Schoolies or schoolies week (also known as leavers’ or leavers’ week in Queensland Surfers Paradise and Western Australia and coasties in the Australian Capital Territory) refers to the Australian tradition of high-school graduates (also known as “schoolies” or “leavers”) having week-long holidays following the end of their final exams in late November and early December.
“Toolies” refers to older revellers who participate in Schoolies week but are not high-school graduates. “Foolies” refers to younger adolescents, who participate in Schoolies week but have not yet graduated from high school. Schoolies week is seen as a final party with schoolmates before they head their separate ways.
Schoolies week first began on the Gold Coast, Queensland in the 1970s, in the week following final exams for private single-sex schools. The Broadbeach Hotel was the main meeting place. Schoolies Week events began to be organised for 1980, and from then on the Gold Coast attracted schoolies from all over Australia for celebrations. Since then, the tradition has spread, and Australian high-school graduates celebrate their graduation with a week-long party at many popular tourist destinations around the country.
Schoolies week is considered by many teenagers in Australia as a cultural rite of passage. Schoolies week is seen as transitional period from youth to adulthood, marking a change of state from the imposition of school discipline to the chosen freedom to have a body which is out of control. According to the Official National Schoolies Week Website, “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 which Schoolies symbolises.”
Queensland‘s Gold Coast, particularly Surfers Paradise, maintains its status as the largest single venue for this revelry, attracting tens of thousands of schoolies. The Gold Coast is viewed as a liminal space, somewhere to get away, a city of theme parks and leisure by the sea where transitions are possible. Research carried out in 2003 found schoolies boosted the Gold Coast economy by $59 million. In 2011, up to 40,000 students were expected to visit the Gold Coast.
Schoolies are also present on the Sunshine Coast; this is an alternative for the graduates who fear the negative media attention attracted on the Gold Coast. According to the Sunshine Coast Region council the Sunshine Coast had about 500 schoolies visit in 2009. The local council on the Sunshine Coast stopped providing events for schoolies in 2007.
Schoolies have similar traditions at Magnetic Island in Townsville, Airlie Beach in the Whitsundays and Port Macquarie. Byron Bay and Surfers Paradise are particularly popular amongst private school graduates. For South Australia, Victor Harbor is the location of choice, while in Victoria the Surf Coast is popular, mainly consisting of Lorne and Torquay, however Phillip Island is also quite popular for students living in the east and south of Victoria. At Victor Harbor in 2011, approximately 15,000 students were expected to celebrate. In Western Australia, Rottnest Island off Perth and the South West towns of Dunsborough and Busselton are popular destinations. Also, Western Australians often go to Bali, which is located in Indonesia, as it is a spot for parties, late nights, and cheap shopping. In Tasmania there is not an established “Schoolies” location or tradition as such. Internationally, popular schoolies destinations include Fiji and Vanuatu. In Fiji, whole islands have been dedicated to schoolie celebrations.
Since the event began to attract large enough numbers to warrant annual media attention, Schoolies week has become a familiar concept nationwide. The media have represented the event as a period of lawlessness, loutish behaviour and unruliness. Some local residents and media have criticised the event due to binge drinking, and sexual promiscuity. Police attention is regularly required where the collective behaviour of schoolies at some locations gets out of hand, such as at Rottnest Island in 1986. In efforts to reduce such acts, the week-long event on Rottnest Island in Western Australia has, as of 2006, been reduced to three days, which itself has resulted in a fair amount of criticism from young members of the public.
In recent years, violence (notably sexual violence) has become an increased threat to the safety of attendees. Fights have broken out between schoolies from one area and another and predictable media coverage of antics, accidents, and attacks has followed. The Queensland Government has been criticised for their efforts to stage-manage the event and limit celebrations.
2009 saw one of the most troublesome Gold Coast Schoolies celebrations in history, where in one night, police arrested 30 schoolies, and the number of arrests for the entire week doubled compared to the previous year. Superintendent Jim Keogh said that during eight days of 2009 schoolies celebrations, 217 schoolies had been arrested on 244 charges, compared with 94 schoolies arrested for the same period in 2006. Charges were laid against schoolies for serious assault, drunk and disorderly conduct, drug possession and obstructing police. The incidents prompted talks of banning Schoolies week. This has led schoolies to look at safer alternatives to ensure their wellbeing.
Official Schoolies events
Official Schoolies events are drug-free and alcohol-free events held at many Schoolies destinations. They include concerts, dances and parties. For all official events, attendees are required to be a registered schoolie and present a schoolie ID on entry. This schoolie ID, which at some locations includes a photo, is given to each schoolie upon registering, which requires the presentation of a current school ID and incurs a small fee. At many destinations, the official events are held in fenced-off areas or in nightclubs to prevent the infiltration of “toolies” and to maintain crowd control. Some events are free, while others (often those held at nightclubs) incur an entry fee.
Popular schoolies (or leavers) venues are often attended by people well past school age, labelled by the media as “toolies“ or “droolies“. Toolies are associated with the targeting of drunk teenagers for sex, and are also frequently involved in disturbances taking place during the celebrations. Because of this, toolies are a major topic of media scrutiny during Schoolies week. Toolies also refers to early school leavers who are in apprenticeship training but join in the Schoolies celebrations.
