brisbane and at the Sunshine Coast. Rosies has continued their involvement in Gold Coast Schoolies over the years. From 1995 Bob Boardman is Director of Rosies Youth Mission in Queensland. From 1994 to 2002 Dominic Mapstone was initially a volunteer with Rosies and later employed as a Social Worker with Rosies.

In 1988 Drug Arm commenced support services for graduates at Gold Coast Schoolies. One of their volunteers 'Martha' has been involved each year since. Mitchell Dobbie was the manager of Drug Arm for many years. In 1994 Social Worker Dominic Mapstone started working with Rosies Youth Mission during Schoolies, later establishing Rebeccas Community in 2002 and providing support services to Gold Coast Schoolies from 2003 onwards. In 1997 Andy Gourley founds Hotel Chaplains to provide support to young people during Schoolies. They have expanded to become the largest volunteer group involved in Schoolies.

Community Solutions kicked off the first Schoolies Festival on the Sunshine Coast in 1997, which ran for 5 years inclusive of 2002 after which a regional Schoolies Taskforce was formed. Community Solutions have continued to provide support to young people at Mooloolaba during Schoolies through their Street Angels service. Street Angels was originally a separate organization that later amalgamated with Community Solutions.

In 1999 Frank Ahlin founded Encounter Youth (formerly Encounter Schoolies) in South Australia to support young people celebrating Schoolies in Victor Harbor. In 2003 Rebeccas Community launched the National Schoolies Website and provides support services at Gold Coast Schoolies.

In 2004 the Gold Coast Management of Public Intoxication Program's 'Chillout Zone,' coordinated by Angela Driscol provides support to young people at North Stradbroke Island in the third term holidays which have been described as the 'pre-Schoolies' party. In 2007 Rosies Youth Mission reached a 20 year milestone of supporting young people celebrating Schoolies Week at the Gold Coast.

Schoolies Problems:

Alcohol - Widely considered a week long alcohol binge, schoolies week is most criticized for excessive drinking and problems that flow from this. In 1995, 75% of male schoolies and 53% of female schoolies report being drunk most or every day or night of Schoolies Week (see below: Research, and Diversionary Programs).

More recently laws have been changed at a Federal level increasing the tax on pre-mixed spirits, and at a state level in Queensland to focus on parents supplying alcohol to their children in an irresponsible way. Fines issued by Police related to alcohol laws have raised considerable funds for state governments, particularly at Gold Coast Schoolies year over year the policing of these offences has increased and the revenue has increased proportionally.

Drugs - The availability of drugs at Schoolies Week is widespread. In 1995 25% of male schoolies and 14% of females reported being stoned most or every day or night of Schoolies Week (see below: Research, and Diversionary Programs). Marijuana and Ecstasy are the most commonly used drugs at Schoolies Week. At Gold Coast Schoolies 2007, drugs were cheaper and more widely accessible without consequence from Police than alcohol.

Violence - Schoolies has been long known for its violence, media reporting has focused on schoolies violence and in the mid nineties there were incidents where news crews handed out money for schoolies to initiate violence so they could film schoolies violence for the evening news.

The most violent schoolies was in 2002 at the Gold Coast. Police were under-resourced as several violent clashes occurred involving groups of people every night that week. In subsequent years with Police numbers significantly increased and innovative approaches developed violence has continued, but Police have rapidly engaged and resolved violence.

All schoolies destinations are more heavily policed since and at a number of destinations have engaged private security guards to assist. The most significant statistic regarding violence at schoolies over the past few decades has placed the blame more so in the hands of toolies than schoolies themselves.

Sexual Health - Unprotected sex is common at Schoolies as it is in many cases opportunistic casual sex. Sex in public places such as on Surfers Paradise beach is common place. Sale of the morning after pill are significantly higher during Schoolies Week.

