Last Friday I attended a media conference about a joint AFP/Customs operation targeting drugs being sent through the post. All sorts of creative smuggling efforts had been valiantly attempted - as my little montage demonstrates.
Officials believed most had been destined for Schoolies, the annual end-of-school booze fest that's now taken over the Gold Coast for what will no doubt be another week featuring unsmiling police officers, preening youths and tipsy girls who can't go two words without inserting "like" as an all-purpose descriptor.
I finished high school back in 1997. Our end-of-year song was The Sunscreen Song, which indicates how all-pervasive that goddamned Baz Luhrmann Romeo and Juliet film had been. Although Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) by Green Day was also doing the rounds, which is a little bit more credible.
My parents had always hated the idea of me going to Schoolies Week, but they didn't really have to "ban" me, as I'd never been very interested myself. Remember, this is Natalie the non-drinker, and I was as boring and square in high school as I am today. Seven days in a pit of alcohol, hormones and carelessness never really appealed.
I'd had vague plans of going on a cruise with some friends. Those friends eventually said they weren't interested, and it was only a few days before the end of school that I discovered they'd gone and organised their own trip to the Whitsundays and not invited me. Just last year one of those same "friends" defriended me from Facebook for no discernable reason that I could gather. Hell, maybe I am still the same awful person to be around they took me for in high school.
Anyway, it was no massive hassle. Turns out I had something to do during Schoolies Week after all - learning how to work a check-out. Yep, my first job, at Coles. In between I was more than happy to veg out in the air-conditioned TV room at our house with icy poles and a bagful of Red Dwarf and Doug Anthony All Stars tapes.
"You can't NOT go to Schoolies, at least for a bit," said a nice classmate named Bec, when I told her of my Schoolies plans instead of studying for my final maths exam.
"Well, I haven't got anything arranged, and I'm not a drinker, and I don't have any money, so it's OK," I replied.
Bec refused to take no for an answer. Turns out her mother lived at Maroochydore, so she hadn't arranged anything special either - she was just going to spend the week at her Mum's, and cruise around the various units/holiday homes that fellow classmates had rented (most kids at my school went up to the Sunshine Coast rather than down to Surfers Paradise). She invited me to come up on the first Saturday, stay a couple of nights, then head back Monday morning in time for work on Tuesday.
Some careful pleading with my parents was required to get the A-OK for this plan. I don't think my parents lacked trust in me - despite all their efforts I'd refused to touch alcohol, and I was hardly staring down the barrel of dozens of slobbering would-be suitors looking to steal my innocence without thought for my reputation or aversion to catching genital warts. I think their main concern was driving. I'd only got my licence a month before school ended, and I think they feared drunken teenage hooligans in Ford Escorts more than anything else. So once I agreed to the condition that Dad would drive me there and pick me up on Monday, they said yes.
As it turns out, a licenced, non-drinking person is an absolute boon for your average Schoolie to have around. I spent a fair amount of time that weekend driving - not just Bec's Mazda 121, but various other vehicles owned by over-the-limit partygoers. Which was fine, really, I was happy to be useful. We zipped from Caloundra to Mooloolaba to Noosa dropping in on people, then made our way back to Bec's Mum's large house with lovely clean bathrooms each morning for rest.
My clearest memory of Schoolies is sitting on worn pea-green carpet in the living room of this ramshackle beach house owned by the parents of one male classmate, a charming chap named Matthew whom I'd always had a slight crush on. Another girl, Bec (different Bec), was next to me, and a Ford Escort driving cross-eyed lad named Cameron was in an EasyBoy recliner behind us.
(To divert for a moment: Cameron was not a bright lad. This hit home for me during the after-party for our school formal, held at our house. My parents had hired two police officers to keep out potential gatecrashers. I was clear to everyone that they weren't going to arrest them for drinking, but Cameron was a bit paranoid. He came up to me and asked that I accompany him to where he'd "hidden" his carton of beers, just in case the cops busted him. Sure, I said. I was rather confused by Cameron's "hiding" spot - it was in the dead centre of our backyard. A carton, just sitting there. Not even behind a tree.)
Bill Clinton was on the TV at the time, doing an address from the White House direct to Saddam Hussein, urging him to stop being a naughty boy for some reason or another. Another boy, Ibby, kept repeating "There's going to be a war. I just know there's going to be a war." The general feeling was one of 2am foreboding.
Except for Cameron. He was busy using his feet to massage Bec's shoulders, a "favour" she was not all that keen on receiving. So Cameron drew his feet away, paused, then declared to the room: "I think I've got a semi!"
Stay classy, school leavers.