THEY are calling it the "great escape". This trio of boys from across the border are part of a growing number of Gold Coast teens turning their backs on their home town to celebrate their rite of passage in Byron.
Eighteen-year-old’s Cameron Thompson and Gerhard Maree and 17-year-old Brad Martin-Turner said they favoured Byron Bay because it was a holiday, not just a party.
Byron Bay Schoolies hub coordinator Nicqui Yazdi said the boys represented a growing trend of Queensland school leavers who preferred to celebrate south of the border.
The Gold Coast and Byron Bay experienced its first big Saturday night, and while the Gold Coast police reported 30 schoolies arrests - six more than last year – Byron Bay ambulance paramedics described their night as ‘fairly’ quiet.
Tweed Byron Local Area Command reported ‘a busy but fairly uneventful night’ with one alcohol-related hospitalisation.
But every effort from publicans and Byron Bay’s Schoolies Safety Response Team could not prevent the party turning sour behind closed doors for 18-year–old Gerhard Maree, who spent the night nursing a drunk under-age mate.
“He was in trouble, falling down the stairs. He was playing a drinking game called ‘Challenge’ where you have to skull shots,” Mr Maree said.
Ms Yazdi said Byron Bay differed from the Gold Coast in that it provided a ‘safety response team’ rather than promoting a beachside party zone like at the Gold Coast where a 12-year-old girl was pulled fully clothed from the surf in front of the main party zone on Saturday.
Initial media reports suggested she was either intoxicated or affected by drugs.
“Kids at Byron congregate near the beach, so we’ve put in special night lighting for safety,” Ms Yazdi said.
But even good lighting couldn’t save Brad Martin-Turner. Too young for pubs and clubs spent the night beachside where he was punched and kneed by a man he described as an older ‘local toolie’.
Ms Yazdi said according to reports from hotel security, most problems were due to locals rather than school leavers.
“The kids are nothing compared to when the footballers come to town,” she said.
For 18-year-old Melbourne schoolie Lindsay O’Donoghue, the decision to party in Byron was easy. “My Dad’s a cop so there was no way he was going to let me go to the Gold Coast. It’s a lot safer here.”
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