Like so many milestones missed by the class of 2020, schoolies was almost a bust for Anay Roberts.
She and a group of her friends at Melbourne Girls Grammar had their eyes on an end-of-year trip to Byron Bay but that was cancelled months ago.
Even their consolation plan of a trip closer to home hit a roadblock as Airbnb hosts in Lorne rejected their bookings at first mention of the S-word.
When accommodation was secured (19 friends divided across one house, one apartment and two hotel rooms) there was the issue of getting there.
Barely anyone in Anay's group has a driver’s licence. Lockdown made it impossible to get the necessary hours of driving.
Most of the group would take the bus, Anay said.
They don't have much planned for their time in Lorne – all official schoolies activities have been scrapped.
But the pub is open, the sea is inviting and Anay says she and her friends will be happy enough to chill at the beach in the day and split their evenings between their accommodation and the pub (so as to stay within the 15-person indoor limit).
“Just seeing all my friends again away from exams will be nice. We haven't been able to have any 18ths; they're all on Zoom,” Anay said.
VCE exams ended on Tuesday, the same day Queensland opened the border to Victoria. Too late to head north for schoolies.
Anay’s friend, Lucy Skelton, will head east to Phillip Island for a week instead.
Year 12 student Lucy Skelton, (right) and friends Veronique Villis and Dan Boddington. The group is heading to Phillip Island on public transport.Credit:Wayne Taylor
She and her friends faced many of the same challenges: limited accommodation options, limited cash because many of their casual jobs disappeared during lockdown and no one in the friendship group with a driver's licence.
Frustratingly, Lucy had completed 110 of the requisite 120 hours before lockdown. She and her friends were set to take the bus together on Saturday. They're expecting a mellow time ahead.
"It'll be a time to just rent a bike, tag around, everything just seems really subdued even if you are making use of 18 alcohol privileges," Lucy said.
Pre-COVID, some friends in the group had dreamed of skipping schoolies, taking gap years and even extended overseas visits to volunteer.
“But all of these plans got thrown out the window,” says Lucy, a Melbourne Girls' College student and founder of the inter-school Student Voice Network.
“There is this kind of grief for what this year could have been. My formal got cancelled, school was literally cancelled … so I’m really glad that things have opened up so that we can go and see people and just hang out and celebrate surviving and getting through this.”
At Rye, Dean ‘‘Deanos’’ Memisevic and about 10 mates from Strathmore Secondary in Melbourne's north planned on making up for lost rites of passage.
Strathmore College schoolie Dean Memisevic enjoys himself at the Rye pier. Credit:Luis Ascui
They found it difficult finding AirBnB hosts willing to open their homes to schoolies, especially when so many Melbourne families and couples were also making the most of their new-found freedoms.
They found success after pretending they were surfers from the other side of Port Phillip Bay.
"We've missed out on a lot and we're trying to make the most of this, even go a bit above and beyond what other years have done," said Deanos.
"People say year 12 can be the best year of our lives. But don't get me wrong, I've loved this year. It's just been different."
There are no organised events at Rye and one pub, aside from the RSL. But Melissa Privitelli, from St Columba's College, said they would have stayed in Melbourne if clubbing was the priority.
(L-R) Jessica Tu, Melissa Privitelli , Liana Catania, Giulia Martinone and Zuhayr Diedericks from Strathmore College and Rosehill College in Essendon.Credit:Luis Ascui
Instead, word spreads on the beach and social media about the evening's house parties.
"But the cops come and shut it down," she said. "They understand and they've actually been pretty good. It's the noise and we get that. People have got to work the next day.
"I was supposed to be going to Byron Bay and this was the other option, which is a bit sad because I come here every summer. You get excited for something for so long. We had it planned since last year."
Bass Coast Shire, which includes Phillip Island, has arranged for extra police and Ambulance Victoria resources on the island this week, as well as buses, marquees and drug and alcohol counsellors.
Being 2020, they will also provide extra hand sanitiser, face masks and alcohol wipes, a council spokesperson said.
The Mornington Peninsula Shire Council has asked school-leavers to stay away this year, and chose not to set up the Schoolies Safe Space it usually has on the Rye foreshore.
“My message to school-leavers and their families is this: our beaches will still be here when this pandemic is over, so we are asking you to postpone your schoolies celebrations for now," shire chief executive John Baker said last month.
But year 12 graduate Hannah Singh said plenty of school leavers had headed down that way regardless.
She and a group of her friends from John Monash Science School have been in Sorrento all week.
The all-in party vibe has been replaced by scores of micro-gatherings on the foreshore, Hannah says, and the vibe was relaxed and upbeat.
"As you walk down the beach there is probably new music playing every 20 metres, people laughing," she said.
"It is a little disappointing that we can't have the same experience as previous years, but I guess our experience is unique so we’ll remember it for that."
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