Another group that have some presence at Schoolies week celebrations are those known as “foolies” or “pre-schoolies”. These are adolescents who have not yet left school but still partake in activities during Schoolies week. Many organised events during Schoolies week, such as concerts, only admit those who are school leavers. On the Gold Coast in particular, Schoolies are often given wristbands as a form of identification.
Problems and risks
Schoolies week celebrations can involve large volumes of alcohol and other drugs such as tobacco, cannabis and ecstasy. Confrontations between participants can occur resulting in violent assaults. Other problems and risk associated with schoolies week include sexual health and sexual assault. In 2010, the Queensland Police made 145 arrests of school leavers on the Gold Coast, down from the 220 arrests made in 2009.
Injuries and death
In 2002, the Queensland Government established a triage to treat and assess injuries and implement first aid. There have been a number of schoolies-related deaths and many violent altercations between youths. In one case death resulting from balcony fall in 2010 which has been claimed to be from planking.
Alcohol and other drugs
Widely considered a week long alcohol binge, schoolies week is most criticised for excessive drinking and problems that flow from this. A 2010 study found that almost two-thirds of schoolies will consume more than ten drinks per night. The survey also revealed that most of the teenagers surveyed rated the experience negatively afterwards.
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. Drink spiking has also been a significant problem.
The availability of drugs at Schoolies week has also been a problem. In 2011 25% of male schoolies and 14% of females reported being stoned most or every day or night of Schoolies week.
Schoolies has been long known for its violence, and media reporting has often focused on schoolies violence. In the mid-1990s there were incidents where news crews handed out money for schoolies to initiate violence so they could film schoolies violence for the evening news. In 1996, the Gold Coast City Council began to increase regulation of events and spaces.
One of 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, the violence has continued, but police have rapidly engaged and resolved violence. When the Queensland 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.
Schoolies destinations have been more heavily policed since, and some 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. Damage to hotel rooms has occurred, as well as vandalism to other private and public property.
Sexual health has been made a focus since opportunities for casual sex at schoolies week can lead to unprotected sex and the propagation of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). There are also concerns about sexual activity in public places such as beaches. Increases in sexual assaults during schoolies week destinations has also been a problem. A 2010 study found that one-third of males were expecting to have sex with multiple partners.
Red Frogs network
The event is supported by an all-volunteer group of Christians who are recruited into the Red Frogs network. Around 1,500 volunteers serve in 17 locations across Australia. The group aims to directly support partying school-leavers through a positive presence. This might involve walking them home, cleaning or cooking for them. The network began at the Gold Coast in 1997.
- Blurred is an Australian play about school leavers travelling to schoolies week.
- Blurred is a 2002 Australian film based on the play.
- Extensive footage of schoolies and schoolies week was featured in Fat Pizza Uncensored, a DVD collection of extras sold with some copies of the DVD for Fat Pizza: The Movie.
- The band TISM recorded a song titled “Schoolies Week,” which parodies schoolies week, describing it as having the same properties that would be found in hell.
- Civil disturbances in Western Australia
- Russ, Norwegian graduate revelry.
- Senior Week, a week where recently graduated high school seniors in the United States go to the beach
- Spring break, a week-long recess from studying in early spring at universities in the United States, Canada, Japan, Korea, China and other countries.
- Swotvac, week period preceding exams
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- Hughes, Andrew. “Schoolies, toolies and foolies – in the market for a rite of passage”. The Conversation. Retrieved 14 May 2017.
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- “Eye in the sky to keep watch over schoolies”. Brisbane Times. Fairfax Media. 19 November 2011. Retrieved 20 November 2011.
- (6 January 2003). Schoolies Week Review. AM. Transcript. Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
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- Coastal towns keen to welcome schoolies, but not the toolies. Herald Sun. 20 November 2009.
- O’Sullivan, Kay (9 November 2009). “Schoolies looms”. Smh.com.au. Retrieved 29 November 2012.
- Russell Varley (30 November 2010). “Gold Coast schoolies earn ‘B-minus’ rating from police”. ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 14 November 2011.
- Vonow, Isabelle Colman (23 November 2012). “Girl, 17, fell from balcony in Surfers Paradise during Schoolies resulting in death”. The Courier-Mail. Retrieved 22 November 2012.
… police confirmed the 17-year-old girl had died after the fall from the Chevron Renaissance Hotel on Ferny Avenue.
- “faq”. Red Frogs. Retrieved 7 February 2015.
- Amy McNeilage (12 November 2012). “Leap of faith as Red Frog volunteers tackle schoolies week”. The Sydney Morning Herald. Fairfax Media. Retrieved 7 February 2015.
- “TISM – Schoolies Week Lyrics”. Lyricsmania.com. Retrieved 17 March 2011.
- Queensland Government’s Schoolies Week site
- Victoria’s youthcentral schoolies week resources
- National Schoolies Website
- Town Accommodation: