Schoolies Week: When Australia's teens go wild
The closest thing Australia has to Spring Break in the United States, Schoolies Week sees tens of thousands of teenage Australian school-leavers head to Queensland's Gold Coast for a festival of wild partying, binge drinking, beach-bumming, sexual antics and general loutishness. The tradition of Schoolies Week, considered by many Australian teens as a traditional rite of passage, began in 1979. School-leavers celebrate their independence from the rigors of secondary education in the week following school final exams with a week-long party at popular tourist destinations around the country. Queensland's Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast are among the top go-to attractions though well-heeled Australians also head to Fiji (where entire islands are set aside for Schoolie events) and Bali, Indonesia to skim off the cheap nightlife and liquor.
Schoolie events have bumped up the tourism economy by a significant margin -- up to $59 million as of 2003. Although official Schoolie events are ID-only, drug-free, alcohol-free events held amid surveillance in fenced-off enclosures, the unofficial events are, understandably, a bigger draw. Safety at these events is a headache for law-enforcers owing to the presence of "Toolies" -- party-crashers who attempt to cash in on opportunities for thrill-seeking and risky drunken sexcapades. Not without reason, the events invite criticism for alcohol-fueled disorderly behavior, sexual assault and use of recreational drugs. Police routinely monitor these events with sniffer dogs, foot patrols and cameras aboard surveillance helicopters.
Though the popularity of Schoolie Week is by no means fading, recent years have witnessed another trend. Some Australian school-leavers have shunned the traditional hedonistic celebration, opting instead to spend the time doing charitable work in Cambodia and other South Asian countries, opting to remember the end of their school lives "on a good note".