Sexual Assault - Gold Coast Schoolies has the worst track record with sexual assault as it is famously the largest Schoolies destination, and attracts older predators. When the Queensland state government took over the management of Schoolies at the Gold Coast in 2003 from the Gold Coast City Council, after the most violent Schoolies Week in 2002: their primary concern was public perceptions of Schoolies Week.

Social Worker Dominic Mapstone of the National Schoolies Website made public via the media that a number of rapes had occurred at Schoolies despite government efforts to deny these facts. In recent years, Queensland Police have been much more open about sexual assaults at Schoolies Week.

Drink Spiking - Over the past several years, drink spiking has been a significant problem at Gold Coast Schoolies Week.

Property Damage - Damage to hotel rooms has occurred, as well as vandalism to other private and public property.

Community Impact - The significant number of schoolies at tourist destinations in some cases 'taking over the town' has caused other potential tourists to avoid Australian destinations during Schoolies.

Local tourist focused businesses catering to traditional tourists have complained of Schoolies only spending their tourist dollars at limited outlets. However the history of Schoolies reveals that Schoolies Week was a non-peak tourist slot that was otherwise a down time for tourism. Gold Coast locals generally avoid the tourist hub in peak times, Schoolies has been criticized as local community members completely avoid the Schoolies precinct wherever possible.

A familiar tone has rung at many destinations Schoolies dominate in, questioning the benefit and community impact of Schoolies Week. Other community impact issues surrounding Schoolies Week include noise, litter, vandalism and damage to hotel and other property.

Cults and Evangelists - Evangelist groups are drawn to the large assembly of young 'sinners' and they regularly harass schoolies.

Suicide and other deaths - There has been approximately one schoolies related death each year over the past decade. In some cases balcony falls.

Calls to Ban Schoolies:

From time to time, some media coverage resorts back to an overdone angle of 'Calls to Ban Schoolies.' The notion is quite ridiculous as Schoolies isn't an event that is hosted like a concert, but an Australian tradition. Schoolies Week is a long standing cultural tradition of young people in Australia that occurs regardless of any outside effort to be involved. Stated simply, Schoolies would party on even if everyone else involved took the week off and left them alone. For those wanting to properly understanding Schoolies Week, this is the most important point.

Diversionary Programs: tba

Commercialisation of Schoolies:

One company has dominated in the commercialisation of schoolies, it has changed hands a number of times but consistently used the website www.schoolies.com here is the history of www.schoolies.com and other commercial concerns relating to schoolies.

In 1989 Tony Smith, an ex Sydney Swans footballer founded Sports Break Travel which went on to promote Schoolies travel packages. In 1993 SportsBreak trademarked the terms 'Schoolies' and 'Schoolies Week'.

In 2000 Sports Break Travel challenged P&O in federal court for using the trademarked words 'Schoolies / Week.' Sports Break Travel Pty Limited v P&O Holidays Limited [2000] FCA 924, Justice Burchett decided that the 'schoolies' trade mark, owned by Sports Break, should never have been registered and had therefore not been infringed. The reason? Schoolies' Week has 'become a tradition'. So P&O successfully defended their position, but reportedly settled out of court.

In 2000 TeenBreak (owned by the company S8) start promoting Schoolies Week travel packages.

In 2003 Legal Aid Queensland released a report titled: 'Surf City Limits: The unfair treatment of young consumers in the rental accommodation marketplace of Schoolies Week.' Its findings focused negatively on the abusive practices of schoolies.com which continues to this day to claim they are the "Official Schoolies Website" despite a key recommendation of the report that they be stopped from continuing this misleading practice.

In 2005 Breakfree merged with MFS. In the same year, S8 closed Teenbreak, their Schoolies booking service and sold the rights to Breakfree for Schoolies bookings in their resorts and hotels.

In the same year schoolies.com made a legal threat to www.schoolies.org.au the National Schoolies Website insisting the website be removed on the basis of trademark ownership. It didn't work. Schoolies.com later had to make a number of undertakings to the ACCC for potentially misleading and deceptive conduct regarding their use of the trademarks on 'Schoolies' and 'Schoolies Week'. The ACCC protected the position of the National Schoolies Week Website on the trademark issue, in effect removing the trademark restraints previously imposed on everyone from all aspects of involvement in Schoolies Week.

Unfortunately, the original champions of the Schoolies Trademark issue P&O in October of 2006 announced that the 2006 schoolies week cruise was to be the last, cancelling the 2007 Schoolies cruises. Associated Press reported: "The move comes with P&O central in controversy surrounding the death of Mrs Brimble, a 42-year-old from Brisbane who died on a cruise in 2002."

In 2010 Schoolies.com abandoned their position as the leading schoolies accommodation provider, passing their bookings on to bookschoolies.com. Book Schoolies bought Schoolies.com the following year.

Other commercialization efforts have tended to take the form of underage events, themed t-shirts and glow sticks from smaller players.

Schoolies Research:

In 1995 Anthony Smith and Doreen Rosenthal conducted research into risk taking behavior by young people during Gold Coast Schoolies, which was later published: Smith AMA, Rosenthal D. Sex, alcohol and drugs? Young people's experience of Schoolies Week. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health 1997;21:175-80 (subscription required). The sample size was 1796, here are some of their results:
m = % of males surveyed
f = % of females surveyed

Days or nights drunk
None: 8.5% (m) 16.2% (f)
Some days or nights: 16.5% (m) 24% (f)
Most days or nights: 22.9% (m) 22.6% (f)
Every day or night: 52.3% (m) 37.3% (f)
Days or nights stoned
None: 53.4% (m) 66.2% (f)
Some days or nights: 22.1% (m) 20.5% (f)
Most days or nights: 9.5% (m) 8.3% (f)
Every day or night: 15% (m) 5% (f)
Had sexual intercourse with
No casual partners: 66.3% (m) 84.7% (f)
One casual partner: 18.8% (m) 9.2% (f)
Two or more casual partners: 14.9% (m) 6.1% (f)
No regular partners: 68.9% (m) 79% (f)
One regular partner: 23.3% (m) 19.2% (f)
Two or more regular partners: 7.8% (m) 1.8% (f)
With casual partner
Did not always use condoms: 36.4% (m) 45.1% (f)
Always used condoms: 63.4% (m) 54.9% (f)
With regular partner
Did not always use condoms: 41.3% (m) 48.7% (f)
Always used condoms: 58.7% (m) 51.3% (f)

History by Year:

Schoolies Week 2001 - After The September 11 attacks in the US in 2001, Schoolies were worried that their celebrations at the Gold Coast may be a target.

Schoolies Week 2002 - Queensland Ambulance Service establishes a 'triage' in Surfers Paradise as a first port of call for young people injured during Schoolies.

Schoolies Week 2003 - Premier of QLD provides staff from the Department of Communities to oversee the preparation for and management of Schoolies Week at the Gold Coast.

Schoolies Week 2005 - Gold Coast City Council return to a significant role in Gold Coast Schoolies after a break in 2003 and 2004 when the QLD Department of Communities had taken the lead role.

Schoolies Week 2007 - A fenced off area on the beach at Surfers Paradise was trialed. Schoolies registered for wristbands creating a 'schoolies only zone.' The fence enclosed entertainment on beach stages and some support services. Police reported that they arrested twice as many schoolies in 2007 compared to 2006 during the first week of schoolies.

Schoolies Week 2008 - City Councils on the Sunshine Coast withdrew a small diversionary entertainment program previously offered during Schoolies Week.

Schoolies Week 2011 - Four schoolies deaths occurred, three in a traffic accident in Australian and one accidental electrocution overseas.

Schoolies Week 2012 - Two schoolies deaths occured, one fall from a highrise at the Gold Coast and one pool drowning in Fiji.